Freedom and Responsibility!


Freedom means the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. Responsibility means the state or fact of being accountable, or to accept blame for something. We hear these words regularly, especially regarding the Press or the digital media. In the autocratic regimes, the word freedom is meaningless as everything right or wrong is decided by the governments. In a democracy, there are disputes about these words. Freedom is well explained by a funny anecdote. A Russian and an American are discussing freedom of expression in their countries. The American says, “In my country, I can bad mouth our President. Most likely, I will get away with it.” The Russian smiles and says, “We also have equal freedom in my country. I can curse the American President anytime. I will definitely get away with it.”

Two important events took place recently in India and the United States of America, the two largest democracies in the world. In India, the Press Trust of India published a news item; they interviewed the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi. In the interview, the Ambassador made a one-sided statement and blamed the Indian Government for the fracas that took place between the Indian Army and the Chinese Army at Galwan. PTI gave this news. With the current strong sentiments against China, Prasar Bharati, a government-controlled news agency, blamed PTI. They said that PTI published a news item which is anti-India. PTI is a cooperative which gives the yeomen service of news collection and distribution. It is established as a reliable news agency. Prasar Bharati pays about Rs.6.5/ crores (65 million) to PTI as its contribution every year. If Prasar Bharati breaks the pact with PTI, PTI will be in big trouble, financially.

The second event took place in the US. Based on the policies of Facebook, Coca Cola, Nike, and many other companies decided to stop advertising on Facebook. The reason was the policy about banning hate speeches or about the false news. FB started censoring hate speeches after Floyd episode, but they did not act on similar statements or expressions made by President Trump. Their argument was that when the President says something, it is a policy matter for the nation. Should the President’s policy statements be banned? So according to them, it was important news. But FB business is entirely dependent on the advertisements given by organisations like Nike and Coca Cola. Ultimately they have toed the line, and now Trump hate speeches also get banned.

It is a very critical situation, and honestly, I may not have the right answers. In the complex world, the news gets gathered in different ways. There are rules and regulations which many follow, but some do not comply. What is right or wrong, history will judge. It is a well-known fact that newspapers, news sites, TV channels have corporate policies. These policies are based on the “corporate board” or the owner. The news items will show the “colour” approved by the top bosses. In crude language, the entities are sold. So when you hop from A to B to C, we see different versions of the same news. At the end of the day, an average person gets confused. Then there are mouthpieces owned by some political parties. Mouthpieces “advice” the world on subjects of how to run the country. They teach the generals how to fight a war in the harsh terrain of Himalayas. It is okay if their party cannot run a city government efficiently. Such editors, the anchors of news channels and the “analysts” of all hues always ride on a high horse. For them, everything is one article away or one grilling interview away.

I am not saying that we should ban these entities. They have a definite role to play in a democracy. Many valuable news items that remain hidden in the debris of news that gets generated. Some organisations, some authorities or governments are trying to hide them. Investigative journalism helps bring out many such hidden items. Bofors case during Rajeev Gandhi’s time was a classic case which needed to be exposed. Such exposes are necessary for any society and must be brought out. Even this one example that I have quoted can become controversial because of the people connected with Rajeev Gandhi, and his party will not like what I have written. My idea is not to write something sensational or controversial but to try and analyse the need for such investigations. The investigations, in my opinion, are an essential part of our society. But I want to share a couple of stories that I saw on a news channel.

There was a piece of top breaking news sensationalising the failure of the central Government to procure sixty thousand ventilators in time. A tender was floated for this item and orders were placed on 14th May to be completed by 30th June. Ventilators till then, were all imported. Due to Corona pandemic, it would have been challenging to get them from abroad. Many companies developed them quickly, locally. Based on the feedback of their capabilities, orders were placed for fifty thousand ventilators. By 30th June only one company supplied its quota, and all others failed due to various reasons.

A highly complex product was being tried by Indian companies, including some large organisations. But they collectively were unable to supply their quota within a stipulated time. Now the news headline is “Government failed to procure ventilators on time.” Twenty thousand ventilators were procured, and the completion date was 30th June. The news item was discussed on 5th July. One company completed its quota and must have told the news channel that we have no orders though we have completed our contract. (This company can supply 2500 ventilators per month) The news channel generalised the news and blamed it on the Government. The last date for completion was 30th June, the performance needs to be analysed. Based on this data, the new orders can be placed. TRP, jingoism, channel policy? Your decision, friends.

The same channel has this story about a COVID patient who died because the Ambulance came late. Bangalore has suddenly seen the surge of COVID patients. Ambulances have a protocol that after each COVID patient is taken in the vehicle, it is thoroughly disinfected and sanitised. Bangalore is not geared up for the surge; hence there is a shortage of ambulances. The Ambulance reached the home and was told to park away from their home. It was done to avoid neighbours knowing about Corona infection. Is Corona infection a stigma? The patient tried to walk towards the Ambulance. Half-way through he collapsed and died! So much for delay caused by the Ambulance. But the story continued in the same vein on the channel.

Why sensationalise something when there is no sensation? Could TRP be the only reason? Or the ego does not allow these channels to say, “Oh! Sorry, it was our mistake.” They are never wrong!

After writing the piece, I am still confused! What is important, the news or a piece of suitable news? Ultimately, FB and Twitter of this world check for the hate speech using algorithms. Algorithm before Trump episode condoned the President even if he promoted hate speech or shared the fake news. Specifications for the algorithms are written by a human being who follows the company policies. Is sharing the Chinese Ambassador’s blaming India right thing or it should be treated as anti-national? If political parties keep bickering about everything in this world, how the generated news should be treated? They talk against the Prime Minister of the country as well as the armed forces. Should this be treated as treason? I am not sure. The jury is still out!


Should we really bother?

There is a news item in today’s newspaper that Twitter had suspended the Twitter account of Amul for some time, yesterday. The reason was that the above advertisements did not fit into the policies of Twitter. Facebook and Twitter are two mediums which have become popular as social media apps. There are many differences in traditional media and these new social media apps. Unless we understand the differences, it will be difficult to understand the impact of specific policies and decisions. I am not sure if the image below reflects the correct media status.


Creation and dissemination of content done by traditional Media are based on the principle of one-to-many. An editor decides what news, which news reports should be published in the day’s newspaper or which stories should be telecast in the next bulletin is. The news consumers that is the readers and viewers have no role to play in the creation or dissemination of content.

Social Media, in contrast, is a media that works on the principle of many-to-many. Any individual can create and share content. It makes the content creation process more democratic.

Focus or purpose of social media is a media where people come to interact with friends, relatives, acquaintances etc. It need not be news-based. A tiny part of the Social Media universe is devoted to the creation or dissemination of news.

Traditional media is primarily a news media. It has traditionally performed the function of gathering and disseminating news, and continues to do so.

That is why the two media are like chalk and cheese.

Interactivity: Social Media allows users to comment on content created by their friends, relatives or peer group. No Big Brother is watching you. All comments are in real-time. They enrich published content and empower people to share views.

Traditional media is tightly controlled. All communication is one-way: from the editor to the readers. The most that a reader can hope is to get a letter published in the Letters column of the newspaper. There is no guarantee as to how much of the message will be edited before it is published. This interactivity is even more limited in the case of television.

I will share with you an interesting story about two news items published in Pune’s Daily Sakal. These stories are from the late ’80s of the last century. Two professors from the Fergusson college had fought in the college, yes it was physical slapping and all. Sakal published it on the first page with their names. The reason was one of the professors had an affair with the others’ wife. There was another news on the same page; another “Maramari” (fisty cuff) that took place in a washroom area of a Latif’s restaurant in the camp area. The fight was between two ex mayors of the city. One of them was drunk and passed lewd remarks about the other person’s wife. Now both these items were on the first page of Sakal with biggish headlines. Both news items had become public since a police case was registered in both cases. But the names of the ex mayors were not printed. I saw this anomaly and as a naïve person wrote a letter to the editor of Sakal. I said, “Both these news items were in the public domain, but you have published the names of the professors but not of the ex mayors. Since you call yourself a fearless newspaper, at least publish my letter.” I dropped the letter in their letterbox. That was the end of the story. So much for the fearlessness!

Speed: Social Media is instant. Reports published on Social Media sites can be accessed instantly.

Traditional media takes time to disseminate information. In the case of newspapers, this is limited to once a day; television or radio can update reports more frequently. But they cannot match the speed of Social Media unless they go live.

Why so?

Cost of creation: It costs a small fortune to set up a newspaper, radio or television station. Few individuals can, therefore, hope to become publishers.

Social Media platforms allow free posting of content. Anyone can, therefore, become a publisher or broadcaster.

Reach and numbers: The reach of Social Media is staggering. It connects billions of individuals across the globe.

In contrast, the reach of traditional media is limited to the number of readers or viewers that individual newspapers or channels may have.

Now that we have understood the similarities and difference, we can understand the issues involved.

A couple of events occurred in the last couple of weeks on Tweeter. Tweeter marked one of the tweets by President Trump with a caution note. As expected, Trump and his team were furious.

Twitter highlighted two of Trump’s tweets that falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud, appending a message the company has introduced to combat misinformation and disputed or unverified claims.

“Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” read the message beneath each tweet. It linked to a curated fact-check page the platform had created filled with further links and summaries of news articles debunking the assertion.

Twitter said the move was aimed at providing “context” around Trump’s remarks. But Twitter’s unprecedented decision has raised further questions about its willingness to apply the label to other Trump tweets consistently. The tweets have been deemed misleading by third parties, particularly as the president has lobbed baseless allegations against former Rep. Joe Scarborough regarding the death of a congressional staffer years ago.

Does this mean that all Tweets published by Trump before were with no issues? He has 55 million followers on Tweeter, and he is using Tweeter for keeping in touch with his electorate and followers. He and his team have understood the dynamics of the Tweeter handle so well that he has milked it to his advantage.

But what happened suddenly to the dynamics between Tweeter and Trump’s team? Why did the labelling suddenly start? Let me tell you how the “labelling” or the locking of accounts is done. They have an algorithm to track the content of what people write. The policy is decided by the “management” or in this case of Dorsey- Twitter boss! Dorsey has said in an interview that he thinks left of centre about the world. Trump is a showcase right-winger always discretely talking of white supremacy. What took so long for Dorsey to change Twitter policies? Now, do you understand why Twitter locked the account of Amul? It was about discretely pushing Indian products as against the Chinese ones. After all, Amul is our most reliable brand, so why not? And it was not about politics. But then the algorithm is a tool written by a company and by a group of people. Naturally, it has its leanings; in the current case to the left!

But should we bother so much about Twitters and Facebooks of this world? They only publish whatever you and I write; they do not have their views. The algorithm does what it is told to do- and it is created to push Dorsey’s views. But Zuckerberg is even worse. He is endorsing Trumps’ views by not saying or doing anything about Trumps’ vitriolic statements or is behaving like Daily Sakal! When Facebook has so much power, their “not saying anything” against Trump is as good as endorsing it! The latest news is that FB has finally removed Trump’s campaign video where he is trying to use “Floyd” protests to advantage- on one side he is calling the army and wants to crush the demonstrations!

Should we really bother about Twitter and FB? I do not think so! These apps are not the creators of news like Newspapers and TV channels. These are used by you and me to share our views. But apps have a responsibility, and writing algorithms is their prerogative, and these will be decided by company policy! They are NOT creating false news, but anybody can try to create false interpretations or views of real matters. Trump’s video is an attempt to create content on Twitter! So who cares? But newspapers and TV have to care. As per the current trend, the advertisements are getting diverted to social media, print and TV media better be careful.

 




What’s Up, Folks! 

In today’s times, it will look like wrong use of the phrase! People talk more on WhatsApp and Facebook, social media. What’s Up, Folks! It is a phrase we use when you meet someone face to face. Meeting face to face is equally alien-like someone not having FB/WA account or not having cell phone itself. It is a revolution which was not foreseen even fifteen years back. But significant hardware changes and the infrastructural changes in the Internet have made this possible. That has led to the formation of WhatsApp University, but it could be FB University as well!

I now find that some secret writers have come up like mushrooms on these Universities. They write long essays on various subjects; they also write “treaties” and attribute them to well-known personalities. We have no shortage of gullible people. These write-ups start circulating, there are discussions, there are comments. It goes on and on and on.

The thing about some of these long essays is that the language used is reasonably good. The writings are logical, but in most cases, these are written by invisible people. The recent one about Mr Ratan Tata is a case which fits the bill. Finally, Mr Tata declared that he has not written the article. I have doubts in my mind whether Mr Tata wrote both the original write-up and the denial. Tata group donated Rs 1500/ crores to the various funds to fight the current pandemic. The philanthropic role played by the Tata group, in the development of India is too well known to be discussed here. Tata group has been a visionary, the founder Jamshedji Tata and later J R D Tata have shown the pathbreaking ways to the group. Mr Ratan Tata has ably continued the legacy. FB/WA university has its favourites. Wipro donated Rs 1150/ crore, L&T Rs 500/ crores plus they will keep on paying Rs.500/ cores a month to their contract workers till the lockdown lasts. These names somehow are not in circulation.

Some people are intelligent, sensible and keen to do social service to benefit the society. I salute such people. They create NGO’s, they form pressure groups and create pressure on the governments to rethink on many projects such as urban mobility, large dams, and so on. They push authorities to ensure that our hills and trees are not destroyed blatantly. I have a friend who fits the bill. But it appears that recently he has started calling himself an activist. What is the difference between a person doing social service and a social activist? Jaya described it very well. When she was chatting with this friend during dinner at a party, he said that he had become an activist. Jaya said, “Oh! It means your life has become easier; you do not have to deliver anything. No deliverables, just oppose and criticise.” He was upset and walked away. It hurts when you get shot in the bull’s eye.

I will share some more things about the friend mentioned above. He is on the FB university and looks like he has become a chair professor! He has been writing a lot of stuff on FB and forwarding articles or videos. In the current scenario of the pandemic, the nerves of people in society are frayed. His “friends” from a group of highly intelligent individuals don’t like the tack he is taking these days on critical subjects. But our friend is actively pushing his ways; some friends have started saying that he has an agenda. Matters reached an ugly stage, and most of his friends from that group regularly bashed him up. The situation became nasty and bloody, and I do not like it. I read these exchanges and do not like the way it is happening. But had these attacks been sober, I may have agreed with his friends. He claims that he does not care what others say. But friends let me tell you. It hurts, especially when people saying such stuff are known to you for years. Why he is doing it, I am not sure! But since last one week, he has stopped writing those tricky things on FB. I am all for freedom of expression, democracy and liberal thoughts. But when so many other intelligent people oppose your ideas, you cannot call them Hitler’s troops.

Then some activists have no technical knowledge of the subject; the subject can be a large dam, or national highway or a large chemical plant. There are always pluses and minuses in these discussions. But somehow these people fail to direct their activism in the right direction. Almost 45 to 50 years back Mr S L Kirloskar had asked a rhetoric question when in Pune road widening had started. Are the trees for us or we are there for trees? He suggested planting a lot of trees that could replace damaged trees in road widening.

Some of these mysterious writers have a penchant for digging out real-life and mythological stories. They link these stories with current technology and write stories of how our culture was ahead in science. We were ahead of the whole world in everything. There was an exciting story on WA about Ramdas Swami, Shivaji’s Guru. The story was about how Swamiji chose Shivthar Ghal, a valley,  to settle and wrote Dasbodh, famous treaties. The story had one Professor Bhopale. He went and took readings in that area and had a bank of modern equipment. Professor explains using a few technical words and reveals to us how no signal reached Shivthar Ghal. Then the story tells us how Ramdas Swami had this knowledge about Electrical signals. Swami selected the Ghal so that he could write Dasbodh in peace. No disturbance would be there whatsoever. These people had started a website on the subject, and some techno expert would reply, refuting all the probing questions. Come on, friends we all know that you don’t get electrical signals in some mountain areas, tunnels or inside the large buildings. The writer wanted to prove such claims to the gullible people in our society, and they succeeded to some extent. Why people do these things, I am not sure. There appears to be no way of making some money out of this scam. I still don’t know why this is done!

People have been sending write-ups in the name of Nana Patekar, Pu La Deshpande, Shivaji Maharaj and many such famous people. A recent addition to that list has been Ratan Tata. My friend Sudhakar is an expert on Pu La Deshpande literature. He quickly can find the fraud shared by these “ghost” writers. I am not sure why people do such things? Probably people have that hidden talent within them; what they write is good quality stuff but not ghost-written for celebrities, but pushed under their name. Some of them are long pieces and must be taking a great effort. I  rarely find any grammatical or spelling mistakes in them. Friends, could you share with me the logic behind making such efforts? To end, I will share one interesting story.

An individual called me one day. He started praising my blog writing. I jokingly told him, “Okay, I will give you a treat, but come to the point.” He said he would give me a subject every month. I should write a blog on that subject. I laughed and said, “I am yet to start “dial a blog service”, but still why do you want me to write.” He said, “You are a magnificent blogger. I will get your blog translated in Marathi, get your approval. Then I will make sure that the blog reached at least a hundred thousand people.” He definitely had some agenda (I know what it was), but I passed! I don’t want my blogs to be force circulated.

Does someone get stories mentioned above written from someone with an agenda? Please share those with me. I would love to read them; some have a good style!

Relentless Life Cycle!

When our children were younger, we would tell them that “Thandi Baba” ( a mythical figure) will come if you do not go to sleep now, or some such statement. Every family has its version of Thandi Baba. But now the latest version of Thandi Baba is threatening the whole world. People are worried; people are skeptical about life! Life always moves forward in a sinusoidal waveform. There are ups, and there are downs. But the current situation is such that we seem to have forgotten this concept. People are thinking that the current situation is going to last forever. Internet, FB, Smartphones and WhatsApp appeared in that particular order. These things completely changed our life. When these are active about a subject, we feel that it is the only subject in the world.

Even 50 to 70 years back, the information remained locked within countries. We hardly knew anything about the western world; western world anyway was the least bothered about us. Now those with smartphones have the whole world in their hands, literally. We get all the information live, 24/7!

sine_wave

Back to the sinusoidal wave! Why are we so much worried about the current situation? We had second world war going between 1939 and 1945. Though Indian soldiers fought on behalf of the British, except for far east India, the heat of that war did not reach us. On top of that, we were under British rule. We had our worries about the British Raj. But Europe, Russia, the US and Japan had borne the brunt of world war II. Are our fears about the pandemic unrealistic? How many deaths will be there in the worst-case scenario?

Estimates for the total casualties of World War II suggest that some 60 million people died in the world war II, including about 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians. Many civilians died because of disease, starvation, massacres, bombing and deliberate genocide. In Hiroshima, when the bomb was dropped, 1.4 lac people were killed and more by after-effects. The same figures in Nagasaki were 78 thousand, and more later due to after-effects. But these were all human-made horrors. The current one is invisible- it is Thandi baba!

It took years for the world to know the real death figures. Just imagine that the internet and TV were available in those times. Rumours and fear would have killed many more people. Friends, have we forgotten that there are peaks and troughs in life? The current one is a longish trough in our life. So why not have a relook at life? Every day, we are getting the treat of bird’s chirping for a long time. We can hear them till they are either bored or tired! As the traffic is low, the pollution levels have gone down in the cities. Life is good for retirees like me. It is not a must that we go somewhere. Life is healthy except that we can’t go out anywhere. You will ask me why it is healthy? With maids not able to come for work, all their work is shared by Jaya and me. There are life’s lessons available if you want to take them. If you are cleaning the floor, you move forward, but while wiping the floor with a mop, you move backwards. You will learn to take life as it comes! Wiping the floor can not be done moving forward! 🙂🙂

Have we forgotten that there are ups? I distinctly remember what happened to me in 2013. I was detected with Cancer, end 2013; treatment of Immunotherapy and 34 radiations were needed. That was a deep trough in my life. But in parallel, there was a high peak of happiness. Our granddaughter was born in the same time frame. We had enjoyed her arrival, that brought us the biggest joy. That joy continues even today

We all live through life with ups and downs, but particular troughs, deeply scar us. For example, second world war holocaust. Hitler and his Nazis killed more than 6 million. It is the conservative figure of the number of Jews who were killed. These scars have damaged the Jewish race permanently. The only reason the Nazis killed was that they were Jews.

World history has known that the war’s start and end. There are deaths, and there is destruction. It happens for a specific period. But the current scourge is such that people do not know how long it will last. Another thing it has done is that it is covering the whole world. There is no geographic limit for the spread. A most crucial aspect of the scourge is that there is no known cure. Okay, by no means it can be called a killer disease. But since there is no known cure, some nations, including India, have found that the social distancing and full lockdown of the country is the only solution. India’s current lockdown period is till 15th April, but nobody is sure if it is going to be adequate. The total lockdown has stopped all businesses, factories and trade, except those that come under essential services. All buses, trains and flights have been suspended. So everybody has to stay at home. We can see only so much of TV, surf the internet for a certain amount of time. You can’t intermingle with friends and neighbours; those who cannot work from home for reasons specific to the nature of work, have nothing to do. We spend almost ten hours of daytime at work. It is not easy! But is there any option?

The most unexpected collateral damage is the reverse migration of daily wage earners from big cities. These people are not sure how long the current situation is going to last. These people fear that they will have no place to live, no work, no money and hence no food. People in droves have started walking back to their homes in villages. From yesterday the government has changed the rule for a short duration and to provide these people transportation back home. Unfortunately, the situation at home is also not going to be different. But the migration is more due to the emotional pull. They would prefer to be at home in such a situation.

It is the relentless bombarding of the information, news, tables, charts and graphs that can depress anybody. In today’s time, we don’t even know which of the data, papers reaching you are false. The other day, I received a twenty-page report created by someone from Johns Hopkins Hospital. (It was found to be fake) Some websites are giving yeomen service to us by checking which of such papers are fake. The report gave such a bleak picture that anybody could get depressed.

Why do people go to such extent to spread rumours? Our neighbour went through major surgery. Because of the current condition, her supporting staff is not there to help her. Jaya phones her every day and offers her to cook something for her. Yesterday while talking, she told Jaya not visit her till 3rd April because her astrologer has said to her that starting from 30th March till 3rd April, all the constellations will be in a wrong position. It can be harmful to her health. So be it! (BTW her astrologer is from the WhatsApp University) It is another way of spreading rumours inadvertently, simply because the lady believes in such stuff.

Friends, talk to each other. No situation in this world lasts forever. Good things will be back. There could be a big financial shock until the situation changes. The world is going to take years to come out of this. But there is no fear like dropping of Atom Bomb when large population died in an instant. The war against the scourge will be won at some stage. But it is the economic war that the world should be worried. That time frame could be like that of second world war five to six years, if not longer. All businesses, large, medium and small are going to pass through a churn. But we humans are fighters; we always win in the end. There will be no Superman or Hanuman to help us. It is the massive efforts of the human race, that will take us to a peak of happiness!

Social Distancing! Become an Ostrich!

SD2

Someone hiding their head in the sand, like an ostrich is said to be foolishly ignoring their problem, while hoping it will magically vanish. The ostrich does many things, but hiding its head in the sand is not one of them. Coronavirus situation tells us to metaphorically become an Ostrich and quarantine ourselves.

But in today’s scenario of Coronavirus pandemic, becoming an ostrich is not such a bad thing. Hide from social contacts, avoid gatherings-and sincerely hope that the problem goes away on its own.

To make this a better world, we always say that become social, (but not a social animal), meet more people and so on. But the current situation tells the human race to become incommunicado, physically!

Every society is fluid, and each generation has a new way of doing things. In my grandparents time more than a hundred year ago, the socialising was done a different way than what we do today. In those days, people found various ways of meeting each other, but these occasions were religious. You got invited to attend a pooja. Then there were some occasions where husband-wife were invited for lunch to satisfy some deity. Then in our parents times, there were different occasions for inviting people. But they were less religious.

In today’s times, the occasions have become celebratory. Birthday’s, promotions, wedding anniversary, 70th  birthday, and so on. Many times people are just invited, there may not be any occasion! But Coronavirus brought a new concept of social distancing!

Social distancing encompasses non-pharmaceutical measures for controlling the transmission of infectious disease through a reduction in the frequency of physical contact between individuals. Large-scale methods of social distancing include public education on hygiene and cough etiquette.

From social animal of the 21st century to social distancing is a big leap. Coronavirus has created significant turmoil in the world after the proliferation of social media. We have twitter, WA, Facebook and online news; the Internet facilitated most of these.

Coronavirus issue started in China. Even China, with its dictatorial regime, could not hide what was happening in China. News started trickling out, and over time China began to give official figures. Okay, nobody is sure how much suppression China has done about the real spread. But the first new phrase that started being used was Lock Down, in social context! After that, another term that is being used is social distancing. But what is social distancing besides the way it is defined above? I have made interpretation suitable for Jaya and me. We are both around 70, so complete lockdown makes a lot of sense. But there are questions galore. What should different age groups do? Who decides that? Oh, simple! WHO (the United Nations body) decides this. They give advisories, and it is a good idea to follow them. Here is the usual disclaimer, I am not a doctor, and I don’t understand much health sciences. But I am going to use common sense to discuss further.

Children are young and innocent. What happens if they play together? With schools closed, how to keep them busy?

All said and done, any human being who can move out of home independently is a potential carrier. Keeping children busy is the family’s job, so do it. It is frustrating to be with them all the time. It is tiring too! If you are lucky and can work from home, you need to explain to your kids the importance of not mixing with other kids. Howsoever frustrating it maybe you are responsible for their health and avoiding the spread in society.

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I have borrowed the above graph from someones Facebook post. We should attempt to reach graph B. In the case of graph A, there is a sudden increase in number of cases. The graph B can be achieved by correct lockdown! There is a reason. Assume that Coronavirus spread has just started in your city. The government gives suggestions, puts banners about social distancing. The real results are seen after about four weeks and after that. If your city follows the social distancing or lockdown rules seriously, the chances of more cases get reduced. You may have ¼, ½, ¾, 7/8th  lockdown. These figures mean that these many people (one in four to seven in eight) from the population have gone into social distancing mode. Since China was the first country to face this, they took some time to understand the importance of social distancing. Hence before they knew what hit them, the pandemic spread exponentially- means more and more people got affected rapidly. The more the numbers means more carriers and chances of spread are very high.

In India, we are still in phase one. If we rapidly go into social distancing, the spread will happen at a slower rate and tapering off will be faster. It will also ensure that a small number of people are affected. Please understand that it depends on us, the government can only be a facilitator, but we must act.

I am writing below some scenarios in QA format for the ease of understanding.

Should I limit my physical interaction with my partner and family members?

As far as possible avoid but if all of you are under the same lockdown, then maybe it is okay.

Should I avoid common spaces in my apartment?

Yes and no. If you must go then go at a time when not many people are around, say 6 am. But avoid touching the surfaces like benches.

Should I avoid haircut?

It is a tricky one. But if you can discuss with your hairdresser, and suggest to him the use of sanitisers, disinfectants and provided he shows no symptoms you get the hair cut but reduce frequency.

Should I stop visiting elderly relatives?

Yes, definitely. Since this group is the most susceptible, they should be allowed more quarantine. You could be a carrier. Or maybe you designate someone from the family, and only that person should visit if the person is without symptoms.

We, siblings, are all 70 plus, should we meet once in a while if we have no symptoms?

Honestly speaking, you should avoid meeting if you are living separately. You are in the most susceptible range.

Should we cancel wedding receptions or birthday parties?

It is better to err on the safer side. There could be pregnant women too, who are equally susceptible. In large gatherings, it is not practical to ask everybody about the health condition.

Should I avoid public transport?

Yes, if it is possible. Anyway, avoid going out. But if you must, you may think of using Uber etc.

I am healthy and young. Should I go to bars?

I would say no. Your condition would be helpful, and you may not get infected. Your body will fight the virus quickly. But you could become a carrier and may become a party to spreading the virus.

What items should I store for emergencies?

Store routine eating stuff, medicines and paracetamol, drug suggested for Coronavirus. But definitely don’t horde toilet paper! Why normal people behave in a funny manner is difficult to explain. I have read enough toilet paper stories from the world over. Let the system stabilise for the new norms. Grocery, pharmacies, hospitals and all essential services are going to remain open!

From IT, many companies are telling their people to work from home. In Pune, Tata Motors became the first engineering company that allowed their purchase team to work from home. Working from home is an excellent concept if people work sincerely and earnestly. I hear from many that people take disadvantage of this concept, sometimes. The current pandemic is a unique opportunity for IT companies to study the “working from home” concept in details. They may realise that in normal circumstances too, xx percentage of people could always work from home. If the current scenario continues for an extended period, new SOP’s (standard operating procedures) could be created, and these people could be asked to work from home, always. It could be an excellent cost-saving for businesses as they will need smaller buildings, and people will drive less. It will be useful for the environment. There will be many such advantages.

After all, the  Ostrich will be not be hiding his head in the sand. It is putting it’s thinking cap on!

Leave me alone!

Leave me alone; I am a private person. Who the hell is the world to know about my private affairs? My privacy is so important to me that I will not allow Aadhar interference. Finally, proponents of privacy won their battle in the Supreme Court, won the battle and ensured that Aadhar was delinked from many areas of our lives. The most surprising part is that financial institutes and banks have approached the Supreme Court to allow them to link their customers to Aadhar again. Why? Because they are idiots and do not know as the know-all gang knows. Mind you; I don’t want the Orwellian Big Brother watching me over my shoulders all the time.

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I was wondering what do the likes of Google know about us. Well, I can briefly say everything. Majority of cell phones in the world are android based. Whenever we do something on the phone, Google has its hand in it. It starts from unboxing the new phone to using apps, what you bought on Google Play, everywhere else. Whenever we perform these acts, the app seeks permission to access contacts, location, SMS, photos and God knows what! If we say no to anything, we get a message “Your cellphone or the app will not perform correctly.” 95 % of the people are like you and me. So we mutter a few expletives but say okay buddy take access to whatever you want. I don’t care, but Google cares. They use these permissions to monetise whatever they can. Honestly, I don’t care. I have no secrets to hide. It’s not only Google, but others like Facebook also do the same thing. I am searching for something on the net, and maybe I go to Amazon. The next day, advertisements for these products are seen on my Facebook account, while I serf.

Coming back to Google, it allows you to download the data about you that it has saved. The file can be enormous in Gigabytes, depending on our activity. The link includes your bookmarks, emails, contacts, your Google Drive files, all of the above information, your YouTube videos, the photos you’ve taken on your phone, the businesses you’ve bought from, the products you’ve purchased through Google.

These days I hear stories about men willing to accept their wives all demands if they find that the wife has the husbands cell phone in her hand. I understand that it is because the WhatsApp has quite a few “secrets” many times. Once you come to know what Google stores from your “activities”, well it saves everything. You will not allow your wife to touch your phone. It will store the details of the area you were roaming with your buddies or GF when you were supposed to be busy in the office meet the deadline. You would rather be dead if she knew where you were! You may say that Pramod is in a mood today to write some funny stuff; it’s nothing weird. I am very serious. You don’t believe it. Let me tell you all the secrets. If your spouse is in IT, then she knows the stuff anyway. But rest assured that she is ignoring your sojourns.

Here we go.

Google has data from your calendar, your Google hangout sessions, your location history, the music you listen to; they also have the Google books you’ve purchased, the Google groups you’re in, the websites you’ve created.

They also know the phones you’ve owned, the pages you’ve shared, how many steps you walk in a day.

Google stores your location (if you have location tracking turned on) every time you turn on your phone. You can see a timeline of where you’ve been from the very first day you started using Google on your phone.

Click on this link to see your data:

google.com/maps/timeline?…

Google stores search history across all your devices. That can mean that, even if you delete your search history and phone history on one device, it may still have data saved from other devices.

Click on this link to see your data:

myactivity.google.com/myactivity

Google creates an advertisement profile based on your information, including your location, gender, age, hobbies, career, interests, relationship status, possible weight (need to lose 10 lb in one day?) and income.

Click on this link to see your data:

google.com/settings/ads/

Google stores information on every app and extension you use. They know how often you use them, where you use them, and who you use them to interact with. That means they know who you talk to on Facebook, what countries are you speaking with, what time you go to sleep.
Click on this link to see your data:

security.google.com/settings/secur…

Google stores all of your YouTube history, so they probably know whether you’re going to be a parent soon, if you’re a conservative, if you’re a progressive, if you’re Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, if you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, if you’re anorexic …

Click on this link to see your own data:

youtube.com/feed/history/s…

Do you believe in me now? Or you still have some doubts. Okay. I will share details about what Facebook stores about you, discretely.

Don’t worry, and I will not write about it. Are you feeling a bit weak in the knees; are you feeling thirsty? Do you need to see your doctor? Don’t panic. The feeling was the same for us guys when a copy of Playboy magazine was found in our school bag in our younger days. But in those days, nobody knew that our friend, okay I will name him xxx, used to tell XXX stories after we completed our cricket or badminton!

Will Google use such data for nasty purpose? I don’t think so, at least I hope so. A simple response of Yes to the seemingly innocent question has led to this problem. It is tricky. Many people in the world use birth dates, abcdef, 111111 or such simple variations as passwords. Accessing your accounts with these passwords can be done by you and me too!

The other extreme was a friend. We went and stayed with him for a couple of days; Jaya and I requested access to his wifi network. He collected our phones and laptop and went to his library at home. I said, “Don’t worry, I will punch the password.” He smiled and said, “I use a password which is 26 characters long”. Phew!

Is what Google and Facebook doing the right thing? They claim that they collect the data to make our experience personalised. Maybe! They ask for permission to access, and we give permission every time because it makes things more convenient. We use the Google map, and they need to know the location. But they save all the activity that we did. Many apps make our life easier. There is no doubt about that. So finally it comes to Privacy Vs Convenience!

All things have their plus and minus points. If you have no secrets to hide, if you easily handover your cell phone to your wife, you have no issues. But else…

You have already handed over the control to Google; mind you, I have not written about how Facebook watches you! Sleep well!

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New challenges of the modern world! 

Western World and the Japanese have been handling the challenges with ageing population for some time. In India, this challenge has started coming up slowly. The current generation, those who were born around India’s independence in 1947is ageing well, trying to take care of healthand in general gungho about life in general. Technology is helping them in getting in touch with each other using WA, Facebook, Instagram and such apps.  

India has an old tradition of handling the aged relatives in the family. In my young age, in many families there used to be one or two grannies, lovingly called aajjies! In those times most of the families were joint families. From the “post-independence” generation, people started getting better opportunities for education. A small percentage of the population went to foreign countries and stayed back there. Over a period, this percentage started increasing. Computerisation made technology more democratic; more and more people began getting opportunities to work and live abroad. 

Along with this, opportunities for education and work, jobs became abundant. Pan Indian migration started in a big way. All these things resulted in the formation of nuclear families. The ladies too were not far behind. After education ladies became  career oriented in a big way. Steady and better incomes inculcated a new thought process in families. All this gave birth to a new term, space; everybody wanted their space. It has become the requirement of grandparents, parents and children. But this space created voids in the family. The effect of voids was not understood, initially. The family kept helping and supporting each other in the short term. Better medical treatments and diagnostics helped longevity. All these events together have now created a new requirement in society.  

What happens when someone in the family falls ill and needs long time support. The requirement of long-term support arose when people of the golden generation became old but could not handle many things, physically; and in some cases mentally. There are two distinctive supports available. One is palliative support, and the other is like home support. Those who are seriously ill with cancer, heart issues, renal problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary issues, cerebrovascular accident need palliative care; such treatment cannot be handled at home. But general ageing related issues can be dealt under home care.  

In western countries, especially in the US, palliative care facilities are available. In Japan, there is a shortage of such facilities. In India, these facilities, compared to the needs, are almost non-existent. In India, as a society, we are prepared to provide space to each other, but while this change happened, we had not budgeted for parents who can live longer due to improved longevity. The confluence of all this created turmoil in people’s mind about handling the situation. In the year 1981, Jaya and I were in Ottawa as Jaya was taking some training. During one long weekend, we went to an island on a lake with a Canadian friend of ours; he was almost twenty years senior to us. 

On the way back, the friend said, “Hey folks, is it ok if I take a bit of detour?” We said, “Absolutely no issues.” When we reached a destination, the friend said, “It is an old people’s home, my mother is here. I come and meet her every 2/3 months.” We were sitting at the back-side of the car and were confused. We did not know what we were supposed to do. But our problem was solved by his wife. In the parking lot, she said, “I will wait with Jaya and Pramod; you go and see your mother.” Problem solved. In 1981, our friend was ok with the idea of meeting his mother every 2/3 months, because she was within 50 km from Ottawa. As a society, we are not mentally prepared with this idea. The older people’s homes available are not providing facilities that people have at home.  

There is some progress in creating facilitiesBut compared to India’s population, this number is lowIt is about creating facilities; it is also about young and old getting mentally prepared for such arrangements. Hospices need doctors, trained nurses, and medical facility to handle day to day critical requirements. Whereas in older people’s homes, the need is to create facilities which suit all the pockets. Some may need fivestar facilities, and others may be ok with a couple of stars. But there is a significant need for affordable facilities.  

Some people will ask me why am I writing about all these things. The simple reason is it is a need of times like we have schools, colleges, gardens and so on. I hope people have managed to create a corpus which will last them till they are around. 

I will tell you about some facilities in India that I know. According to me, there is a worldclass facility but I will explain it in the end. Please let me know if you know about such facilities in India. In Pune, there is one facility developed by Paranjape builders called Athashri. It is well developed and within Pune city limits. To my knowledge, they have couple of locations. In these facilities, one can buy a condo or rent it from someone who has bought it. I have heard about similar facility in Talegaon near Pune. In Lavasa near Pune, similar facilities are there. I have read something about such facilities near Dehradun, and I am sure there must be more such facilities.  But they do not provide what is provided by Dignity Foundation.

The best of such facilities for me is one in Neral. It is on a hillock, with gradually sloping covered but open corridors. Golf carts are available for those who need them. The place is called Dignity foundation. 

https://www.dignityfoundation.com/Contact-Us.aspx 

The rooms that I saw were like a standard hotel room, with bath and toilet. It had a small cupboard and kitchenette too. They also provide round the clock nursing service if required. I know all the details because someone very close to us lived there for her last few years. They had an arrangement with Reliance Hospital if hospitalisation was required. When she needed an eye treatment, they sent their person with her for a couple of days to Mumbai for treatment. She used to paint, so they had provided her with a small room. Besides joint celebrations, they used to show movies and had many activities. 

When she died, the family suggested cremation in Mumbai. But their manager suggested that if there were no specific reason to do it Mumbai, they would arrange everything in NeralWe all went to Neral for cremation. After everything was completed, the manager suggested a small tour of the facility because some of the people had never seen it before. In the end, he took us to their dining area.

He said, “Sir, it is already 1.30 pm. The management has suggested that all of you should have lunch with us and know what kind of food the residents is served.” It was a standard home type food for lunch. But what impressed all of us was the gesture they showed and took part in the cremation as if someone from their family had died! We knew her last twothree years must have passed the way she wanted. It is not the facilities but the human touch that is important. After all, people who live there are far from their family.  

Are we ready? 

The year is 2029. The family is eagerly awaiting the birth of the child in the family. As the time comes nearer, the lady is in the labour room. Finally, a baby girl is born. The doctors give a couple of pats on her bottom, and she starts crying. All is well! Everybody is happy and thrilled. The waiting family takes a look at the baby girl who is naturally crying. Doctors tell the family that once the baby starts sucking the mothers breast, she will stop cryingThe baby sucks and stops after fifteen minutes. The mother hopes that she will finally be able to sleep at least for some time.  

But no, the baby starts crying again. An hour passes, but she doesn’t stop crying. Finally, they call the paediatrician again. Doctors phone rings while she is checking the baby. Two-three rings of Mozart’s Allegro 5 and the baby stops crying. The baby stops crying instantly. She is a smart doctor. She asks the mother, “Did you listen to a lot of Jazz during pregnancy?” The mother smiles. The doctor says, “Put some music on when the baby cries non-stop. She is used to your heartbeats and the Jazz. Buy a pair of headphones for the baby too!”  

Okay, this is fantasy but nothing surprising. In the last two decades, our lifestyle has completely changed. WWW, Internet, Social media have touched our life everywhere. Where it will reach in the future, we do not know. In the first decade, we felt that it is okay for senior citizens to stay away from these things. But the rapid proliferation of cell phones has changed many things.  

Bill Gates had made some predictions in 1999. All of them have become reality in the two decades. 

https://www.businessinsider.in/Bill-Gates-made-these-15-predictions-in-1999-its-scary-how-accurate-he-was/11-Online-discussion-boards/slideshow/47090642.cms 

It is both scary and fascinating at the same time. It shows his visionIt shows his smart thinking. Not bad for a college dropout- don’t forget that he was admitted to Harvard before he dropped out.  

The most surprising aspect is that Microsoft is the only company that has remained in the top ten performing companies list during this continuous transition period. They had products with them which were futureready. They were required to make changes to suit the changes in hardware and internet speeds. Their top products are the operating system (they lost out to Google on Cellphone OS), Office needs no introduction. They have gone towards cloud computing using Azure. They are offering storage- free as well as paid using one drive. We talk of Google when we search on the web. But you may not be aware that Bing, the Microsoft search engine, is used by Facebook.  My prediction is that Microsoft will be a top performer in the coming decade too.  

Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other chat sites had a phenomenal growth during the last decade. But I feel that they have reached their plateau. Now future growth could be average, or they will face fierce competition. Honestly, I don’t know who those competitors will be. 

Finance and banking sector will change drastically in the coming decade. I had two diametrically opposite experiences in the last fifteen days. I had made a couple of iTwitternvestments in equity and Mutual fund. I wanted to redeem both of them. For the mutual fund investment, I had to go to their office physically, wait till my turn came. My work was finished in ten minutes. But I had to travel for about two hours. Whereas in the equity-based investment, my experience was different. 

To begin with, I found out that the management had changed and the name of the company was different. I could locate my portfolio without logging in based on PAN number. I was wondering about the next step, and I saw the button “Call me”! I entered my cell number, and lo I got the callback within in minute, at 8 pm. The person guided me through the procedure; my user id was an extinct email id. He changed it for me online to my present email id recorded with them. I redeemed my investment in ten minutes again, but the system helped me to eliminate the two-hour travel. 

I bought an internet TV recently. Well, internet TV is a TV which is connected to the internet. So, there are distinct advantages. Jaya’s and my cell phones are of the same make as TV. In a zip, they have become additional remote controls. I have not bought Alexa, but finally, now someone in the house listens to me, the TV. Thanks to Google assistant (OS on the TV is Android) I can instruct the TV to do a few things.  

Am I getting too techy? But friends the world is becoming techy to help us perform our day to day things. No point in remaining away from these things. Take help of your grandchildren if required. My six-year-old granddaughter Rhea was talking to us on WhatsApp video call. Suddenly she said, hold on for a moment. I was wondering what she was going to do next. She said, “Now let’s group chat, I have taken so and so on the call.” Thank you, Rhea! 🙂🙂 

What I see in future is that we will have to use the technology, whether we like it or not. Traffic police stop you and ask you for the documents. Now you can’t carry all the original documents in the car. If the vehicle gets stolen along with the papers, god bless you! So, what is the alternative? Well, whether you are twenty or seventy, you need to show the documents like License, the RC book and maybe Vehicle Insurance policy. Simple it is. Open your Digi locker on your cell phone and display all these documents. It is now legal to show the documents on Digi locker. I was coming by an Uber one day. While chatting with the driver, he told me, “A policeman stopped me for a minor traffic dispute. I showed the license to him. He took it away and returned it after fifteen days; I could not use my taxi for those fifteen days.” When I told him about Digi locker, he was thrilled.  

But don’t forget that technology can make mistakes too! A technological error saved the world recently from major conflict. Yes, I am talking of Iran shooting down Ukrainian commercial aircraft. Iranian radar system made an error in judging if it were enemy aircraft or a neutral aircraft. The conflict was saved at the cost of 172 innocent people.  

Technology will have different effects in future. Technology will handle remote car repairs, and you will have driverless cars. But the similar technology will run Uber and Ola. So, people may buy fewer cars. Electrical Vehicles will turn the car business on ithead because twenty parts will replace 2000 parts from the drivetrain. Technology will help invent new drugs and investigation tools. It will bring down the death rate, but technology will make humans redundant in some areas. So many areas, jobs will not be created but will be lost! 

But you and I cannot prevent technological development, newer and better technologies. So, the right idea is to keep abreast with new stuff and start using it. It is no surprise that four-year kids take photos on cell phones, and do many other things. I am sure that in future eighty five-year-olds also will also use technology for everything.

 

 

 

 

 

Connectivity- the Big Brother!  

I am all for technologyThe technological changes that took place in the world in the last 50 years are beyond our imagination. My definition of the period in human history changes to suit the subject of discussion. In my blog published yesterday, I was talking of “Before the Internet” and “After the Internet” time. When there is a discussion about the human race, we consider the period in terms of “B.C. and A.D.” But today I am going to consider the period as “Before Computers” and “After Computers.”  

Such technological changes happen very discretelyThese changes occur for a particular work, but later the same is used in altogether different work or applications. Computers were born in 1936. After the second world saw the birth of transistors, that made computers real handy; those machines were full room behemoths. Now, modern cell phones have computing power, which is thousands of times more than those computers.  

We never knew when the WWW term came into our lives. I came to see this term in the mid-nineties of the last centuryThe name could be used because of the birth of the Internet. Internet, what is that? It was a term used in those days to connect computers in a network with each other; computers were used only for the scientific workOh, how do I care? Was it about the scientists? Who knew that all things would be in our day to day life in a short period of twenty-five years. Then connectivity became easier and easier and easier! Now sometimes, it is a little scary!  

Now connectivity connects everything in your life. My neighbour Sameer jokingly told me, “I can look at financial data of anyone in a matter of a few minutes.” He does not do it. He is head of Cyber Securities in a big multinational and has a team of “Good” hackers. Good hackers are there to prevent Bad hackers from stealing our data and, if possible, money!  

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But still, we are connected in ways which we will not even imagine! The example I am going to share with you is funny and scary. A couple decided to take action to remain fit. So, they bought two Fitbits! Like beautiful couples, they thought it is a good idea to sync the two devices. The syncing helped them in ensuring that they completed their daily workout. It enabled them to encourage each other by knowing if one of them failed to achieve the daily target. So far, so good! The husband once travelled for work. Then on one night, the wife saw an unusual “Physical Activity” of her husband at three a. m.; she thought that there must be some error. But then she realised that “activity” was happening for almost an hour. She called him, and the stuttering husband said ….. ! He was “caught” with his pants down, literally! Now, do you know what I meant by funny and scary both? 

Connect1

Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based voice service available on more than 100 million devices from Amazon and third-party device manufacturers. With Alexa, you can build natural voice experiences that offer customers a more intuitive way to interact with the technology they use every day. In our day-to-day language, it is a device that listens to your voice commands and acts accordingly. When a friend comes to your homeyou want to impress her. You say, “Hey, Alexa! Please start the India Today news channel! I want to listen to the news guru!” Alexa “tells” the TV to start the channel! Then you say, “Hey Alexa, reduce the volume by half!” Your slave does your work, which could have been easily done by a remote. Your friend is duly impressed and says, “Hey, Pramod! I am impressed! Let me buy it from Amazon!” You never knew when you had become an unpaid marketing agent for Amazon!  

How does it do it? I am sure it listens to your voice, processes it, and sends it somewhere on the web. On further processing, it sends the command to the TV. It stores the sound bytes somewhere! Now assume you are talking to your wife, ApekshaYou are telling her, “ApekshaBla Bla Bla!” Now Alexa is confused. It does not know to whom you are addressing. So it still sends the voice data, stores it, but cannot generate a commandI hope you have not forgotten that Apeksha is going to create the commands. She will tell the husband! She would say, “So many times I have told you not to believe in Ashok! In the future, I don’t want him to enter our home!” Alexa is still confused, but the data goes where ever it goes! Is it not a bit scary? I don’t know whether voice data is stored, but you never know! Are your secrets also stored somewhere? 

Any time you access your phone, you may get a message, “Uber is accessing your location”! You access a site on your Laptop, and Google will ask you, “Hey Pramod, do you want to continue accessing as  pan….@gmail.com”? “ No, thank you!” But Google knows all the time what you are doing! It sends you a message every month. “Hey, Pramod! You went to the following locations last month!” They don’t provide an option to delete the entry when you went see your girlfriend! 

Google, you will break my marriage, man!  

When Microsoft was introducing Windows 10, during the downloading, I received a message that Microsoft may be using nearby computers to increase the speed of installation. It did not ask the nearby computers if they could be accessed for this purpose, Yes or No question. They simply used them.  

My daughter wanted to send some funds abroad to her own account. We went to the concerned bank in Pune; she filled up a form, gave all the details. Her regular branch bank authenticated her information. Against the form submitted, they did not provide any receiptThe next day her bank abroad sent her SMS that they had received the funds. There were no issues in that process. But it sometimes gets scary. One has not issued any chequethere is no receipt for receiving the form. Bank has access to your funds. Could there be misappropriation at some stageThe bank can take all the actions quickly because of its excellent connectivityI am sure the bank has checks and balances in the system!  

In recent times doubts are raised in India that Orwellian Big Brother is watching us. The reason for this doubt is not being discussed here. But connectivity everywhere will make the task easy for the big brother to keep track of everything. Governments, the world over, keep track of emails, Facebook accounts, and Instagram accounts. So Orwellian doubts are not as farfetched as we think.  

But the human tendency is funnyOn one side, we talk of Orwell, and on the other hand, we share the smallest of the personal things on social media. You break up your relationshipthe first thing you go to social media and change your status to single. You don’t give yourself a chance to find out if somehow, two of you can come back together again!  

Connectivity, human or electronic, has its pluses and minuses. If used properlyit can be gamechanger! There are bad aspects of your life, but make sure that you don’t have one thousand Facebook friends, but not a single friend in real life!  

 

 

Social Media, a re-look!  

 

Social4In the last decade or so, we don’t even know when we were caught in the tsunami of the social media world. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and their brethren invaded our lifeSuddenly we realised that it was okay if we did not have food or something to drink. It was okay if there were no tea or AC! But lack of internet or connectivity for short duration gave us a feeling as if we were getting drowned. We felt claustrophobic due to the absence of those few vertical lines or if the page took “time” to get loaded. The delay, mind you, was sometimes ten seconds. Oh, my God! Ten seconds, somebody call an ambulance, please. Get me admitted to a hospital. I might die! (Hopefully, hospital wi-fi is working)!  

But Social media now is becoming too toxic for me to handle. The quality of debate and discussion is unfortunate, to say the least, the pitch is too shrill and most posts are driven by nothing but the spirit of oneupmanship. The world was full of issues and problems even before social media. We discussed issues animatedly. But when we are face to face with anyone, we stay within limits of decency. The leading cause is that the discussion is not anonymous. Very rarely, we crossed the threshold of decency. 

I look around and my friends, family and real people who I deal with on a day to day basis continue to be what they were. Their identity to me is the role they play in my life and this world, the work that they do and the kind of human beings they are. I have never been bothered by their religion, caste, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity and other famous labels of identity. I don’t apply any of these to define my identity, other than gender; I see as something of consequence but also hope that someday even that will not matter. The world that I exist in is real. It’s not always positive or hunkydory. But it does not allow for such toxic behaviour and effort to prove a point and put the other down.    

We may be divided by opinions and beliefs, but we all still need to find a way to agree to disagree gracefully. My way or highway attitude of selfproclaimed knowalls in my friends’ list and on my timeline is beyond my capacity to bear. Why is this so?  It is because now my “friends” are called “friends” because Facebook says so! I have no qualms in becoming “friends” with people. Since last few years, I have stopped sending friend requests to people! Still, my friends list grew by onethird of what I had before. Why did it happen? In trigonometry, there is a termThe function of a function is a composite function. I got requests from a long-lost person, spouse or son or a daughter of someone! It would have been impolite not to accept such requests! But out of my list, I interact with less than five per cent people sometimes, or at least once in a while! Out of these five per cent, at least half are my family or reallife friends whom I meet face to face. Majority of the other I may not ever meet them face to face barring some quirk of destiny. It is because we move in different “Solar Systems” of life! Currently, my usage of social media is regular as I use it to publish my blogs. But other than blogs, I do not use it much.  

I have no qualms in admitting that some issues need more nuanced understanding than others; some are guided by individual perspective and one’s experience. As responsible, citizens we should not believe everything that the powers that be tell us, we should also not write off everything with cynicism and prejudice. But most of all we need to connect with our circles, our people, our neighbours, our colleagues, our acquaintances and realise that we breathe, drink, eat, feel and act to sustain the same struggle of life. These relationships are the ones that matter, and if we can make this struggle easier for each other, we need not fear and frenzy about the rest of the things. We should ignore the posts of people who write toxic things, both for or against everything. The toxicity is the result of anonymity! I am sure these persons will not be as toxic in real life, as their writing.  

Social media and media, in general, is creating a smokescreen which I can’t breathe through at the moment. I feel like a word of caution is required for all who want to express every thought, opinion, support, protest and brainwave like it needs to be broadcasted. There are some very sensible people out there too! Harsha Bhogale, the cricket commentator, tweets only about cricket. He is an expert in that field and never replies to anything toxic to get into controversy; very rarely he has written about issues not related to cricket like he has written today. 

I read tweets by  Anand Mahindra, which are interesting, funny and down to earth. But these are never controversial. Those who don’t know Anand Mahindra, he is the chairman of Mahindra group. But from his communications, you will feel as if he is like you and me! But there are many like film stars, who communicate on subjects which are well beyond the scope of their expertise. Many people want their opinions on BJP and Congress, CAA and NRC! They are not in this field so they should not express their ideas in the public domain, on an unrelated subject. Such bytes create easily avoidable controversies and toxicity!  

So I find that there are poisonous people and toxic people. Then there are idiots. Like I read a post by someone who is a senior working officer in the armed forces. He has written a post on Facebook wall praising a close relative for taking part in protesting about the current hot political topic; his language was vicious. It is sheer stupidity. Even though he is working in government, our democracy allows him to have his views. But it is idiotic to write them on the Facebook Wall.  Will these people ever change? I don’t think so!

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Before the deep penetration of social media in our lives, I was aware of different views– they are healthy for a democracy. Citizens punish the politicians for their wrongdoings in elections. But I was not aware of deep-seated hatred that comes out in the open. Governments world over keep track of social media to handle terrorist’s threats. In the US visa application, they ask you to share with them your social media identities. I am sure they check them randomly or do the audit check.  I am sure that what I am writing in blogs could be tracked by someone. When we know these things, should we be so explicitly expressing our extreme views; these may be either for or against an event 

Will this toxic behaviour go away? I don’t think so. Is there any benefit of having a war of words? Do we benefit from such discussions? When we do not benefit from something, is it not worth remaining away from such posts?  So what is the solution?

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It is what you can post!

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Luckily, I am not a serious twitter user. Otherwise, I would have received a tweet about one of my blogs. “You dumbo, why do you write some stupid stuff, which nobody reads, anyway!”