The Four letter F word News!!!

As far as I know, A.R. Rahman is an accomplished music composer. A musical genius, he is also known to be a very humble and genial human being. Usually minding his own business which is churning some out of the world, awesome music day in and day out.  Hence my antenna went up when I saw a post on Facebook and WhatsApp recently attributing him to a quote in a publication called ‘Verve’ claiming to be “the World’s No.1 Bulletin”. The postcard with his picture quoted him of being a Sufi Muslim and conveyed his stand against Cow slaughter. The post ended with him welcoming the Govt.’s recent move to curb Cow slaughter.  Only that, as I suspected this was a Fake News and the post entirely made up with his quotes taken out randomly from old interviews.  He had nowhere opined on Cow slaughter at all.

Welcome to the “New Normal”. Where it is quite normal to see “Fake News” being packaged and circulated as authentic News. Not just A.R. Rahman. Few weeks ago, a similar quote was attributed to Google’s chief Sundar Pichai as well. There was a time when there was just News. Not prefixed by any adjective of any kind. But the situation today is different. We have News of all kinds. News, Fake News, False News, Authentic News and so on.  If we just go by the Fake News around is, our National Anthem is the best in the world, the new 1000 Rs. note has an embedded GPS chip and some more inanities like that.

In Tamil Nadu, where I grew up, ‘The Hindu’ Newspaper was then the “Gold” standard for Newspapers. The joke then was even if there was a murder in broad daylight in front of the newspaper office in Chennai, The Hindu will not carry the News of that murder till the police came, filed the FIR and the postmortem report confirmed that it was indeed a murder! From that to what it is now, we have come a long way. I don’t know if The Hindu still maintains the same yard stick for reporting or not. But in general we know that with a smart phone in hand, everyone has become a reporter of sorts. And in the era of limited attention spans and competitive journalism, “Speed” of breaking the News has taken precedence to accuracy. In this race of “Breaking News” by the minute, truth and validation of News have fallen by the way side. Ironically.

While the above could be attributed to the tyranny of competitive journalism and not probably malafide intent, what is of more concern these days is the deliberate intention to spread False News, thereby outrage and influence opinion. Day in and day out factories in remote corners of India equipped with Internet, Photoshop, Video editors and Mixers churn out “Fake news” taking off from happenings of the day around the world. Thanks to the much empowered Social Media the output from these “Fake news factories” quickly attain ‘Viral velocity”. And when one gets up in the morning into your smart phone as usually it happens, these Fake News posts are on your face.  And without realizing, we contribute our might to the viral velocity by forwarding/Sharing the posts on a dozen odd groups we are usually part of these days and on our social media timelines. All these posts with an intended objective of colouring our opinions slowly do the trick in our mind. Result – we feel happy that though Rahman is a practicing Muslim he abhors Cow slaughter and quote this when the opportunity arises to few others.

You and I doing this is still fine. But the “Fake News factories” of late have started imbibing in its ranks opinion leaders, leading politicians, senior journalists and the like. They also seem to be falling prey to this and in their own naiveté or intent add value to the barrage of Fake News.  While the print medium is still immune to this Fake News syndrome, I feel that the Online medium where our consumption of News is the most these days is seriously afflicted. So when we see any News these days it becomes imperative to step back a bit and decipher if it is indeed News or News preceded by the dreaded 4 letter F word. “Fake” I meant.  Though Social Media sites like Facebook and Twitter have in the recent past resolved to put an end to the “Fake News” problem, the nature of the platform makes it almost impossible to put a stop to this. Yes with better technology and resources they can attempt to minimize. In India, the advent of few sites who now have taken up the role as watch dog for News/Media like Newslaundry, Altnews,.. does provide some hope.  By calling out Fake News as quickly as possible, these sites at least help to contain the damage before hell breaks loose.

So next time you stumble upon a vicious and seemingly propagandist post on WhatsApp or Facebook, step back a little and don’t jump to forward to other groups or share in your timeline!  You could thereby avoid becoming part of the “sleeper cell” of Forward factories trying to manufacture outrage by setting a convenient narrative.  As the old adage goes, “News comes first and then the Narrative”. And not the other way about as is the wont these days.

Postscript: And as far as those rib tickling LOL memes on Alia Bhat or for that matter on tomorrow’s Ind Vs Pak match, bring them on!

Vox populi, vox Dei!!!

So finally Jallikattu happened.  May not be with the usual pomp and religious fervour. But with a lot of pride and chest thumping. After all, it was only made possible thanks to the collective will of the Tamil people which made the Governments heed to their demand for revoking the ban on Jallikattu.  A ban which dates back 3 years. The Jallikattu bull was tamed after the TN Government and the Central Government fixed the judicial match hurriedly by passing an ordinance in its favour. I say hurriedly because the passing of the ordinance didn’t happen after elaborate discussions.  Or after considerations of pros and cons.  May not be even after looking at different perspectives and after effects.  In all the 3 years they had as it should be when laws are made/amended. This happened as a knee jerk reaction to the people’s movement which overtook the streets of Chennai first and www soon which rattled the already tentative State Government. As is the wont these days, social media played its part to the “T” in mobilizing people at will.  Vox populi (Voice of the people) won the day!

Elections

As expected, this immediately triggered protests in the neigbouring state of Karnataka to lift the ban on its bull sport the Kambala. As we speak, attempts are underway to copy/paste the “Marina Model” the get the sport going. Going by the initial response of the Govt. it appears like Win No. 2 for Vox populi!

And this may not be the last. Inspired by these wins, more and more causes – some genuine and some not will be taken up in the streets and in social media. The conventional media in its quest to stay relevant will play the dutiful bridesmaid. Unlike the traditional yesterday’s protests which were pretty much local in nature that can be quelled by a lathi charge or a tear gas burst, the modern day protests which play smartly in smart phones and minds of interested people all over the world are impossible to control.  Ergo, more often than not Governments of the day are likely to succumb to the “viral” pressure and pass/amend laws that will pander to the campaigners, the genuineness of the cause notwithstanding.

The moot question is “What’s wrong with Vox populi?” After all in a democracy a Government is supposed to be “Of the People, By the People and For the People”. So if the people willed in favour of a particular thing, shouldn’t the Government just go by the flow? If majority of people want a change isn’t it the duty of the Government to bring about that change? I think the answer to these questions are more nuanced than it seems at the outset.

In a democracy a Government is formed by a party/dispensation which has the majority vote. Indeed it owes its ascendancy to power to the people who voted in its favour. However once in power, it’s no more a Government for just the people who voted for it. It is supposed to be an inclusive Government for all its citizens. Hence it becomes necessary to look at all sides of the issue before a law is made or amended. Precisely the reason why in India, we have an Upper house called the Rajya Sabha which has indirectly elected and nominated members from various walks of life as members. Rajya Sabha also has to pass any legislation apart from Lok Sabha if it has to become a law. Like India, most of the democratic countries have their own checks and balances by which an inclusive view is taken while appropriating any law.

In that sense, more and more wins for Vox populi is a dangerous trend. Bucking the trend would mean that the Government of the day at times would have to ignore the raucous voice of its own constituency in taking a stand on certain issues. In a pure political sense this is easier blogged than done! What is easy and convenient of course is to say Vox populi, vox Dei (Voice of People is Voice of God) or its desi equivalent in TamilMakkal Theerpe Mahesan Theerpu and move on.

How I wish Abraham Lincoln actually said – “Government Of the People, By the People For All People shall not perish from the Earth”!!!

A day of Digital Detoxing!!!

It’s not very often that I tune into FM Radio while driving. That space is usually kept for Indian Classical music, Ilayaraja and of late Kishore Kumar. A chance tuning to Red FM 93.5 a few days back spurred an idea which caught my imagination. The station amidst bajaoing the likes of the highly repulsive ‘baby ko bass pasand hai’ and its ilk, was filling in with a new segment called “Prayaas” which they explained was an attempt to create awareness on social causes. So that day’s Prayaas was devoted to what they called as the “digital” disease and described with a funny song how people have fallen into the “Digital Trap” in almost all walks of life. Aimed to be funny, it was thought provoking!

Coming to think of it, it’s a fact that most of the urban and semi urban population world over is today suffering from this “Digitalitis”! It’s an ailment which involuntarily spread itself with technology – first the internet and now the smart phone. Reams or rather terabytes have been consumed on how a day in the life of a human being has changed with the advent of the smart phone, on how a smart phone has made a person dumb and so on. Like the other day in a Coffee shop, one saw a lone guy. No big deal, right? But the surprise thing was he was not checking his phone. And was not on his laptop either. Was just sipping and enjoying his coffee. Somebody commented that he must be a psychopath😄😄. Today, a guy just sitting and having his coffee without being in the “Digital space” cannot be anything else!!!

In these days of waking into your smart phone and closing your eyes in the night after checking and responding to the last messages in the myriad groups in WhatsApp, what happens if you shut yourself “Digitally” for a day? A day of Digital Detoxing??? So that was yesterday for me when I decided to go back to the pre-smart phone days. That means – no WhatsApping even Good morning messages or indulging in weekend banter in at last count 46 groups😄😄. Not logging into Facebook even for greeting friends on Birthdays which I do very religiously now. (For a person who is bad at remembering dates, knowing the Birthdates of near and dear thro FB is a Godsend). No Tweeting, not even the usual satirical one liners (pakau stuff for some)! And no checking the phone now and then (as per the wife – every half a second!!) for business e mails!! And certainly no blogging😄😄

dd2

Having decided to go through this, the first step was to announce this proudly to the wife. (Lest she should not think that her man is not well the whole day😜😜). The immediate reaction was in predictable lines. “One full day of Digital Detoxing??? No Chance”!! I challenge that you cannot cross even few minutes forget a day and all😜” Thoughts of all the past challenges with the wife which you invariably lost came to the mind! But I still muster courage and reaffirm my resolve to be detoxed. So what was my experience???

First up, the digital detox day started off with a bad omen. The tyranny of the I-phone battery ensured that the battery was drained out completely when I got up. So may be that was a good omen!!! After putting it up for charging, I touched my phone only to answer few calls whole of the day! And as an extension to the detox programme, the laptop was firmly entrenched in its bag!

The Omen – Good or Bad notwithstanding, the experience was not bad at all. Not only did I withstood for 12 hours, but went beyond that as well.  It certainly helped that it was a weekend and hence could afford to put away the phone in a corner of the drawing room. Of course there were temptations to check messages in WhatsApp but could resist without much ado.  When you don’t have to catch up with messages in the many WA groups in the early morning, you could get back to the youth habit of reading the newspaper from the “Mast head” to the “printed and published by,…” line. Oops nowadays it is from “one ad for a smart phone” to “another one for an Ecom sale”😄😄. No checking the phone while in signals or traffic jams which is an instinctive thing to do nowadays. Same while waiting in check-out counters while shopping! Could engage with banters with the wife and the daughter without interruptions. The banter went on and on that the wife felt that the regular day was better😄😄. The eyes which get moist in usual days staring most of the time on the laptop screen and straining on mobile screen felt relaxed. From multi-tasking (which is what you end up doing when you are working on the phone all the time) to single tasking, the day was more relaxing I felt.

Couple (only😄) of my friends called to check if all’s well with me – since they didn’t see the 2 blue ticks against messages sent to me over WA all through the day!

By evening, the sister called to check if there was some major fight with the wife at home. (Incidentally the wife also gave a miss to the regular Good morning message yesterday!!!). I had to convince the sister that the situation was quite the opposite – hopefully😄😄

Otherwise nothing much was missed! Today morning, could pick up the thread easily and move on. So maybe I should do it more often. And may be one day isn’t enough to feel the difference. So, to my fellow travelers in the digital age, do try this “digital detoxing”! But please inform your folks in advance that you are on Digital Detoxing😄😄 I will, certainly the next time which is most likely to be for a week!

Postscript:  In Chennai, I came across a restaurant where the patrons have to leave the mobile phones behind in lockers. Last heard – its doing well with the wives😄😄

A WhatsApp’s message!!!

I am myself surprised to witness what has been happening the last 2 weeks. If I add “pleasantly though” to it I will be labelled a sadist. For some time now I have been vilified for many social evils happening in the world. From the time I came to existence though there has been an acceptance (grudgingly if I may add) that I am useful in connecting people from disparate parts of the world, there is also this constant nagging at my back. Of how I waste people’s time, of how I have managed to turn people into being unproductive, of how I have become a tool to circulate mischievous rumours, of how people use me to spread venom, of how I and my clan have even become soft tools in the hands of savvy terrorists and so on. In the company of my more august colleagues we have become one group against which the Governments all over the world have axes to grind. And I hear that they all are putting up plans to do what they do best –“Exert control”. So I will not be surprised if in the coming months/years there are UN summits to discuss laws to control us like the ongoing UN Climate change summit in France aimed at achieving a universal and legally binding agreement on Climate😃 (Does these UN Summits really deliver is a debate you guys should kick-start)

So under the circumstances, what happened or rather is happening in Chennai, India – the unprecedented deluge which hit the city at its heart throwing the city and its people out of gear has been our moment of comeuppance and a decisive one in that. Though it was not my intention to use an unfortunate natural calamity to send a message to our critics, (though sending messages across is my raison d’être) it might have ended up like that. I never imagined that in a short time since I was launched as “WhatsApp” into the hands of many human beings across the world, I would get to play a stellar role at the time of a huge humanitarian crisis like the one which happened in Chenna😄😄i. The crisis is yet over.

WhatsAPp

It is now normal for any individual in Urban India to be part of a few WhatsApp  “Groups”. One’s group range from “Immediate family” to “Dad’s side family” to “Mom’s side relatives” to “Cousins” to “Office team” to “Ex-Employer/s team” to “Living community” to “School” to “College/s” “Hobby” group and so on. And smart people who want to use me for their business have few more groups like customer groups, Vendor group,… And there are short time temp. Groups which are formed for certain events. The “Groups” may be many but I have noticed that the happenings are usually similar. From Good morning, Good night messages, Happy Birthday/Anniversary wishes, and then discussions which happen on and off ranging from being serious/purposeful stuff to frivolous time pass type. And there is this monster type called “forwards” usually taking up most of my server space – motivational messages, philosophical messages, Jokes and memes, articles, chain messages on Gods, those with political messaging,…,… I myself wonder how it would be to watch the same meme on Alia Bhat or Captain Vijayakanth again and again in different groups though I must admit here that they are extremely funny😄. In all this forwarding business, I got sucked into playing a huge part in resurrecting the career of guys like Alok Nath😁. And give a positive connotation to “Viralling” 😁😁. It’s now easy to know the time when one wakes up from the 1st message he/she sends through me. The 1st thing most people on earth do these days is check messages on me – again an accusation hurled at me as an addition inducer. My grudge has always been that inspite of being a powerful tool which is very useful to humanity in many ways what I got associated was that of a spoiler😩.

I guess however from now on things will be different. People put me into productive use in the last 1 week in the time of the Chennai crisis. From sharing updates on the latest weather to important information on road conditions to circulating info about people in distress the forwards were of the critical type. With no TV when power was down, people completely had to depend upon updates on social media. Groups which are generally are accused of gupshup used the forum to reach out to the needs of friends, near and dear. I’m not saying that the same people would not have responded if individually contacted through other means. But media like me which thrive on group communication have a demonstrative effect. The whole feeling of helping and supporting each other gets infectious in a group and end result has a multiplier effect. As the weather in Chennai returns to normal there is a big task in hand for the common public and the administration. Rescue is now over and it’s time for relief, rehabilitation of the affected and recovery to normalcy. Here again I hope to play a big role in being a platform for generating funds and resources from well-wishers all around the planet. If there is an identified agency which is engaged in relief measures, please use me to forward details of them among your “Groups” to raise funds. In the last few days, I am clear that there is no dearth for helpful souls and they are a plenty. To tap them is the crux of resource mobilization and I feel I can play a crucial role in this activity.

While being happy about the role we social media played in diffusing the crisis, I was also pained to see the other side. Like being used to spread wrong information to spread panic. Like forwarding pictures of Thailand cyclone and passing it off as Chennai floods. Like spreading mischievous message that crocodiles from the zoo have escaped (attaching some photo shopped pictures to effect). Like some political parties taking to social media to score brownie points at this hour of grave crisis. But one must not forget that we are a double-edged sword. It doesn’t take a long while for citizen groups to use us and expose the evil machinations of the politicians or their sycophant followers! So, I hope these will stop sooner or later.

From here on I do hope fervently that our group fondly revered sometimes and decried other times as “Social Media” consisting of my good associate Facebook and friends like Twitter is given our due place under the Sun. And folks like you should be proud for using us to play a constructive role when needed😃. So next time if you are bashed by somebody for being on “WhatsApp Chat all day long” don’t be guilty😃😃

Now, liked this?? Please take a minute to “forward” this to your Groups. Thanks😃😃😃

“Likeaholics” Not Anonymous!!!

Oxford Dictionary by 2015 or earlier would have included another word to its vocabulary – “LIKEAHOLIC” and it would mean – A person who is addicted to “Social Media”.  A human being would be declared a “LIKEAHOLIC if he exhibits one or more of the following symptoms: ( I’ve chosen the male gender just for convenience. These attributes apply to both genders )

  • Except for the few hours of sleep, he is in one of the social media sites
  • Considers fashionable to communicate to his immediate family members through Facebook(FB)
  • On waking up in the morning instead of brushing his teeth, reaches out to his smart phone to check updates on FB/Twitter
  • Updates status on FB as if it was a diary. “Standing”,” Sitting”, “Shitting”,..
  • Enjoys traffic Jams while travelling so that he gets that time to check updates on FB/Twitter,..
  • Gets into serious withdrawal syndrome on long haul flights and the 1st thing he does when the plane lands is – you know what!
  • He is chatting on FB thro Whatsapp while tweeting to his LinkedIn contacts
  • And so on

That social media has changed the way we communicate is a no brainer.  As somebody said – “These days News no longer breaks, it tweets”!!!

In the pre-social media era, ‘like’ was just a simple word expressed when you want to appreciate something. These days in the FB era, the word “Like” has attained much larger overtones!!!

Like in the society, one can see different people types on social media like FB/Twitter,.. as well. There are the

  • Watchers: People who are members and regular visitors. But they don’t post. Just watch what’s happening.
  • Likers: They don’t post either. But make it a point to “Like” whatever they see.
  • Braggers: Updates are all about Me/Mine/Myself.  They don’t care a damn of what others are doing
  • Check-ers: Don’t do anything but keep “Checking in and out”. Idea is just to tell people that they are roaming
  • Show-ers: Uses FB/Twitter/LinkedIn to show off his talents – writing/sketching/singing/acting/photography,…
  • Sharers: Their posts are only “shares”.
  • Copiers : Posts are by and large of the “Copy/Paste” variety
  • Promoters: Posts are only about their products/company/programs/religion,…
  • App-ers: Who play around in the App center and keep ‘farming’/’harvesting’ or providing ‘lunch idea’,…

And there are people (like yours faithfully) who are a combination of some or many of the above!

By the way none of the above types is a problem – it’s the way people are.

The point is – which type are you comes second. The 1st issue is ‘are you there’? These days you are considered technologically challenged if you are not on the popular social media. “You are not on FB????”  – There you go – your market cap is down a few million dollars!!! Then the next question – “You are not ‘active‘ on FB ???” Another few million dollars gets scooped off.  (Fortunately I didn’t stretch that logic further and go for subscribing to the Facebook IPO.  For real, by now my market cap would have taken a posting oops pasting had I invested! Somehow post the IPO, the market is not hitting the  “Like” button on the FB share so much!)

Obsession of being ‘current’ on social media can be a time-consuming affair. Thank God for small mercies – “MySpace” did not get too much ‘space’ in this part of the globe and Orkut was rendered ‘kaput’ by Facebook. I rued the day Google got active in the social media by adding Google + to its repertoire.  Rued because then you have another site to ‘hangout’ and update your status.  Thankfully Google+ is turning out to be a dud!  Also must thank technology for the “linking” option. You tweet your status and the same gets updated in FB/LinkedIn,.. Or vice versa.

There’s a voyeuristic tendency in all of us and social media like FB has played to that tendency.  We are all interested in knowing what others are up to. And in that sense it has just replaced the gossip sessions of the yesteryear. Physical gossip has become Virtual – that’s all.

Having said that, I relish being a part of this circus!  Personally for me, since Sep 2008 when I first hopped on to the social media bandwagon like FB, Twitter,.. it has been a discovery.

  • Like connecting with my primary / secondary school mates with whom I had lost contacts since I left Class 12.
  • Re-establishing contact and memories with my engineering and B School mates.
  • Hi touch and exchanging notes with my erstwhile colleagues
  • Seeing the big smile on my mom’s face when her in-house vegetation pictures get a few likes from her granddaughters.
  • Getting an opportunity to show my appreciation to others
  • Being a great stress buster of sorts – going thro some ‘LOL’ posts and adding your 2 cents, taking potshots at celebrities, politicians the way you feel,..
  • And lastly has given me a forum for creative expression.  Today I’m attempting to do things which I really “Liked” and that happened because of the “like” button my friends hit liberally when I posted something interesting for which I’m ever thankful!

In that sense I’ve become a “Likeaholic” but I am not regretting yet!  As they say, for everything there’s limit beyond which it becomes overkill.  I hope this “likeaholism” stays the course.

And don’t forget to hit the “like” if you like this post!!!