Marketing of Politics!!!

Last week’s explosive expose of Channel 4 on the role of Cambridge Analytica (CA), a British political consultancy firm in the Trump campaign has thrown up many questions on the devious marketing ways parties use, to influence voters.  At the outset, it would appear that CA has been doing nothing else but extending time-tested established marketing techniques to the political domain. For years, brands have used psycho graphic profiling of target consumers in addition to the more rudimentary demographic profiling to fine-tune their messaging. Extending this into the realm of political campaigns, particularly with the help of social media would seem to be a very logical thing to do. After all, one of the key attractions of digital marketing viz-a-viz traditional mass media is the possibility to deliver customized, targeted messaging based on individual likes and preferences.

As can be seen from the expose, what CA has been doing all along, is not as straight forward as it appears. It seems apart from profiling voters and using it for targeted messaging, manipulation of news, spreading fake news and playing on people’s fears,… have been part of the game. “Marketing of Politics” has indeed come a long way since 1960 when probably the 1st political mass media campaign was used by John F Kennedy against his rival Richard Nixon in the US elections.  Bruce Newman in his book, ‘The Handbook of Political Marketing’ in fact says, “This was the beginning of the modernization of marketing in political context”. Concepts like “Branding” and “Positioning” which were hitherto considered important in the marketing of consumer goods struck a chord with politicians and leaders during elections and they started “Branding” themselves.  From then to the 2016 presidential campaign with social media as the pivot, US has been leading the way in Political Marketing!

While all this seems plausible in developed and mature countries like the US, UK,… it indeed came as a surprise that a foreign political consultancy firm like CA has been operating in India in different avatars since 2010! In a vast country with voters of diverse social, educational, cultural, economic backgrounds as India, can advance techniques like targeted messaging through Social media be used to influence voting patterns in elections? This question gains added significance particularly when Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook said this week that his organization is committed to upholding the integrity of elections around the world, including India. This statement in itself reveals that there was a possibility that Facebook would have been used to compromise elections in the past. With due respect to Zuckerberg’s intention, I do feel that this statement is more a marketing statement for the brand Facebook!  Be that as it may, the more fundamental question is – “Do Indian’s allow Marketing of Politics?”

As far as my memory goes, I think it was Rajiv Gandhi who brought in to Indian politics the concept of mass advertising campaigns way back in 1984. For the 1984 elections, Congress under Rajiv Gandhi had hired Rediffusion as their ad agency for their campaign which was largely print. In that election Congress, in the aftermath of a massive sympathy wave following Indira Gandhi’s death, got 3/4th majority in the Lok Sabha. So it’s not clear if the Rediffusion campaign around the theme of “Give Unity a Hand” played a big part in the victory. In the following election in 1989, Rediffusion was back doing the Congress campaign. However, the mega Rs. 25 crore “My heart beats for India” campaign couldn’t silence the boom of the Bofors gun scandal! Congress lost and I think it was the last time Rediffusion worked for Congress!

The subsequent elections all saw quite a bit of Political Marketing in India but, I guess that the next tipping point was the 2014 elections and the campaign of BJP in general and Narendra Modi in particular. “Abki Baar, Modi Sarkar” is part of marketing case studies. Piyush Pandey of Ogilvy, the man behind this campaign however admitted that they or the media didn’t create “Brand Modi” and that they only amplified the features of the “Modi Brand” which already existed.

2014 is also when I guess, we saw the advent of professional election strategists like Prashant Kishor (PK) for the 1st time. There were election strategists in the past but they were from the party and subscribed to an ideology.  As we see now, PK is ideology agnostic and basically works with whichever party contracts him. Again looking at the track record of PK it’s been a mixed bag. As an election strategist who worked with Modi in 2014 and then with Nitish Kumar for Bihar elections, Congress for UP, Punjab and Gujarat elections, he has been successful only with a good product in the 1st place.  The old adage of “Great marketing cannot redeem a bad product” holds well in Political Marketing also.  However it’s abundantly clear that election strategists like PK have found their calling mainly with the advent of Social media.

In a country like India, even now traditional Social media vehicles like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,… remain an urban/semi urban/youth phenomenon.  Having millions of followers on Twitter or FB may not still ensure a victory in the hinterlands of India!  Having said that, it’s obvious that one takes these vehicles seriously as they are part of day-today narrative. I just heard that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of the very early hoppers among Indian politicians onto the Social media band wagon, suggested to BJP MPs to be active on social media to communicate the party’s accomplishments. Because, he knows that today, Social media vehicles like Twitter and Facebook feeds off to the conventional media. Conventional media picks up trends from Social media. “Breaking News” happens these days on Twitter. Trump fires his Secretary of State on Twitter! Notwithstanding all these, still using these for targeted messaging may only help brands (including political parties) reach urban, semi urban and youth audience. However there is one exception.

Among the social media vehicles, literally the elephant in the room or rather hand is WhatsApp. I believe that more than FB, Twitter, Instagram and Blog sites if there is one media which has the most exponential and explosive reach, it is WhatsApp. With anonymity part of its structure and design and primarily being accessible from a Smart phone, it can be conveniently used for spreading News, views and stuff masquerading as News. Today, I find that even educated and informed people get swayed by propagandist material doing the rounds on WhatsApp and do their bit by “forwarding as received” to their near and dear! Imagine the effect of this among more gullible voters in rural India!  And therefore, it has become the most potent medium for spreading fake news.  One cannot realistically expect one and all to do due diligence before forwarding something which they feel as interesting!

Therefore, it is not surprising that when Cambridge Analytica and the subsequent Facebook stories erupted, tremors could be felt in the political circles in India with parties scrambling to distance themselves as much as possible and blaming each other.  Social media, in particular vehicles like WhatsApp can today be used to deliver targeted messages that can easily influence voters. With the proliferation of WhatsApp groups, you have a set of people who have a certain common denominator.   And hence spreading an appealing message to them is cheap, quick and effective. Hence in the elections to come, unless regulated, I have no doubts in my mind that a medium like WhatsApp will be the most sought after during political campaigns.  It already is as we saw recently in Gujarat!  Marketing of Politics that too with Social media as the mainstay is here to stay!

No wonder then Marketing of Politics has now led to Politics over Marketing!!!

Pic Courtesy: NBC News

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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😄😄

Governance Delivered – By 140 characters!!!

“EPFO plans to hire social media agency”EPFO

This news bit resembling a 140 character tweet appearing somewhere in a corner in today’s Indian Express caught my attention and set the tone for my this week’s blog post. Has social media in general and Twitter in particular become so important a tool today for delivering Governance? Though our PM Narendra Modi has been in the forefront in using social media as an important medium for direct communication even before he became the PM, it’s only now (may be an year or so) since we started seeing other Ministers on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Apart from the Ministers themselves, we are now seeing even official accounts of Ministries, Secretaries and other key officials.

It’s a fact that Indian politicians except a few like Shashi Tharoor or Narendra Modi were quite slow in taking to social media. During the UPA rule when Tharoor as a Minister was quite active and visible on Twitter with day today updates of his work, Congress party admonished him to keep a low profile, we were told.  And that time from the opposition, leaders like Venkaiah Naidu took sly digs at Tharoor for his excessive tweeting!

More than 4 years later, the wheel has come a full circle. Naidu has an active Twitter account with more than 220K followers.  And it has now become the norm for the Ministers and other ruling politicians to customarily post updates on their day today activities and accomplishments on their FB page and/or on Twitter. We as citizens who had to depend earlier upon newspapers or TV reports (who in turn relied on press releases/briefings from Ministries) or Full page ads in newspapers released by parties to tom-tom their achievements (by the way this rotten practice continues to this day by all parties) now can get an idea of what is happening by “following” different ministers. Of course one must know to separate “gloats” from “ground reality”!  Apart from this method of feeding information – the game changer has been the emergence of a medium like Twitter to solve people’s problems.

We all now know how our Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has become a darling of Overseas Indians because she religiously takes actions based on tweets directed at her asking for help. For those who get stuck in unforeseen situations that too in foreign shores, this has become a Godsend to cut across the Embassy security and bureaucratic maze and get the needed attention.  And similarly Suresh Prabhu, the Minister for Railways is another who is prompt in responding to passenger grievances on Twitter. So much so a passenger’s complaint tweeted from one station while he was on a journey got addressed by the time the train reached the next station! Or so we were told.  Routinely we see people tweeting to Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister for Commerce and Industry about various queries on policy matters,… and she makes it a point to respond diligently. In another positive use of social media, few days back Star anchor Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted about the need for a post office in Pithoragarh a small town in the Almora district – a mountainous stretch in Uttarakhand and lo, Ravi Shankar Prasad the concerned Minister obliged with opening of a new Post Office there I believe in 4 days!!! So it didn’t come as a surprise when the Ministers who were ranked high in opinion polls at Modi Sarkar’s 2 year Anniversary were all those who were active on social media. Not just active by their presence but by earnestly attempting to solve governance problems.

Though an active “twitterer” myself, I was initially a sceptic too. Whether the social media influence on public at large is an overrated phenomenon. After all a Facebook or a Twitter as a medium is still considered very urban and elitist and not one that reaches the bottom of the pyramid in a country where the political “fortunes” actually lie and where the IT penetration is a still a Work in slow progress. In fact, many including me were caught by surprise when a not so IT savvy grass root politician like Amit Shah, BJP’s President announced that one of the criteria for candidates for the upcoming UP polls was that they should have social media accounts and must be active on the same with XXXX number of followers! Is it that Modi is “bully pulpitting” the BJP and its leaders to take social media seriously and take advantage of the same???

May be or may not be actually. For the innately smart Indian politician (whether IT savvy or otherwise) it doesn’t get so difficult to grasp the growing utility of social media. There were many politicians in the pre- social media era too who earnestly addressed citizen issues being brought up to them thro petitions, letters, appeals,… However when they addressed those issues, it was only known to that petitioner or complainant concerned. However, in social media, when a Suresh Prabhu addresses a passenger issue promptly and responds on Twitter it reaches many of his followers. Multiple Retweeting then generates a humongous multiplier effect! And finally, if the story gets picked up by main stream media also then it delivers a huge reach – may be to the actual target audience of the Minister😃

So though social media still is very much urban and caters to a very literate and niche audience (considering India’s size) as of now, it is growing at a fast clip in terms of adoption. And more importantly what we see is social media today feeding off the narrative in main stream media routinely. What happens on Twitter gets lapped up and stories developed by many reporters, anchors and columnists for Newspapers, TV News,…

Yes, the obsession with “Trending on Twitter” by News channels and political parties may be completely misplaced. But if a political party gets also obsessed with using a Twitter as a medium to listen to the common man and communicate, it automatically becomes a very effective tool for delivering Governance. Today, it could be a staid EPFO that wants to be on social media. Tomorrow it could be a more staid Ministry of Ganga Rejuvenation😃. By the way, young boys and girls, managing social media has become a very attractive and powerful career option in political capitals!!! (more powerful than the “Personal Secretary” of yore)

P.S: Being very responsive on Twitter to deliver Governance also has its side effects. As Mrs. Swaraj recently found out. Somebody tweeted to her for help regarding problem with his Samsung Refrigerator😃😃 It’s another matter that the astute tweet got huge play and negative WOM for Samsung that I am sure the Tweeter would have got the desired result swiftly!!!

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😃😃😃

“Chinpressions” – Impressions from my China visit – Part : 2

The last time I visited China which was incidentally my 1st visit to that country was a trip to Shanghai and Shanghai is what Mumbai is to India – a commercial and financial capital.  This trip from the 9-12th Oct, 2012, however was to Beijing – the capital of the People’s Republic of China – again a very short business trip to the “Delhi” of China.

On top of my mind was to see how the “Olympicsization” of Beijing was holding up 4 years hence.  This week was the 1st week after the “Golden Week” holidays and there was a good chance that I wouldn’t have made this trip at all.  Just managed to get my visa few hours prior to my departure thanks to some intervention of my college mate.

The airport which makes the 1st impression of a city was bit of a disappointment.   On alighting out of the plane after a 6 hour flight had to scramble to find a rest room!!!  The Beijing airport though good, didn’t seem great.  The airport wore a deserted look on my return in the night that too just at 9.00 pm! The Duty free shops had pulled their shutters and finding a food court or a restaurant in that not too late hour of the night turned out to be a nightmare.  Beijing had failed my 1st test.

Beijing has all the trappings of a large global metro city – super highways, bumper to bumper traffic, big cars, ..,.. Surprisingly I could hardly sight small cars!! Unlike Shanghai, which has a lot of skyscrapers, Beijing has more of medium tall, uniform buildings constructed with aesthetics as seemingly last priority.   The whole city resembles a town ship with uniform buildings.  Police presence that too quite aggressively armed is omnipresent.  Time and again we were alerted of the bad traffic scene in Beijing. But I must say that the traffic though very high was quite organised and was moving quite smoothly even during the morning rush hours. I was told that we were lucky on that count. Well we seemed to be lucky all the while we stayed in Beijing.

The Beijing Traffic

I was not so lucky on the food scene though. Being a vegetarian, my gastronomic needs have become frugal over the years while travelling abroad. I’m happy if I get something vegetarian to eat – pandering to the taste buds was really secondary. Beggars can’t be choosers you see!  When I had my local colleagues around during meal times, I had no problems with the food. However couple of times when we had to fend for ourselves, putting it across to the hotel staff on the “Vegetarian” needs turned me to a “Sridevi”.  In fact a short course on “Mandarin-Vandarin” before the trip would have been a great idea.  I was told that for the Olympics, China really went on an “English” overdrive to take care of the visiting guests. Well, one trace of that was not visible during my short stay. Even in a 5 star hotel, the staff struggled to comprehend our “English-Vinglish”!  There are hopes though. I was told that in the schools now, English is a mandatory language for the children. Maybe a trip to China after 10 years would throw up a different experience on the English front.

We were told that we would need more than half a day to cover the “Great Wall of China” which I was quite keen on. Since we didn’t have that kind of time, we had to settle with other tourist spots close by. A drive to Tiananmen Square was made possible.  For the local Chinese Tiananmen Square is a place of great cultural connect.  It houses a war memorial like monument, a mausoleum and one can see 2 gigantic visual displays today.  For the ‘Golden week’ the previous week, the entire square which can house I guess thousands of people, was well decked up and could see the sense of tourist importance.  However for visitors like us Tiananmen Square only brings memories of the 1989 killing of the students by the Chinese military.  There is obviously not one shred of evidence of that event around.  When I asked my local colleague what was the exact number of people killed in that massacre, the answer I got was “Secret”.  Having read that the number could be in thousands, while spending time in that square I couldn’t help spare a thought for the young lives which were taken away by their own protectors.  I also couldn’t resist thanking our stars and our founding fathers for guiding our nation in the path of democracy where we have freedom of expression as a fundamental right.

Tiananmen Square,1

At Tiananmen Square

The Chinese economy is in the news these days.  Well it has been in the news for more than a decade now. But just that this time the news is not good.  The GDP growth rate expected at 7.5 % this year will be lowest in the decade.  The transformation of China since the 90’s has been unbelievable. The government over the years has invested heavily for the growth and has helped lift people from poverty and raise income levels across the board.  About 25 mn. I-Phones are  expected to be sold in 2012!!! And I-phone is not a cheap product. With all this, what about the “General Happiness Index”?  Are people in general happier than before with the overall growth and all that jazz? Well, surprisingly or may be not so surprisingly the answer I got was on the negative.  With the growth tapering, there is a feeling that China must have gone for an overkill in terms of investment which is now not sustainable.  China also is on the cusp of a leadership change sometime in November.  Though it is not expected to bring any paradigm shift, uncertainties do exist I thought.  All these and the raising costs have brought their own insecurities in the minds of people.

The Giant Screens at Tiananmen Square

While in the taxi driving back to the Beijing Airport at the end of the short trip, comparison between India and China was obviously on my mind.  And I concluded that comparisons were odious.  In my formative years I was always of the opinion that in a country with very high population like India, it is almost impossible to solve its basic problems. China proved me wrong. It showed that it is possible to have world-class infrastructure, alleviate poverty in short times even in a populous country if a country shows political will to do so. Having said that, if I’ve to choose between a pot hole free express highway and freedom of expression, my choice will be for the latter.

P.S : A forceful break from social media thanks to the block of Facebook, Twitter, WordPress,… in China eventually proved that I was a confirmed “Likeaholic”!!!

You may like to read my earlier post on China : Chinpressions – Part 1.

“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!!!