Monday, 17 October 2011

While you were stealing

By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter. - Confucius

The Ugly
It starts innocuously. They casually take the links and repost them, without acknowledging let alone thanking you. Then they innocently re-tweet your words without mentioning it. Then they inoffensively post links of your blog to facebook without informing you. Then they blandly start writing posts that are suspiciously similar to something you had posted earlier. But that’s ok. It’s a fluke, you say. It’s even possible that the 100 monkey syndrome is an undeniable reality. What one monkey sees a 100 times, monkey inevitably imitates.

Then they start taking photographs that would be failed photocopies, if only they had not been so busy unsuccessfully trying to replicate the subject, the frame, the composition, the colours: that reflection, those trees, an entire facebook album on autumn. A photo here and an image there would be coincident, maybe even inspired, more likely derivative but entire albums; that’s taking inspiration a little too far, no?

But that’s the ugly side of life, not just the internet. We constantly experience it in some form or the other. We all are also to a large extent defenseless against it. And as with everything else in life, in this too it is the motivation and the intent that is paramount.

So, what motivates people to copy? With links, it’s often simply to be able to say they saw it ‘first’ and pretend that they still are ‘cool’ and ‘in’: in short the same petty emotions that motivates high school kids. That’s especially true for posts on facebook. But in some cases it is something slightly more pathetic. It’s the vampire syndrome: feeding on someone else’s lifeblood so that they may live to see another day.

But one can take heart from the fact that they must not be getting much sleep at night.

The Bad
Some students in New York took excerpts from my rant on an article on Hindi movies in the Guardian and used it as an ‘Indian’ point of view while discussing the overdose of ‘unreality’ that is Indian (Hindi) cinema. They somehow failed to note down my name and referred to me simply as “He”. Even after it was pointed out that they had made an erroneous assumption regarding my gender they failed to make amends. In their defense, it was most likely an inability to ‘see’ and read. While they were overdosing on cinema and Bollywood dreams, I had unfortunately pointed out something quite mundane.

Then there are those who use IP blocking services to troll the blog going back and forth through the posts. Who are they? Well, I’d just say:

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you

Bob Dylan, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

The Good
In the early days I posted some sets of photographs on Flickr and a few days later got a mail. My Amsterdam and London photographs were to be a part of Schmap iphone travel guide. It signified all that is good about the social media.

Mr. Pritish Nandy on seeing my photographs for the first time via a tweet (he didn’t even know my name) said, “You are a very good photographer. Never doubt it.” It’s been some years since. It still feels good.

A blog post I wrote on protests among urban Indians, in particular ‘Meter Jam’, generated a lot of discussion online, another on walking in Delhi got posted in Down to Earth, a post on the dark side of  ‘pub bharo’ and the pink chaddi campaign got published as a letter in Tehelka. The posts on books, poetry, movies, Joan Eardley, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins are helping some students with their term papers, I suppose from the views they generate: though I must add what Dr. Malvankar remarked in the first year of graduation itself, “She writes very well, but her answers will not get her many marks in the exams.”

Most importantly despite being separated by age, nationality, culture, time zones, I have met people who wept at the arboretum, felt akin to the winter bird and had empathy for the worried cows. They were almost like me! That has been not just the good but also the best part.

In The End
There’s a famous scene in Good Will Hunting where the grad student Clark, regurgitates text he has read in some book while trying to embarrass Chuckie, a construction worker, before some girls in a bar only to meet more than his match in Will, a college janitor and the main character in the film.

Will: See the sad thing about a guy like you, is in about 50 years you’re gonna start doin' some thinkin' on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don't do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda' got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.
Clark: Yeah, but I will have a degree, and you'll be serving my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip.
Will: [smiles] Yeah, maybe. But at least I won't be unoriginal.

That brings me to the final point. This blog isn’t about me, in as much as any novel isn’t about its writer or any photograph isn’t about the photographer. By that I mean the “I” in the blog posts often isn’t me. The “you” most definitely never is I. And the ‘they’ in this post are all people I know.

So, how does someone justify co-opting someone else’s unreality?

Just like people have different motivations for imitating others, other people have different motivations for not being like anyone else. Sometimes the motivations of the two sets of people overlap. Often they don’t. Somewhere overhead swings the sword of Damocles called mediocrity.


Anonymous said...

Can I share a link to this blog post without thanking you?

Anvita Lakhera said...

How would I know if you haven't already? :D With anonymity comes great power (and absolutely zero responsibility :)

Anyway, the "internets" has realized our long cherished dream of a world without any use for the words 'thank you' or 'sorry'. So feel 'free'. And thanks for asking :)

Anonymous said...

I share a link for two primary reasons. One to keep track of stuff that I like so I can come back to it later. Two in the hope that some one out there might like it and I in turn will find stuff that I like from others sharing such stuff.

There are two primary reasons I don't thank a post. One laziness(being on a mobile device, not having the choice to post a comment easily etc.,). Two the fact that I shared that post is my way of saying thanks.

By the way I found your blog through a shared post. Not sure if that person thanked you or not.

Anvita Lakhera said...

Thanks for sharing your views.

However, sharing links without thanking isn't an issue of concern (nor worth writing an over 500 words blog post:) The post above isn't about people sharing links without saying 'thank you'. It's about a much more subtle, but more complicated and bothersome issue.

PS Just a thought: Isn’t the whole point of saying thank you letting the person concerned know that you are thankful? Otherwise what’s the point of the ‘you’ in thank you?