Sunday, 24 February 2013

New Learnings: Round 3

Or quick takes on the social media, each worthy of a separate, longer post that shall not be written.

Prologue: For those unfortunate enough to hear the words 'social media strategy' on a daily basis.
In an interview in The Guardian: Thom Yorke on Radiohead's experience of releasing In Rainbows online.
Having thought they were subverting the corporate music industry with In Rainbows, he now fears they were inadvertently playing into the hands of Apple and Google and the rest. "They have to keep commodifying things to keep the share price up, but in doing so they have made all content, including music and newspapers, worthless, in order to make their billions. And this is what we want? I still think it will be undermined in some way. It doesn't make sense to me. Anyway, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. The commodification of human relationships through social networks. Amazing!"
Click to watch OnionTalks on Using Social Media to Cover For Lack of Original Thought. For those gaga over QR codes, here is a Tumblr that says it all – Pictures of People Scanning QR Codes

1. When content is valued over and above the individuals creating the content, then aggregators of all hues and sizes (Google, The Huffington Post, Brainpicker etc.) get the cream while the content creators are left scrapping the bottom of the barrel. The aggregators also act as gatekeepers to what kind of information we can access and in what form.

2. Information by itself is meaningless. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. For example, sharing every mundane life activity or everything you read is nothing, but of self-serving interest, especially if it is shared only to be 'liked', which in itself is a (sad) attempt at seeking social validation. It is in no way meaningful even to the people you know. More so, if by sharing you in are in no way furthering any kind of discourse whatsoever. It is just spam and like spam it has a much neglected environmental impact.**

3. The social media makes it easier for people to team up with others who share similar interests and exclude anyone who disagrees with them. That leads to what is known as enclave extremism– hardening of extremists viewpoints, aided by a sense of being part of a group, a mob. Internet Trolls and astroturfing (often corporately funded, read about attacks on climate science and climate scientists)  successfully and often viciously drown the individual voice of reason. The social media is anything, but democratic. And also not a very polite place.

4. Social media, as Evgeny Morozov wrote in 'The Net Delusion' creates an illusion of freedom. Instead of aiding democracy it is helping secret police and censors of autocratic governments (and corporations). It makes dissent manageable. (And yes, the revolution will not be tweeted, as Malcolm Gladwell wrote in 2010, and his central premise is hard to counter. Something that urban Indians also found out in December 2012.)

5. Another off-shoot is that we are becoming dumber and less analytical. Often when searching for something people click on the first link that Google search puts up and it is Wikipedia. There is also a tendency to dismiss people who frequently ask the question why or add a dissenting note to any popular argument as cynics.

** The internet does consume less energy, for most part. However, it comes with certain caveats. The internet doesn't run on magic. Every important and nonsensical thing shared online is stored on servers that you can access anytime with a click. These servers run on electricity derived from non-renewable energy sources. So, while you maybe growing an organic garden or not using  plastic bags it all comes to not if you are an over-sharer. Consider the last 5 things you shared online. Really, was it necessary to cross post those photos on various platforms. Or those links to breaking news and badly art-directed quotes. Consider your mail inbox. You won't believe how much server space all those mails in your inbox take up.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Red Fox

“…because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars...” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

In a small island in the Pacific Ocean the foxes (including the one in the photograph) are found standing next to the road, looking to hitch a ride perhaps, in an attempt to escape the borders of their lives.

There are an estimated 10,000 red foxes in London. They have been to 10 Downing Street and even sought shelter in the choir stalls of St Paul’s Cathedral. Unfortunately, I’ve always come upon them at night and so haven’t managed to get a photograph.

The most fascinating thing about foxes in London is that they have been spotted even on the Underground; riding down the escalators (standing on the left side), they have learnt to mind the gap between the train and the platform and stand clear of the closing doors.

What causes this wanderlust among foxes? What urge makes them take the Central Line to Ealing Broadway? If not here, then where is it that they would rather be?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Tube

The tube celebrated 150 years in January 2013. And much has been and will be said about it. Andrew Martin has a lovely book– Underground, Overground: A Passenger's History of the Tube. And here's one person's personal tribute to the Underground: 150 great things about the Underground (from design to objects to sights and sounds; it is pretty much all in there). (Edit: John Lanchester Rides the Underground– the comments are worth reading too.)
It's impossible to imagine London without the Underground. In fact, the trains make the city accessible, not just by making it possible to travel anywhere without dealing with traffic jams, but also because a train carriage is a microcosm of London itself. The city comes together on the trains; people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and nationalities share the same carriage. And if one travels long enough one can see much of London life played out between the stations.* Or come upon something as fragile and rare as "a smile's costless revelry".**

For me personally, the Tube is about more than getting from point A to B. Mostly about simple pleasures like noting what people are reading, though due to most reading being done on e-readers now, this will soon become a lost pleasure– however, it was a moment to remember when nearly half the people in the carriage were reading the last Harry Potter book. The 'public' signage and the station announcements can sometimes say more about the 'Tube experience' than any article or book.

And the unexpected pleasure of being greeted by a new Poem on the Underground. Yesterday, I had that pleasure twice.

*Stations by Connie Bensley
**Barter by Nii Ayikwei Parkes
(Both are among the new poems added to celebrate 150 years of the Underground and I came upon them on the Jubilee Line.)

Friday, 8 February 2013

In Silence

Baya Weaver Male. Watercolour pencils on acid free cartridge paper.

Goldfinch on Coneflower. Watercolour pencils on acid free cartridge paper.

Juvenile Indian Silverbill. Watercolour pencils on acid free cartridge paper.

Barn Swallow. Charcoal on acid free cartridge paper. Messy and fun.

The emotions are sometimes so strong that I work without knowing it. The strokes come like speech. –Vincent van Gogh

The art of drawing which is of more real importance to the human race than that of writing...should be taught to every child just as writing is.
    – John Ruskin
Perhaps if people were encouraged to draw something everyday, they'd talk a lot less. They'd begin to appreciate the importance of silence, of observation, of not getting entangled in the outward appearance of things. By watching a pencil slowly follow the contours of the subject, they would learn to edit out the superfluous and the unnecessary; they'd perhaps learn to not just see things but also comprehend them.

It would make the world a more peaceful place, even if all our problems wouldn't get solved (I am certain half of them would) at least there would be a lot more of silence. And when we say we seek peace, we often mean we are looking for silence– an absence of man-made sounds.

That's the limitation as well as the limitlessness of words– their meanings are not locked in some dictionary. We give them meaning. Words by themselves neither hurt us, nor make us happy. It is the intention behind them that does. Humans often confuse the medium for the message. By giving words such absolute power we are neglecting all the other human senses that make us sentient beings.

By making words, and the noise they bring along, the favoured method of expressing ourselves we have lost all other forms of communication. The first being the ability to communicate in silence.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Hold Firm

(First posted here.)

In the foothills of the Himalayas I came upon a party of Bushtits and Babblers so merry and affable that I had to pause and consider. As a Black-throated Bushtit swung upside down on a branch I almost asked, “How do you manage to keep your wits when the blood rushes up to your head? Don’t you ever get disoriented and lose your grip?” But I did not need a reply. The grip was steady and as easily as it had swung upside down it swung back, and was upright on its feet again.

Perhaps the problem isn’t that the apple cart gets overturned every now and then. Or that what once was infallible no longer holds true. Or that morality gets periodically outdated. Or that ethics follow some (as yet) undefined evolutionary principles. The problem arises when one is so immersed in watching the pendulum swing to this end and then the other and then back again that one loses track of the moment when it is required to be steadfast– to survive and absorb and endure and still be steadfast.*

Though I am sure the Bushtit would have liked to add that a grasp of geomagnetism and the physical laws, is more beneficial than one could ever imagine.

* William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust