The slowness of digital life

The slowness of digital life

Digital connections = Speed.
Instantaneous reactions,
Instantaneous gratification,
Instantaneous outrage
and so on.
Everything is instantaneous.

Or not?

Recently, while my own phone was getting recharged and I had no option but to look around, I saw a person sitting there, with phone in hand. Waiting with anticipation for a like, a comment or some such. The digital slot machine was not throwing up interesting enough things for him. I went away and came back a while later.

The man was still there.
exactly there.
with exactly the same blank face and wide eyed anticipation.
And apparently the same screen.

Nothing had changed. He was still. and he didn’t know it.

We are all still. and we don’t know it.

In reality, everything is not instantaneous. Our expectations though, are.
In search of dopamine hit, we keep refreshing, checking, rechecking… but real world refuses to move with the speed we want it to move. We prod at it with refreshes. We pull at it by pulling down at feeds. We push buttons to see ‘what else’.

But our world remains adamantly stagnant, the more adamantly we force a refresh of it through our screens.

As such,
little of consequence
really happens
through screens
in our lives.

Digital life in reality is a terribly slow life.

We don’t advance in life through screens. We stay still with screens.

_____

Originally published here.

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Specific diseconomy

Win awards with scam
Fight competitors with self-destructively cheap pitches
Create walled gardens for petty rent seeking
Delude yourself by thinking that creativity is the sole preserve of your kind
Do not grow your people, nurse a few egos
Advocate brave disruption to clients, but do not attempt it yourself
And when someone does try innovating, fight them for petty egotistical causes
instead of thinking along for better ideas

This is advertising industry working against its own interest. This is the “Specific Diseconomy”* of  advertising industry.

Instead of communicating, we are fabricating hollow “purposes”.
Instead of inspiring certainty, the cumulative effect of advertising is that of overwhelming doubt.
The industry has set loose to ‘attention-and-trust-deficit’ monster that devours humanity’s time and resources, leaving everyone poorer emotionally and physically.

____

*It is a “measure of the degree of institutional counterproductivity that is occurring —referring to the exact degree to which, for example, the medical industry induces illness, educational institutions induce ignorance, the judicial system perpetuates injustice…”

 

 

 

The philosophy of advertising

What is common between a car, a cancer clinic, an app, wall paint and insurance?

.

.

.

#YOLO (You only live once.)

I have worked on brands in each of these categories which ended up talking about #YOLO (more or less).

YOLO – is a restless soul’s yearning for a fix – usually with caffeine or alochol. Often imagined with adventure sports, spontaneous face-melt or traveling like an #instahobo. The imagery of which is used then to sell everything now. EVERYTHING. Everything is about instant gratification because #YOLO. Everything is about ‘you’ because #YOLO. Everything is about the fear of #FOMO (fear of missing out) because #YOLO.

And since everyone is #YOLO, no one is. Long live clutter.

And hence we must stop doing the #YOLO. Stop advocating ‘bad faith‘.

The absurdity of brands

The absurdity of brands

“They deify what crushes them and find reason to hope in what impoverishes them.”

So said Camus of Sartre and Dostoyevsky.  (and the postmodern me am quoting him not from his text but from a wisecrack video.)

He could just as well have said so about apple fan boys and enfield fanatics; essentially, all consumers in the capitalist society. At least Sartre identified the absurd so beautifully. We consumers, feel the absurd, but are not brave enough to identify the absurd.

So when Dove talks about real beauty, instead of identifying the absurdity of a brand attempting at becoming the authority of beauty, we get drawn into the farcical dialogue about beauty that Dove hosts, empowering itself for the benefit of no one else.

Each quality that we use to define ourselves by – beauty, desirability, potency, intellect, etc – is subjective. And hence it is up for hijacking by brands by giving consumers a random objective yardstick to measure oneself with, in the form of a brand or a product. Enjoyment in soda. self-worth in cell phones and sneakers. Power in suits. Beauty in moisturizing soaps. Freedom in horse-powers. Sociability in beer.

There is no beauty. Or rather more accurately, there is no objective standard for beauty. There is no such thing as ‘beauty’ as it relates to an individual  (inside or outside). We simply exist.  It is a subjective judgement imposed by others, relevant to us because we let it become relevant to our lives . And hence we need objective validation. And hence we need brands.

We can’t change ourselves. When it comes to our personal lives, our identity, what comes naturally to us is resistance to change, to fight for status quo, to not make effort in getting out of our comfort zones. But the problems we face in our lives need us to move in certain directions. Since we can’t marshal enough mojo to change ourselves, we change what we associate with instead. Hence brands.

I don’t want to actually write everyday to get better. So I install evernote on my phone instead.
I don’t want to actually run everyday to get fitter. So I buy Nike and a gym membership.
I don’t want to actually work at my relationships, hence facebook.

Since when has an app, a shoe or a website become a necessity for us to actually do something? It hasn’t. But since we don’t actually want to do those things, but want to believe that we are the kind of people who would do those things, we need brands.

ibrand.

Travel Travel, Adopt a Camel

Travel Travel, Adopt a Camel

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Travel as a personal narrative

There are two things that give sense to our lives. One is the ‘anchor’ and the other is ‘change’. These two are the yin-yang of our personal narratives. ‘Anchor’ is things/ people/ places that gives you a sense of solidity about your identity. You perhaps are a Delhite. You perhaps are from the family of proud fishermen. You perhaps are child of very kind parents who have always been there for you. All these things ‘anchor’ us, about our sense of self.

And then you become a teenager. And you must ‘find’ an unique identity.  In an age when you can be anything, often we remain paralysed unable to let go of the possibilities. We are simply unable to kill all the rest of possibilities by choosing one direction. Instead we stay poised at that frozen moment in our personal narrative. We seek change, but are unable to make up our minds. And that is the ‘post-modern’ we. Modernity of 2oth century was about optimistic ideas of future and our roles in it. Post-modern 21st century is about a profound confusion and skepticism about our future and our role in it.

Hence we travel.

The avid travelers of today travels either because he/she needs an escape or because of the promise of bountiful enjoyment or  for its potential for changing ‘something’ in him/her. The first kind of traveler – the escapist – is at least acknowledging the reality that he/ she is escaping from. The second variety – is a sheep following herd, content with the ritualistic excess he forces on himself. It is a sad existence, but wedded to a ritualized fetish, it is anchored in some measure. The third variety – people who call themselves travelers and wanderers – they are the ones I am talking about now. I am talking about the people like me and you, who travel in search of meaning, in search of profound happiness, in search of a direction that is chosen for us. And if facebook walls and instagram feeds are to be believed, everyone today is this very traveler.

“It changed my life”

“It changed my life”, says your friend after his latest trip. And perhaps you should wonder how. Instead you are excited along with him. “Oh, I must do this trip”, you decide. You consult him and online blogs to chart out a pilgrimage taken up by hundreds of others before you. Like you would, they too took selfies with hills in the background. Like you would, they too obsessed over certain dish in a certain restaurant. Like you would, they too perhaps felt somewhat empty when sitting somewhere – thinking.. “this was supposed to be profound. Is this (stinging loneliness/ confusion/ ‘disappointment at the ordinariness of the supposed greatness of the scene before your eyes’)  it?” And before you could complete your train of thought, you take out your DSLR/ cell phone and take a ‘profound’ picture. Your friends on facebook get to know instantaneously about your nirvana. #nirvanaunlocked.

Superego says you must profoundly enjoy

The gaping void that you feel while traveling is not ‘your fault’. The trip was not supposed to be profoundly enjoyable/ transformative/ epiphany inducing/ crazy etc. Though you did think it would be. You thought so because, you are a product of 21st century upper class. If you were a Bangladeshi cattle smuggler, trying to enter India, you aren’t exactly wondering if ‘this journey is supposed to mean something’. The Bangladeshi cattle smuggler entering Assam knows exactly what the trip means – a certain sum of money if the trade goes through, humiliation and beating if Gau rakshak idiots find him.

You, a product of today’s society have been trained to seek enjoyment and happiness at all times. There is an ‘injunction to enjoy’ on you. Your superego, informed by the incessantly glowing and moving online feeds and walls, wants you to enjoy, be successful, be somebody.

Space-time v/s Bildungsroman

Human journey is not in space or time. Simply moving around through different places doesn’t give one intelligence or perspectives or contentment. Neither simply getting old will help one in getting wiser or feeling at peace.

We need definitive change once or twice in life. And at least one of it needs to be positive to be anchored and content in life. Traditionally one was initiated into key changes through rituals – manhood/ womanhood, marriage, birth of child, death. The only ritual guaranteed to a modern person is that of (and about) death. We have no rituals to inform us when we turn from boys to men. We might choose not to wed or have children. Even when we do, we tend to live life of another person – the ideal younger version of oneself. It is as if life for 21st century human is a rewinding spool, going back and burnishing the youth over and over again, until you snap and are forced to reckon with the reality of life. We could very possibly go through life without any real profound change to ourselves that we acknowledge and anchor ourselves with. So, a post-modern person remains in some measure – adrift – not completely being able to comprehend his/her course of life.

One of the most important skill-set that a person should be taught is about building his/her bildungsroman narrative of life.
Bildungsroman – in this context is this – Identity being built through experience one goes through while being among others. It is not the unhealthy narcissism, but a healthy self-awareness that guides one in anchoring the right things and changing the right things for one’s own well-being and growth as a human.

So what would help in building a healthy personal narrative, if not travel?

We come back to the yin-yang of ‘anchor’ and ‘change’ for the answer.

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What gives us an anchor through what we do? Routines do. Routines are essential to create solidity of time, to make life predictable and stable. To anchor life in your own control.

But routines must change every once in a while. We must have routines, but we must have new ones every few years. The solidity shouldn’t lead to stagnation. The routine shouldn’t imprison us. The routine is supposed to form the basis on which the life can take a flight from. The solidity of time, that a routine provides turns into a slowly accumulating cancer that works against your mental well-being if not refreshed every few years.

So if your routine is ‘not’ about planning, desiring, reading about – travels, then travel can be an immensely enriching experience. But what if travel is your routine? Not just the actual traveling part, but the whole mental state – from dreaming to doing to validating it online. The digital lifecycle of travel is now longer. and if you are living from one travel life-cycle to next, i doubt ‘travel’ can then produce moments of ‘epiphany’ for you.

To identify the right changes you need in yourself, then you need to head to everyday normality of other people. That’s where your change, your insight will come from.

What about travel that is indeed a ‘change’?

Change is about braving uncertainties. If your travel is ‘packaged’ to keep you in a bubble of comfort and expected experiences, then you are merely experiencing an amusement park experience. It’s not travel.

For travel to have an effect on you at a fundamental level, you must allow travel to be an unregulated experience. You must then step out of your bubble.

To truly travel, one must be ready for disappointments. You must be ready for uncertainty.

If you chronicle, validate your travel online, you often end up training your brain into thinking in a third person mode. While experiencing something, you train yourself to see it from the perspective of the future self – posting, applying filers, thinking of clever captions when posting… you never are traveling. you are only extending facebook/ instagram bubble that you are completely plugged into.
You can’t live in the present (or contemplative past/ future) if you live through a gadget/screen.

Must disconnect to travel. Must be willing to brave uncertainties for travel to have any meaning.

The truth about bullet riders

The truth about bullet riders

This was written in response to a Quora question.
 The question was “Why trend to purchase bullet bikes increased in India?

I think bikes (as most other things) are bought not only for its functional relevance but for its psychological relevance. (If you can commute ably with a 35k bike, why would you spend a lakh more on a bike which essentially is a bulkier, less advanced machine?)

The purchase of bullet is purely a matter of fulfilling a psychological need. So the question is – what is the psychological need being met by Bullets and why are more people in India feeling that particular need?

Bullet is uniquely manly. While Pulsar is ‘definitely male’, it is also immature. Pulsar is boyish, bullet is manly.
Most fared bikes are positioned to younger audiences. They answer the need of adrenaline rush.. what we call ‘potency needs’. Its the quintessential teenage need to feel on the edge. Bullet is not for these men (boys).
Bullet has been traditionally used by people in armed forces, government services.. so it has a connotation of authentic power. When modern bikes were introduced as being ‘definitely male’ and such for the teenagers-at-heart, the bullet automatically got positioned as the ‘authentic’ men’s bike, due to its lineage. Substance v/s show.
Bullet – less advanced, heavier, slower, louder.
New fared bikes = advanced, lighter, faster, refined.

Bullet has a stronger ‘physical presence’. slow, heavy  and loud = a more assured and solid rider imagery.
New bikes, even if they are technologically better, being quick and light – they seem (to people with masculine anxieties) as less robust and less manly.

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Bullet dreams By Vir Nakal https://www.flickr.com/photos/virnakai/7253934080/


The reality is most Indian men are still boys. not completely responsible for themselves, and proud of it. afraid of women, yet dreaming of ‘conquering’ them. Depending on parents well into late 20s (if not later too.) essentially, incomplete men. Pose them a real challenge in life and they would rather leave for Himalayas.

In a world of youngsters facing identity crisis, Bullet gives an unambiguous Indian identity of rugged macho.
In a world of sanitised skyscrapers and sedentary lifestyle, Bullet fills the need to belong to the rawness of Bharat, the earthen macho.
In an increasingly risk-averse society, the bullet lends an identity of the ready-for-any-reality macho, to the rider.
The signature loud (annoying) sound of the exhaust, announces presence of the rider. It fills the need of the less-loved men to imagine them having a ‘presence’.

Essentially, a bullet enables a person to feel good about himself when he is concerned about the inauthenticity and emasculation of his modern identity. Bullet frees him from masculinity anxieties.

Truth about ‘being human’

Truth about ‘being human’

Salman Khan is not merely an alleged criminal, a terrible actor or one of the most influential and loved people in India. He is a new archetype for the 21st century India.
He is an archetype that answers a quintessential Indian yearning.
Unfortunately the yearning reflects how pathetic and infantile humanity can be.
When infants, we believe that we are at the absolute center of the universe, where all our acts deserve recognition and appreciation. To grow up is to grow out of this belief.
The ‘Salman Khan as an archetype’ answers the yearning to be forever an infant. To forever enjoy consequence-less freedom.

People refuse to see the bad in him. The ‘true fans’ of this horrible person get readily offended and aggressive when someone speaks ill of their ‘bhai’. When someone points out facts of his monstrosity – allegedly killing homeless people, making his driver a scapegoat (what a ‘hero‘!), allegedly killing a harmless animal, domestic abuse, intimidation…. – the fans shut their ear holes and eye holes.They rage with blindfolds on.

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They see him getting away with alleged homicide and general assholery. And they rejoice in him getting away with it.They idolise his nonchalance. They refuse to see the injustice of it all. They badly want to believe in him. His PR stunts with ‘Being Human’ are enough for a lot of people to rationalise his criminality. They say that he is ‘dil se accha’ (with good heart) as if they have spent years living with the man to know him inside out.

Why should they get so protective about a person, who already has all the protection he needs? They are not related to him nor will they benefit from him in the real world. They are more likely to die under his drunken driving next than to have a drink with him.

They want to believe that they too can get away with their infantile adventures. They want to believe that they too can be successful and fabulously rich without trying, without merit. Salman, for them, is the beacon of hope for someday achieving consequence-less power, for being the ultimate marzi ka raja (king of his will) 
This explains his appeal but not the love he enjoys.  The source of love for him is in our shitty culture. He is the anti dote to forces of modernity and liberal progress. He is the patriarchal Übermensch. What’s more, he makes patriarchy cool. He treats women like shit in real life and everyone for that matter in his films. See how he looks at (or more likely, doesn’t) other characters in his films. His gaze is vacant or at best disinterested. Some say it is bad acting, I say it is his personality. People don’t love bad acting. People love his personality. It is cool to not give a shit about anyone else.

In his films, women are mere pretty props. I guess, he can’t appreciate the reality of relationship and hence can’t succeed in any. The time he had to deal with a real relationship, he ended up physically and mentally abusing Aishwarya.
This is something that the millions of young men identify with. People have grown up in a culture where men do not talk to women. Women forever remain alien to men. Men forever try to ‘control’ the women. And as women become more and more powerful in relationships, men are increasingly confused and angry. The patriarchy identifies with Salman’s confusions and acts of terrorism. They see him as the unfortunate one, the one who is innocently charged of abuse, where it is a man’s right to be abusive. They want to believe that patriarchy will prevail.

Hir films are patriarchal utopias; damsel in distress, macho heros. He takes off his shirt to cover bodies of objects called women. To deal with the problem of modern feminism, his characters are the wronged ‘tere naam’s.
Of course he is suffering. The poor misogynist.