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.

Advertisements

Travel Travel, Adopt a Camel

Travel Travel, Adopt a Camel

ac9299da7bead52cd2171f44274c9d69

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.

decorative-1296300_1280

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.

Truth about Powerpointing

Truth about Powerpointing

4073536505_d6d9e1a986_oMen in air-conditioned glass boxes often feel the need to powerpoint. This might be because what they want to say (or what their counterparts want to hear) is not well formed enough. And saying it simply will unravel the artifice.

Powerpoint in that sense is a tool that holds together the artifice. The red ribbon on top of a decorated gift package which possibly holds junk inside. Or the shiny credit rating that hides the shitty credit quality of CDOs. 

You might now say that – “No no, it is only a tool. It depends on who uses it for what purpose.”
Wrong. The medium is the message. And the message is ‘suspension of disbelief’.
Here the medium necessitates one speaker who often is standing to deliver the message and as such gets into an authoritative position and the listeners have to hold their horses and give their attention to the presenter for a period of time. It gives enough space and time for the con to take effect. The medium of powerpoint intrinsically creates an imbalance. Even when a powerpoint is sent over e-mail, it is not read as you might read a normal mail. It is still being presented to you in your head. There is a certain suspension of disbelief before the show begins.
Secondly, the linear quality of the narrative favours certain kinds of arguments more than others – deductive over abductive for example.
Imagine a typical presentation being discussed instead by the streetside or in a cafe. The listener won’t just listen then. He/ she will interject, question the logic, the premise or simply might look away if he/she finds the whole thing a sour adrak. It is the real world, the hustle, the con has to be that more earnest.

The beauty of powerpoint is in letting the time slow down and place settled and enclosed. With a powerpoint, even a shy young kid with little knowledge can demand attention of a CEO. Powerpoint ‘scaled up’ the business of conning! Now more people could con, even when they didn’t know they were doing it. It made con artists of people who didn’t know that they are being turned into one.

Powerpoint exists in the service of the economic bubbles. The tool that lets reasonable men assume that there must be solid rationality behind the shiny proposition being presented to them. And the reasonable man who assumes that what he is presenting is rational ‘enough’.

What good are Google glasses? OR How tech companies can choose not to be evil.

What good are Google glasses? OR How tech companies can choose not to be evil.
Why invent Google glasses?
Here’s Sergey Brin trying to answer that question.

Doesn’t his argument seem a little unconvincing – a weak reason to deploy the best of the brains on the planet and 3 years worth of efforts.
The primary pivot of his argument is the glass’ ability to improve social posture (?). He talks about how when interacting with your cell phone, you look down, away from the rest of the world. How when nervous, one fiddles with cell phone to escape the real world.
So how is Glass a solution? It is an even more ‘evolved’ tool to keep the outside world ‘out’!

Ok, so Glass frees your hands. for what? for better documentation of our narcissism? These series of innovations (social media, smart phones, glass) are answering the most base yearnings of our narcissistic behavior.

When you look down, at least there’s that bit of honesty – ‘yes, I am looking away from you. Sorry for my awkward inability to be social.’ With Glass, how honest are you with your interactions in the real world, if you are constantly mindful of the online world at the corner of your eye. (Social media is the magical mirror for the narcissists. Google glass makes the narcissism even more intimate.) Obsessive Facebook users know the urge to check notifications. Imagine that with Glass.

Watch ‘Black Mirror’s this episode for another perspective of how this tech might evolve. (Must see the whole series. work of genius.)

More importantly, I feel that technology giants like Google and Apple can’t really prioritise well. The world has stepped back and given the mantle of technological progress to these few companies it seems. There is this unfortunate tendency where excellence in one aspect is taken to mean a general quality of excellence – cricketers as politicians, businessmen as policymakers… wrong wrong assumption.

Human ingenuity can certainly do much better than what Google or Apple have done. Well, to begin with, we need to get our priorities right.

The starting point should not be ‘what can technology do?‘. Because, it is with questions like these that Google Glass gets created and one has to see Sergey Brin trying to force fit a weak reason for its creation after the product idea had already been thought of.
Perhaps, the starting point should be ‘what do we really need right now and how can technology help us get it?’

We don’t need more ways to shut off people, we need more ways to be confident in our social interactions.
We need to be able to protect what is sacred & personal to us. (Hence always opt-in as default, not opt-out option as default.)
We need control over what we say, do, hear, see.
We need a better understanding of what we consume and how it affects the world.
We need technology that doesn’t eliminate another human being from interaction/ work/ jobs.
We need technology that  doesn’t increase the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

We need a non-Luddite, but a realist, humanist manifesto for technology companies to follow. To not be evil means eternal vigilance of the effect of one’s own actions.
Companies are eager to ‘lead the change’, ‘make a dent in the universe’, but with what effect? with what cost?
Apples and Oranges of the world need to think not only of the superior interface designs, but also about how the ones who cannot afford these elitist fruits would react to this new exclusion? How is it making obsession about trivial material issues fashionable and what does it mean to our ecology, social interactions, our economy?
If you do not want to be evil, be a little more circumspect.

____
Originally published here.