Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The wet dreams of a chain letter writer

On February 8, 1996, at the U.S. Library of Congress, Bill Clinton, as the U.S. President, signed the telecommunications law that pretty much formally kicked off the "information superhighway" that acknowledged the growing importance of the internet. Watching on was his deputy, Al Gore Jr. Access to information for all was the Utopian goal.

Nearly a decade after that, the New York Times journalist, Thomas Friedman wrote a bestselling book on how the world had, as it were, become flat. He highlighted the phenomenon of companies leveraging on the internet to improve productivity and delivery of goods and services to everyone.

About the same time as when Friedman was busily jotting down the material for his book, young Mark Zuckerberg and his friends were putting together the greatest disruptive internet application of all, Facebook. Thus, came the dawn of the awesome and awful social media. Eventually, Twitter was also birthed as social media for the word-challenged individual.

Put in that very brief context, we can observe the many parallel timelines of the evolution of the information superhighway that Clinton and Gore extolled. Many, many good things have come from the information highway since 1996.

I am arguing that the jury is still out on the value of social media.

Two decades on from 1996, the greatest democracy on earth, with a population numbering just under 300 million citizens and, having one of the wealthiest societies ever imagined, the United States of America elected Donald Trump, an outsider of sorts from the mainstream of political leadership in the U.S.

The observation I am offering and, this applies to all current affairs and political matters throughout the world today, is that when Friedman wrote about the world being flat, he wasn't thinking about the Flat World thinkers. But in his use of the the phrase, "The world is flat", Friedman had actually inadvertently put the finger on a basal feature of the information highway; social media.

Democratising the information superhighway has led to the creation of social media that has begat people receiving fake news and forwarding it to family and friends and, thus, has created a global culture of indolence. Nobody cares if news or information is fake. If you forward it to your friend, your friend will forward it on. 

This era of social media is the mischievious writer of chain letter's greatest and wettest of all wet dreams.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Living in a world with a surfeit of religiosity

I was really and truly minding my own business when, in my late teens, I suddenly found myself surrounded by sisters who had embraced monotheism. In my blinkered teenage view of the world, this had happened overnight. One moment they were siblings I could amuse with my boyish antics and slapstick behavior. In the next, they were "people of the Book" whose chief interest was the discussion of Hell for people like me, who had not seen the light and, therefore the "error" of my ways.

They became boring to me.

Whereas, in the past, they engaged me with questions about my experiences, usually bad ones, during the day when my father dragged me in the hot afternoons to walkabouts in rubber and oil palm estates that I really had no interest in; unless it was to look for the odd tiger barbs that inhabited the pristine streams that meandered through the estates. I would regale my sisters with my misadventures and astute observations about the rustic personages that my father would meet in kopi tiams in the hamlets that existed before we reached the end of the world where the plantations were located.

I would tell them funny stories about how a flaying seat belt slapped my father numerous times while he was driving. How I almost choked while stifling my body's urgent need to bellow out a hearty laugh at my father; for, that was not the done thing back in the day, when your father was a distant and giant of a man; a banyan tree that sheltered us from all that was bad in the world. It was not only poor form to laugh at your father under any circumstance; well, not in front of him any way. Or, my perplexed feeling when my father bellowed with laughter at a pig's plight when a small lorry carrying pigs wrapped in rattan netting had, somehow lost one of its porcine cargo that rolled off the little lorry into a ditch in a single lane laterite road.

These things I could no longer amuse my sisters with because their agenda was the urgent need to persuade me to embrace their monotheism in order to save my soul.

I found them terribly boring.

They couldn't even articulate an answer to my show-stopping question. That question to them was, how a truly blameless and pure soul as our mother, who could never embrace their monotheism, could ever be consigned to Hell merely for being a non-believer.

I think they found me boring and, unamusing after those failed proselytizing sessions.

That was one of the indicators that I had achieved adolescence.

For many years, I lost my sisters to monotheism. In many ways, I have never found them again.

If you haven't already realized by now, I will say this; I am polytheistic in my beliefs and, happily so. I am part of a belief system that is self-empowering and absolutely benign.

I am not asked to get points for the Afterlife by chasing around for other souls to join the club. I am told to behave myself in accordance with accepted social norms and, to commit no intentional harm on any other soul; sentient or not. I am not to impinge on the peaceful existence of others. And, that is how I am living my life.

... damn! Got interrupted by the missus ...

    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.
    - TS Eliot: The Hollow Men (1925)-

Monday, March 6, 2017

Fake News and Indolence

Now, more so than ever, the wisdom and insight of Viscount James Bryce quietly screams to us. Bryce wrote in 1901, thus-

"To most people, nothing is more troublesome than the effort of thinking. They are pleased to be saved the effort. They willingly accept what is given them because they have nothing to do further than to receive it. They take opinions presented to them, and assume rules or institutions which they are told to admire to be right and necessary, because it is easier to do thus than to form an independent judgement. The man who delivers opinions to others may be inferior to us in physical strength, or in age, or in knowledge, or in rank. We may think ourselves quite as wise as he is. But he is clear and positive, we are lazy or wavering; and therefore we follow him."