Tag: contemporology

What replaced Oil as the most valuable commodity?

We are not even a quarter way into the 21st Century and our basic necessities include, Food, Water, Shelter and WiFi! Our internet usage has increased seven folds from 2000 to 2015, i.e. 735 million to 3.2 billion! In addition to that we are adding more electronic devices in our everyday activities. Replacing phones with smartphones, TVs with smart TVs, Analog watches with Smart watches, fitness tracking apps and what not. Now we even have Google assistant, Siri and the like, to make our lives even more convenient. What do we do with all this?

Generally speaking, we gather data for ourselves, we gather data about other people’s lives (thanks to social media) and we ask questions. Yes you guessed it right, it is not the internet that has replaced oil as the most valuable commodity, it’s data.

funny-picture-duck-facebook-real-lifeDon’t we love updating about our lives and expressing our views on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms? We want to tell all our friends about all the good we are upto and of course sad, sarcastic and funny memes (that’s an absolute essential).

Well, truth be told, we basically make ourselves look a whole lot better than how we actually are, don’t we? We have the incentive to lie on social media. Because we want to look fun and desirable to everyone. On Google, on the other hand, we have the incentive to tell the truth. We open up about our deepest desires and insecurities. On the internet, we sometimes even search for most ridiculous answers. For instance, once I asked Siri, “Do you think I am crazy?!”, to which she responded, (rather her programming made her say), “I don’t know how to respond to that”. Although I am certain my psychiatrist would say “of course you are crazy”! But asking Google and Siri such questions is funny and also quite revealing. Imagine millions of people like me asking Google or Siri such question! Is that Data recorded? Who is recording it and what are they doing with it?

Fact check: even if you are just passive observer on social media, the pages you like, the picture you view the most and the duration for which you are viewing it, is also recorded.

 

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Obviously Siri cannot do anything about my sadness. But I confided in her. Is this data recorded? Yes! Why? Who? What?!! 
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Hilarious as it is, but again, I couldn’t stop confiding in her in the middle of the night. What happens when millions of as ask Google and Siri such questions?!

Unless you have been living in the wilderness, or another planet, or don’t use any electronics, you won’t have much difficulty in guessing the answer. The companies use it to better understand their consumers! This data has been such a game changer, that now it has replaced oil as the most valuable commodity in the world!

Imagine you are starting a new company and need to understand consumer behaviour in order to breakeven and eventually make profits. Imagine you are standing in the local elections, or even the highest post in your Country, how do you plan to win and make the right policy changes for your Community/ Country without really understanding it. This is where big data comes in!

 

What is big data?

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Big Data is usually information gathered from our online activity. The fact that someone (many companies) is tracking our lives will sure make anyone uncomfortable. Even if such data mining is done ethically and keeps safe the anonymity of individuals, there is always a scope of infringement of privacy. Kudos to Edward Snowden for giving us the real picture of what is really happening in the name of administration in some parts of the world.

81tgb3AaT7LKeeping aside this legitimate fear, for the sake of understanding, one can see groundbreaking  impact Big data can have on our lives. The book Everybody Lies revealed that, when big data is used to understand human behaviour, it unveils shocking truth about ourselves. It discusses a many of topics, from racism in America; to what porn data tell us about us; to our politics ideologies, crime rates and much more. Big data can help us understand and predict human behaviour.

“Collecting rich data toward’s world’s problems is the first step towards fixing them”, says the Author. And in the end adds, provided it is used with the right intent and manner. This is the pivotal point where everything rests. Big data if used with respect to it’s limitations and the spirit and intent of the Law can truly fast track the improvement of our lives, otherwise it shall be a purely corrupt system, where the joke will be on us!

Author of Everybody lies

UCSBSeth has a star-studded academic career. He received his BA in philosophy, Phi Beta Kappa, from Stanford, and his PhD in economics from Harvard. Seth has worked as a data scientist at Google and a visiting lecturer at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times.

His 2017 book, Everybody Lies, published by HarperCollins, was a New York Times bestseller; a PBS NewsHour Book of the Year; and an Economist Book of the Year.

Here is Seth talking about a part of his award-winning research:

Mind blowing, right?

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I time travelled!

Do you remember that book shop owned by William Thacker (Hugh Grant) in the movie Notting Hill? It sold only travel book. When I first saw that movie, I thought “Wow! How many Lonely Planets does he have?” and “Of course he isn’t making profits”! Back then, little did I know about this genre called travel literature and it’s magical powers!

image1A few years later however, on my last birthday, when my brother and his wife, gifted me my very first travel memoir, From Heaven Lake, by the one and only, Vikram Seth, I felt like I discovered a way to escape to any place I want to. In this book, I escaped to Eastern China and hitch-hiked across my way back to India. I felt, I was practically transported to 1982 China and to all the places Mr. Seth visited. I didn’t read the book, I experienced it.

The the diverse landscape of China, the dry  and the cold desert, and the transformation of one into another, the finding of an oasis in the middle of unending inhabitable landmass, and finding unconditional help all along the way; sitting in the comfort of my home I  experienced it all.

A noteworthy fact about this book is that, it hardly contains any pictures and the ones that are there, are in greyscale. Despite that, the author has been able to paint a vivid picture of his travelogue in my head. And wait till you web search all the places he has been to, they are all unimaginably beautiful. Yet, amongst all the literary merits and interesting subject matter, it is the author’s wit, that makes this book extraordinary and worthwhile.  I couldn’t stop myself from grinning, giggling, chuckling and sometimes breaking into a roaring fit of laughter.

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Vikram Seth, beautifully wearing that radiant smile and those sparkly eyes. (an old picture)

He goes on the explain the geographic diversity of China as well. Since the world climatic zones are arranged in latitudinal bands, a longitudinal journey, i.e. North-South, is likely to be much more varied than a latitudinal one, i.e. East-West journey. In western China the main topographical features are so latitudinal, and this enhances the variety of longitudinal journey. Hence, the sandy deserts, cold plateaus, arid land, pastures, glaciers, rigged mountains and passes. Sounds exciting? Now imagine hitch-hiking your way through it!

Mr. Seth has not only made an account of the physical surroundings, but also succeeded in showing the irony of two neighbouring countries India and China, so close to each other, yet culturally and economically so distant and disagreeable. It makes me wonder how the present-day China is like, maybe I’ll find another more recent travelogue.

In the end, if you want to travel and don’t have the resources or the time to, read a good travel memoir and escape to lands as inaccessible as it may seem; and come back rejuvenated. 

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What would you like to do with your time? Comment below.

Have you ever time travelled? Please share your experience in the comment section below or write to me on the ‘contact’ page.

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Ciao ❤

Never Let Me Go

Have you ever read a classic? It is easier to know if you are reading an older publication. But how do we determine if the newer publication is a classic? I have devised a way! A IMG_1115contemporary classic will have the following few characteristics; first, it will be painful and/or slow read. It will make you question why are reading this book? Secondly, despite it being so, it will push you to read the entire story. Thirdly, it will not at all be dramatic (which means less entertaining!). It will be like our lives, slow and seemingly mundane. Fourthly, it will be devastating in the end. Fifthly, it will change your perspective towards life forever.

Never Let Me Go is one such contemporary pieces of work which won the Nobel Prize in Literature in the year 2017.

Preface of the plot

The book is first hand narrative of an English girl named Kathy in the late 1990’s England. It is about her and her friend’s lives (Ruth and Tommy) who grew up were brought up in a country side boarding school called Halisham for one purpose only- organ donation.

These children’s origin is unknown to them and Halisham. They grow up together in a secluded environment where special emphasis in placed on keeping their internal organs healthy; where they cannot smoke and drink for fun and experiment with their lives, neither can they ever start a family; they are made aware of sex as a physical need, like breathing. Throughout their lives they keep wondering about the strange and mysterious little incidents happening around them, like little remarks by their teachers or memories from Halisham. 

Despite believing their lives have been marred by their fate, they somehow inadvertently carry on until they fulfill their purpose and finally realize the real meaning of their lives.

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Never Let Me Go: Movie scene

In the plot, organ donation does not hold a central position, it is rather in the background. The story, instead, is about the evolution of these three individuals; it is as insightful as it can get; and certainly incomprehensible without contemplation!

Thoughts about the book: Knowledge and Innocence 

The book is suspenseful throughout for the readers and the characters alike. One might feel pretty clueless about the plot most of the time. But considering this is not a drama, that kind of feeling is acceptable.

The book is based on a philosophy and that philosophy can be inferred form the events of the story. That philosophy being, our life has a purpose; everyone has different purposes, and we are to carry them out with or without the knowledge of that being so. When we start our lives, we are innocent, impressionable and completely oblivious of “the big picture of life”. It takes a while to become partly conscious or aware as a person, sometimes it takes a lifetime. However, while we are unwise and naive, we fail  to appreciate what we really have, we fail to see the real nature of things, for the very fact that we are ignorant and naive! Expecting ourselves to be wise and enlightened when we are young is unrealistic. But that innocence, lack of wisdom and naivety itself is a gift that we all are in such a hurry to get rid of.

It is inevitable that we will become wiser by our experiences. But the tragedy is that only when we are on the verge of losing what we have or when we have already lost it, is when we finally realize it’s value.

A word of caution 

There are no short cuts to reading this wonderful book. It cannot be simply read and understood, it demands to be thought over and discussed. The language of the book is simple and devoid of any difficult words, which makes it an easy read prima facie, until you start contemplating.

Neither would it be advisable to watch it’s adaptation before reading the book. The adaptation by the same title is a simplified version of the book, and it goes without say, that the book is always better than the movie!

I would like to thank my very special friend who gifted me this book. I hope you are reading this. Just with this simple book you have completely changed my life and filled my heart with more affection and gratitude for you. Thank you 🙂

Noteworthy Trivialities #5

What should be the aim of Education, job security or character building?

What ought to be the aim of Education- the popular perception is job security. But it’s interesting to note that, when Thomas L.Friedman, a Pulitzer awardee compared Infosys and Al-Qaeda, the answer became quite clear. For both the organizations have, global network, highly talented youth, resources, etc. However, Infosys has constructive thinking, while Al-Qaeda has destructive thinking. Only the character of the organization has changed its impact. 

WHAT SHOULDBE THE AIM OF EDUCATION?

It is evident that character plays an undeniably important role in our life. However, it is fact that we cannot earn our livelihood only on the basis of our character. Unemployment and lack employability is one of the biggest vice for any society. Hence, Education which doesn’t make us employable has no meaning even if it strengthens our character. Job security and charater building goes hand-in-hand.   

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but no morals. … We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” —Martin Luther King Jr., speech at Morehouse College, 1948

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Just Cool it! – Noteworthy Quotations

Just Cool It! is the latest book by Ian Hanington and David Suzuki. It is practical guide in understanding climate change a.k.a global warming. The book is divided into two sections i.e. the problems and the solutions. The initial part was one of the most stressful texts I have ever read, but part two in the other hand provides a relief by giving hope that we can still save our planet.  Read more

Indian Vampire Fiction?

Seldom do I choose books which I can read in a couple of days. Being a slow and immersive reader with “heavy” preferences, it is less likely that I stumble across easy reads; and vampire fiction is far from it. In addition to that, I repel even remotely spooky stuff. Clearly I made an exception when I picked this book up.

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The Book or the Author?

Let’s get to the “whys” now. Why did I pick this book then? (Drumroll please!) because of the author. The author, Phillip Ernest is a Canadian who grew up in a small town called New Liskeard in Northern Ontario. He learnt Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language similar to Latin and Greek) out of sheer interest and in fact went on to do a PhD in Sanskrit from Cambridge University.

I believe, a person who goes on to learn something new, with no previous family history of it, and excel in it, is extraordinary- an outlier itself. Not only this, he has gained such mastery on the language and understanding of the Indian culture that he wrote this book for the Indian audience, instead of foreign. This was one of the main reasons I picked this book up.

The Book

The title Vetala is a Sanskrit word which means a Vampire like supernatural being which is neither dead or alive. The book is based in Pune and the protagonist Nada is a foreign national, doing research on an ancient Indian (Sanskrit) literature (duh! hehe…) but is met with demonic-interventions and she must use her wit to resolve the mystery of the manuscript. Since I have lived in Pune (popularly called Oxford of the East- defintely a misnomer in my opinion) for my University education I can vouch for the fact that the describing of the city and it’s people is quite apt. (no spoilers here!)

The book is full of Sanskrit and Hindi (most popular Indian language) terminologies, with a not-so-long glossary at the back. Most Indians won’t need to use the glossary, however, it is essential for foreign readers.

At one point of time I was tempted to compare this book with other books in the same genre, and even Hindi films. But almost instantly I realized that, that would be huge mistake; just because I am so well acquainted with the Indian culture I was risking taking this work for granted. In reality this book is a result of in-depth knowledge of Indian folklore and beliefs. For instance, a common Indian belief of reincarnation (or re-birth) make a typical Indian more accepting of the present “sufferings”, which they believe is the result of their past life misdeeds. This belief, in fact, is the main premise of this book. This in-fact is one of the main reasons why Indians are generally more accepting of the “status-quo”.

Once again, it is a fairly easy read with a deep connection with Indian folklore and beliefs, which reminds me of stories I grew up listening to; they are spooky, fascinating and definitely entertaining. Moreover, because the book is written by an academician, not a screenplay writer, it has no flimsy content.

The Author

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With Phillip Ernest, who also signed my copy in Hindi. He is pointing at the last two words of a Sanskrit shlock (from the famous Bhagwad Gita) written on his shirt, pronounced as- Gyanmutamam; which literally means “knowledge is the highest thing”

I was extremely fortunate to have gotten a chance to meet the author, Phillip Ernest. To my pleasant surprise he a very simple and down to earth person. He is a linguist, an intellectual, who believes that a dying language is one of the most tragic mishaps of contemporary times and is steadfastly devoted to keeping Sanskrit alive.

Death of a language is indeed quite tragic, as it is not only loss of the language itself but the concepts associated to it, the knowledge it contains, the philosophy it contains, the way of life, etc. Losing a language is like loosing a culture altogether and no economical parameter can equate such a loss in monetary terms. In fact, futurists predict that we are under the risk of loosing 3,000 minority languages in the next 10 years.

We are very lucky to have a few people like him who have such beliefs, as it is because of them that minority languages, might be preserved. Languages such as Sanskrit and even popularly used Hindi are under the risk of being completely engulfed by English language.

Yet it is unsurprisingly ironical that, such a person’s belief and noble intentions are not appreciated in India. Although Mr. Ernest who wrote this book for an Indian audience, it was not appreciated by a single publishing house in India until it was well received in his home country.

Conclusion

To sum up, the book is truly fascinating and sometimes bizarre, especially for a non-Indian, as it depicts common Hindu beliefs and folklore. It is definitely a page-turner. For me, the author and his motivation behind this work is more fascinating than the story itself; but for foreigners I think the content of the book would be more attractive.

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What is so extraordinary about Black Panther

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Black Panther has been making headlines for a while now and anyone I know who has seen this film has said only good things about it. Although I am not an action movie fan, all the positive feedback nonetheless drove me to watch the film.

The worldwide applaud caused me to have great expectations from the film and great expectations almost always ends in disappointment. By the end of the movie I said to my friends, “it was nice, but not as extraordinary as a Nolan movie!”. After giving it a thought, I however realized that this is a different kind of extraordinary movie. And if I am not exaggerating, it one of the landmark movies of contemporary times.

The movie effectively breaks the stereotypes; to begin with, they showed a bunch of black people who were neither poor nor involved in something illegal. Moreover, the exemplary tribes in the movie are well rooted to their culture and portrayed as very wealthy as they actually are (or were before colonialism).

black_panther_marvel_studiosSecondly, ask yourself, how many times have you seen a lighter skin colour antagonist (as compared to the protagonist), except Will Smith or Denzel Washington movies? There general observation is that, even if it an all actor-of-colour movie, it is very rare to see a darker skin protagonist and a lighter skin antagonist. Strangely, lighter shades is more appealing to the public than darker skin and that is why many actors are even forced to undergo skin lightening treatment and casting directors seldom choose anything that doesn’t appeal to the public. But this is where Black Panther makes a difference. Not only is the protagonist of darker skin colour, but so is the lead actress. She made no effort to fit in the so called “beauty standards” and has a charming presence in the film without being unnecessarily sexual.image

Thirdly, an effort has been made to present African culture in the most authentic way, instead of westernizing it. The background score, costumes, accents, and location gives it a very authentic feel. For instance, bald women were as graceful as they could get. They didn’t wear wigs or do fake hair extensions to appeal to the public. It was bold move indeed!

Fourthly and very importantly, women characters are neither portrayed as servile nor as disproportionately powerful. They were able to strike an equilibrium between male and female roles; similar to the synergy we are trying to achieve in real life.

In addition to that, the film was filled with plenty of witty jokes, portrayed exemplary moral standards, even the villain was not senselessly crazy. The movie certainly had a counter-colonial undercurrent. Although the movie is based on present day, I feel they have carefully attempted to juxtapose it with some of its historical issues which makes it even more interesting.

Correlation between Reel life and Real life

I recently attended a talk by Jonathan Zinck about how men can stop violence against women. During his talk, he also talked about why a lot of men end up abusing women and then he drew correlation between what we have been seeing in reel life and doing in real life. He and many others claim that our attitudes towards each other has been greatly influenced by what we read and what on screen. What was noteworthy in the storyline was that, there was a situation where a man takes a bullet to save a woman,  but she did not automatically fall for his gallantry; which would have otherwise happened in movies a few years ago, which promoted “save the day and get the girl”. Similarly, this movie has subtly changed a lot of things.

In conclusion, whether it is watchworthy or not, that depends on you. But what I am sure about is this production has made a huge difference is what we are used to seeing on screen and my optimist self feels, this is just the beginning. Other movie will have follow the suit.

Tell me what you think about the movie in the comment section below. And don’t forget to share it with your friends.

À Bientôt! ❤