The Master Switch by Tim Wu

Master Switch

I chose to read ‘The Master Switch’ by Tim Wu due to its tagline, ‘the rise and fall of information empires.’ The main theme of the book is how each one of the information technologies have gone through a cycle: From openness to closed control by monopoly/ cartel followed by disruption from new/ different information technology.

The book traces each one the major information technologies such as telephone, AM radio, FM Radio, Television, Digital television, Cable Television, Motion picture, etc. from their tech cradles to their baby steps as tinker toys of hobbyists, to a new source of gold rush for entrepreneurs and finally ending as the ‘goose that lays the golden eggs’ caged by monopolists/ cartels. A recurring theme of the book is how the originals ideals of inventers, innovators and entrepreneurs and the full potential of a new information technologies get strangled in legal and regulatory cobwebs and crushed under the economic juggernaut of entrenched players (read monopolists and cartels controlling old information technologies which were ripe for disruption).

Through various vignettes across five sections, the book traces the sad saga of how the egalitarian ideals of inventors get crushed by economic-empire building ambitions of people like Theodre Vail, Adolf Zukor, etc. Along the way author also lays in great details the dangers of important industries being controlled by a handful of players including the ‘Production Code’ imposed on Hollywood from mid 1930s to 1960s, the role of telecom players in surveillance regimes, etc.

The book is an interesting read as it takes us on a time travel to the very cross-roads where the crusades to keep important information technologies open were lost. On the lines of the famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, this book is about the technological road not taken and the economic model not embraced. Needless to say in these different historic moments the seeds of change for modern life were sown.

One keeps wondering from time to time on how history would have been different: had Julius Cesar not been assassinated, had Dara Sikoh prevailed over Auranzeeb, had Abraham Lincoln not been assassinated or more recently had Bernie Sanders won the nomination instead of Hillary Clinton. In a similar vein the author also rues from time to time on how what could have been oases of technology openness have instead turned into walled castles under the siege of monopolists and cartels.

The main aim of the author is not to take us through a journey of suspended disbelief but to drive home the point that the openness of internet is under constant attack. While we are thankful to these information technologies for making our lives better, easier and richer the author wants us to reflect about an alternate universe in which: open model had prevailed over closed model, the vision of innovators had prevailed over the ambitions of capitalists, the larger good of the society had prevailed over the economic interests of entrenched players. The author’s warning is not to take the openness of the internet for granted and to understand that powerful forces are at play to convert the internet also into another walled garden. At stake is not only the economic model embedded in the internet but the very basis of our future for while humans shape technologies in the short run, technologies shape humans in the long run.

Some interesting Quotes from the Book:

  • History shows a typical progression of information technologies: from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel—from open to closed system.
  • It is an under-acknowledged truism that, just as you are what you eat, how and what you think depends on what information you are exposed to.
  • From AT&T’s first meeting with Justice, we see for the first time something that will occur again and again in the history of communications, the state’s calculated exercise of discretion over whether to bless or destroy the monopoly power, deciding in effect what industry it will allow to be dominated.
  • In the course of a single decade, film went from one of the most open industries in the United States to one of the most controlled. The flip shows how abruptly industrial structure can change when the underlying commodity is information.
  • In the language of innovation theory, the output of the Bell Labs was practically restricted to sustaining inventions; disruptive technologies, those that might even cast a shadow of uncertainty over the business model, were simply out of the question.
  • The best antidote to the disruptive power of innovation is overregulation. That is to say, the industry learned how to secure the enactment of seemingly innocuous and sensible regulations that nonetheless spelled doom for any rival.
  • Three important waves of innovation followed the great consolidation of broadcasting in the 1920s: mechanical television, electronic television, and FM radio transmission. And despite the importance of each technology, what is so striking is that none managed to produce an independent industry capable of challenging the dominant Radio Trust, comprising primarily RCA, NBC, and NBC’s industrial allies, CBS, General Electric, and Westinghouse.
  • We fancy having in the United States the most open of markets for innovation, in contrast to the more controlled economies of other nations. In truth, however, the record is decidedly uneven, even given to excesses that would shame a socialist, with the federal government, at the behest of an entrenched industry, putting itself in charge of the future.
  • Industry structure, as I have suggested, is what determines the freedom of expression in the underlying medium.
  • While television is supposed to be free, it has in fact become the creature, the servant, and indeed the prostitute, of merchandising
  • Cable was born commercial, while the Internet was born with no revenue model, or any need of one. Its funding came in research grants, making it, for a long time, the information media equivalent of a public park.
  • There is no understanding communications, or the American and global culture industry, without understanding the conglomerate.
  • In fact, the combination of Apple, AT&T, and Hollywood now held out an extremely appealing prospect: Hollywood’s content, AT&T’s lines, and Apple’s gorgeous machines—an information paradise of sorts, succeeding where AOL–Time Warner had failed.
  • Google is the Internet’s switch. In fact, it’s the world’s most popular Internet switch, and as such, it might even be described as the current custodian of the Master Switch.
  • Google is not a switch of necessity, such as the telephone company was, but rather a switch of choice.
  • Those industries that supply the means of trade in information, goods, or cash are more obviously vital even than, say, a country’s sole producer of sugar. Practically, this focus has led to four basic industries being identified as “public callings”: telecommunications, banking, energy, and transportation.
  • For it is the switch that transforms mere communications into networking—that ultimately decides who reaches what or whom. It is the Master Switch, as Fred Friendly reminds us, that will decide who is to be heard.
  • If one allows that the Internet is our key means of conveyance, the “common medium” of our national life and economy, net neutrality is the twenty-first century’s version of common carriage.
  • Put most simply, net neutrality is what prevents the telephone and cable industry from killing Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, blogs, or anything else that might incur their displeasure.
  • The owner of an iPod or iPad is in a fundamentally different position: his machine may have far more computational power than a PC of a decade ago, but it is designed for consumption, not creation.
  • Technology has reached a point where the inventive spirit has a capacity for translating inspiration into commerce virtually overnight, creating major players with astonishing speed, where once it took years of patient chess moves to become one, assuming one wasn’t devoured.
  • The Internet with its uniquely open design has led to a moment when all other information networks have converged upon it as the one “superhighway,” to use the 1990s term.
  • There is no escaping the reality that we have evolved into a society in which electronic information represents the substrate of much of daily life. It is a natural outcome of our having advanced past the mechanical age.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms: An empire long united, must divide; an empire long divided, must unite. Thus it has ever been, and thus it will always be.
  • Leopold Kohr: “there seems to be only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness.”
  • For what he (Friedrich Hayek) found dangerous about the centralizing tendencies of socialism applies equally well to the overbearing powers of the corporate monopolist.
  • “It’s the same old story,” he (Milton Mueller) would say, years later; “the inventor gets the experience, and the capitalist gets the invention.”
  • The Kronos Effect: the efforts undertaken by a dominant company to consume its potential successors in their infancy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Thoughts on the ongoing Pro-Jallikattu Protests

Three Famous Protestors.png

 

My thoughts on the ongoing protests to lift the ban on Jallikattu:

  1. In India thousands of people die in road and train accidents every year. Would the court ask for stringent implementation of regulations and better regulations or would it ban road and train transport altogether?
  2. India is the largest exporter of beef, 7th largest exporter of goat and sheep meat and the 2nd largest producer of footwear and leather garments in the world. Shouldn’t the animal right activists first target these industries before targeting an ancient sport? Isn’t killing animals, de-skinning them and cutting them to pieces more cruel than bull-taming?
  3. Under UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, article 13 specifically calls for national governments to a) adopt a general policy aimed at promoting the function of the intangible cultural heritage in society, and at integrating the safeguarding of such heritage into planning programs and b) designate or establish one or more competent bodies for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage present in its territory. ‘Social practices, rituals and festive events’ is one of the domains under ICH. Shouldn’t India (and its highest court) as a member of the UN protect Jallikattu, a festive event, rather than ban it?
  4. In its observation in January 2016, the Supreme Court observed, ‘in this modern world of computers, it is better to play Jallikattu on computer.’ Shouldn’t the judges of the Supreme Court be value-neutral? Why mock at a tradition?
  5. The Youth of Tamil Nadu protesting peacefully across the state are not questioning the authority of the Supreme Court, but questioning the logic of putting the values of one group (the animal right activists) above the values of another group (people who want to ensure in the continuity of their tradition). People who think that Tamil Youths’ stand is wrong should bear in mind that they are following in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan.
  6. Human Beings are like Trees; just like trees we need strong roots (nationality, religion, language and culture, etc.) and strong branches and leaves (education, experience and appreciation of diversity, etc.). In the end the choice between where to strike a balance between tradition and modernity is each individual’s right and no one has to the right to infringe on it. PETA is at best a Ponzi scheme of the Animal Rights World and no true animal lover should believe in them.
  7. People still don’t get the fact that India is not a Homogenous Nation but a mosaic of cultures and nation of immense diversity. In the way the former British colonies came together to form a new country, India is similar to USA. In terms of a huge population of people, India is similar to China. In terms of the sheer diversity of languages, ethnic groups, religions and group identities, India is similar to the European Union. In terms of the way politicians and rich people embrace each other, India is similar to dictator ruled countries. In short India is a first of its kind POLITICAL and SOCIAL EXPERIEMENT in history. Any individual or institution that is going to treat India as a homogenous nation/ entity and enact/ implement laws based on this assumption is going to create more frictions like the Jallikattu-ban issue. Any such attempt is an attempt to trample the dreams of the founding fathers of this nation, an assault on the foundation of our constitution and an assault on the very idea of INDIA itself.

 

#Jallikattu #Jallikattuprotest #AmendPCA

The Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins

The Art of Creative Thinking

A couple of days back I finished reading ‘The Art of Creative Thinking’ by Rod Judkins. It’s a short and crisp book. The book does not have a table of contents and the chapters are not grouped together by broad topics either. In fact at the end of each chapter the authors suggest two chapters from the book for further reading, one about a related idea discussed in the chapter and another about a slightly contrarian idea.

The book is light on exercises on how to increase our creativity. What caught my attention were the inspiring stories and whole lot of powerful one liners. I liked the story about Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Subramanyan Chandrasekhar and his two Nobel Prize winning students (the only two students to sign up for one of his classes!). The other inspiring story was about Craig Good, who joined Pixar as a janitor but through his efforts and training from the company became a camera artist for such successful films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.

The book is filled with a lot of good one liners. A few of them:

  • The most common decision at a meeting is to have another meeting.
  • It is more important to be the best version of yourself than a bad copy of someone else
  • Put your personality before practicality and your individuality into everything
  • Doubt is the key to unlocking new ideas
  • Think of nature not as a source of materials to use but as a library of ideas
  • Most are born geniuses and are de-geniused by education and convention
  • Your present circumstances don’t determine your destination, they only determine your departure point
  • The real currency of our time is not money; it’s attention
  • Hierarchies maintain the quo after it’s lost its status
  • Work is a dangerous form of procrastination
  • The history of art is inseparable from the history of money
  • The first spark of inspiration always needs reworking and revision
  • Growth is painful and change is painful, but nothing is more painful than staying in the wrong place

Overall the book is good on the inspiration front but rather shallow on techniques to improve and nurture creativity. However a good book to read just for the countless inspiring stories that it covers.

STEPPS TO MAKE ANY IDEA CONTAGIOUS

Contagious

In the book ‘The Tipping Point’ published in 2000, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of ‘The Law of the Few,’ and stated that, ‘The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.’ Essentially what this means is that when messages or ideas spread in a society through word of mouth, rapidly like an epidemic, it is due to special influential people. Identifying these influential people and getting them on board to support our idea or cause would mean that our idea or cause would spread through the society like unhindered forest fire. However there has been a lot of criticism for ‘the law of the few’ most notably from Duncan Watts, author of ‘Six Degrees.’

In ‘Contagious,’ Wharton Professor Jonah Berger argues that irrespective of who originates or passes along a message, it can be contagious if it has six key attributes. The author has devoted a chapter each for these six attributes.

  • Social Currency – The basic premise of this chapter is ‘We share things that make us look good
  • Triggers – This chapter is built on the central idea, ‘Top of the mind, tip of the tongue
  • Emotion – In this chapter the authors illustrates several cases to drive home the point, ‘When we care, we share
  • Public – This chapter is built on the central idea, ‘Built to show, built to grow
  • Practical Value – The key message from this chapter can be boiled down to, ‘News you can use
  • Stories – The core of this chapter is built around, ‘Information travels under the guise of idle chatter

In the words of Jonah Berger, ‘Harnessing the power of word of mouth, online or offline, requires understanding why people talk and why some things get talked about and shared more than others. The psychology of sharing. The science of social transmission.’  The author uses a number of psychological studies and real world examples to drive home the point that the inherent attractiveness of any message/ idea can be enhanced so as to make it worth sharing in the minds of its recipients.

Just to ensure that Virality is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, the author has this piece of advice for anyone trying to implement his methodology, ‘When trying to generate word of mouth, many people forget one important detail. They focus so much to make people to talk that they ignore the part that really matters: what people are talking about.’

The most important consideration as per the author is that, ‘ensuring the idea not only goes viral but also to make it valuable to the sponsoring company. Virality is most valuable when the brand or product benefit is integral to the story. When it’s woven so deeply into the narrative that people can’t tell the story without mentioning the brand or the product or the company.’

Even if we are not a marketer, ‘Contagious’ by Jonah Berger is a book worth reading just to understand why we hit the ‘share’ or the ‘retweet’ or the ‘forward’ buttons for some messages while ignoring a vast majority of the messages that we receive.

Grouped by Paul Adams

I recently came across ‘UX Week 2011’ talk by former Google User Experience Researcher and former Facebook Product Manager, Paul Adams. I found the talk both fascinating as well as useful. As a result I decided to read his book, ‘Grouped.’ The book essentially builds on the ideas that Paul Adams discusses in the talk. The 10 chapter book is crisp and concise and one can easily finish reading it within a couple of days which exactly what I did. The book draws on a lot of network science, social psychology and sociology research findings and points to how these insights can be used for business success in the web world. Another highlight of the book is the number of simple but powerful diagrams to drive home the point that the author is making.

The book starts by discussing about four key shifts that are shaping our world:

  1. The rise in accessible information
  2. Change in the structure of the web
  3. Our recently acquired ability to accurately map and measure social interaction
  4. The dramatic increase in our understanding of how we make decisions

Towards the end of the introduction chapter, Paul Adams makes the following observation, ‘Humans are social creatures, and an understanding of social behavior on the web will soon be required knowledge for almost all businesses.’ Paul Adams also discusses multiple instances of web 2.0 companies reaping the benefits by putting their understanding of this ‘social behavior’ to good use.

The author points to research studies that divide our family, friends and acquaintances into strong ties and weak ties. The discussion on how we don’t make friends but groups of friends based on different contexts that we are embedded in different stages of our life is fascinating. In his Paul Adams’ own words, ‘Social networks of connected independent groups of friends is the most important observation in this book.’

I found the fifth chapter of the book, ‘The myth of the influentials’ very interesting. The basic premise of this chapter is that highly connected individuals are not necessarily highly influential and in a sense each one of us influence people around us to varying degrees. Quoting Duncan Watts’ research study, Paul Adams notes that, ‘The most important factor in determining whether an idea spread was not whether there were influential people, but whether there was a critical mass of easily influenced people who were connected to other people who were easy to influence.’

There are individual chapters focused on ‘how our relationships influence us,’ ‘how our brain influences us,’ and ‘how our biases influence us’ each filled with multiple ‘Aha!’ insights. In a way ‘Grouped’ by Paul Adams is an antithesis to Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point.’ Overall the book is a very delightful and informative read and is recommended to anyone who wants to understand social networks and influence in social networks.

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

The Power of Myth

Yesterday I finished reading ‘The Power of Myth’ based on a televised conversation between Comparative Mythologist, Joseph Campbell and TV anchor, Bill Moyers. The book set in the conversational style and makes for an easy read.

The sentence ‘Myths are clues to spiritual potentialities of the human life’ appear in the opening chapter as well as the closing chapter of the book. And that’s one of the key messages that this conveys. The other key theme discussed in this book is the similarity or proximities between myths from different cultures, places and times. The close association, as per Campbell, is due to ‘certain powers in the psyche that are common to all mankind.’ As per Campbell, ‘Every mythology has to do with the wisdom of life as related to a specific culture at a specific time. It integrates the individual into his society and the society into the field of nature.’

Some of the countless nuggets of wisdom from the book:

  • Every religion is true in one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck to its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.
  • If you think that the metaphor is itself the reference, it would be like going to a restaurant, asking for the menu, seeing beefsteak written there, and starting to eat the menu.

 

  • Compassion is the fundamental religious experience, and, unless that is there, you have nothing. (A very important observation given the current series of religion based hate crimes).
  • You get a totally different civilization and a totally different way of living according to whether your myth presents nature as fallen or whether nature is in itself a manifestation of divinity, and the spirit is the revelation of the divinity that is inherent in nature.
  • Life is pain, but compassion is what gives it the possibility of continuing.
  • It’s characteristic of democracy that majority rule is understood as being effective not only in politics but also in thinking. In thinking, of course, the majority is always wrong.
  • Giving birth is definitely a heroic deed, in that it is giving over of oneself to the life of another.
  • Making money gets more advertisement. So the thing that happens and happens and happens, no matter how heroic it may be, is not news. Motherhood has lost its novelty, you might say.
  • Our life evokes our character. You find out more about yourself as you go on. That’s why it’s good to be able to put yourself in situations that will evoke your higher nature rather than your lower.
  • Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.
  • The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth (just brilliant).
  • A legendary hero is usually the founder of something – the founder of a new age, the founder of a new religion, the founder of a new city, the founder of a new way of life.
  • In order to found something new, one has to leave the old and go in quest of the seed idea, a germinal idea that will have the potentiality of bringing forth that new thing.

 

  • You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning……. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation.
  • The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. (People carrying out the destruction of the ecology in pursuit of a fat bank account, please take a note.)
  • People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.
  • What we’re learning in our schools is not wisdom of life. We’re learning technologies, we’re getting information. There’s a curious reluctance on the part of faculties to indicate the life values of their subjects.

When I was watching the movie Troy, based on Greek epic Iliad, I was struck while watching the scene in which Achilles is killed by an arrow piercing his heel which is similar to a scene from Hindu epic Mahabharata, in which Krishna is killed by an arrow piercing his foot. After reading this book, I now realize that there are countless similarities between mythologies from different parts of the world.

There is one striking conversation in the second chapter in which Moyers reads verses from the creation story in Genesis and Campbell gives equivalent verses from other cultures ranging from the Pima Indians in Arizona, the Hindu Upanishads from India and the Bassari People of West Africa.

There is another conversation in the book about a story from Persia that Satan was condemned to hell because he loved God so much. I remember the The parallel episode to this from Hindu stories where the gate keepers of Vaikuntam, the heavenly abode of God Vishnu, are cursed by a group of saints. On the intervention of God Vishnu they are given an option between staying away from Vishnu for six births if they praise Vishnu in each birth or staying away from Vishnu for three births if they denounce him in each birth. Not able to bear the thought of being away Vishnu for six births, they accept to denounce him and are born as Asoora (Demon-like) kings in their next three births.

Reading ‘The Power of Myth’ is the best way to realize that humanity as whole shares the same roots, shares the same resources, shares the same fears and ultimately shares the same fate on this earth. As they say: ‘God is Love and Love is God.’ Love life and let all life forms live and flourish on this beautiful planet. May the power of sanity be with us and lead us to embrace the God within each one of us.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

1984 Book Cover

A while back I had read Animal Farm by George Orwell. I liked the book a lot and even wrote a book review on my blog. I decided to read Orwell’s other famous book ‘1984.’ In Animal Farm, George Orwell narrated about an idealistic revolution gone wrong and a totalitarian regime that arises as an aftermath in an easy to understand form. For people who did not get the message after reading Animal Farm, Orwell has written 1984 with all the gory details. The intensity of the novel was like Earth’s Gravitational Force; I could not prevent my mind from getting sucked into the novel.

Like I wrote in the review on Animal Farm, the brilliance of Orwell stems from the fact that he was able to clearly understand and present to us the pit falls of having a totalitarian regime without proper checks and balances in place. The only thing that he forgot to tell us in either books is that any system, including a democracy, could just be a tool serving only the people in power if there are no proper checks and balances in place. I am not sure if Orwell foresaw and would have written about it, but as the events of the past few years have shown, big business is as dangerous as big government. In a way the term big brother could be used to refer to anyone or any organization with too much of power to influence and control the fortunes of the general public.

For every Edward Snowden who succeeded in exposing the illegal practices of big governments countless many would have failed and would have paid a heavy price for their audacity. For every successful corporate whistle blower, countless many would have been silenced and had their careers ruined. For every media house that fights for the welfare of the people, there are countless many which have become part of the establishment that is oppressing the people. In a way, the protagonist of 1984 is symbolic of face-less, unknown and unsung heroes over the ages who had tried to fight against and change corrupt systems but ultimately got crushed under the weight and the power those very same systems.

A simple blog post would not be enough to narrate the brilliance of George Orwell’s work; Even an entire book would not suffice that purpose. Given the fact George Orwell’s was battling tremendous odds to complete this book, his last one, we would do ourselves a favor if we treat this book not just as a novel but as a ‘sacred text’ that explains the pitfalls of trading off our individual freedom for the sake non-existent stability and security. A few literary gems, nuggets of wisdom, revelations from the book are given below:

  • Nothing was your own except the few centimeters inside your skull
  • It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage
  • The consequences of every act are included in the act itself
  • The immediate advantages of falsifying the past were obvious, but the ultimate motives was mysterious
  • The Heresy of heresies was common sense
  • It struck him that in moments of crisis one is never fighting against an external enemy, but always against one’s own body
  • Accepting the party as something unalterable, like the sky
  • In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on the people incapable of understanding in it – just brilliant.

 

  • In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance
  • The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor

 

  • The consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival
  • The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low……is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal
  • No advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimeter nearer. From the point of view of the Low, no historic change has ever meant much more than a change in the name of their masters
  • With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. – The smart phone and the social media are the logical extensions of this phenomenon.
  • It had long been realized that the secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly
  • What can you do against the lunatic who is more intelligent that yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?
  • Power is not a means, it is an end
  • One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

 

  • The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

For all the advancement in science & technology, social sciences, economics and arts in the last hundred years or so, the world of today is much closer to ‘Dystopia’ than ‘Utopia.’ The world of today is a dystopian one where there the focus is on profits and not on people and on earnings per share and not on ecological balance.

I found it every interesting that both in ‘Animal Farm’ as well as in ‘1984’ the ruling class instills the fear about a renegade in general public and uses that fear to safeguard their hold over the public. While the ‘Screen’ mentioned in the book sends out information that not everybody likes, today we all own a Screen (smart phone) which provides us with information (paid news and advertising) that we absolutely adore. Strangely we not only have allowed both big government and big business to snoop on us but have grown to absolutely love the idea (for the sake of a few freebies that we receive in return).

Today the single biggest influence on our lives is not our provincial or national governments but the unified global economic order. Under the influence of the globalization every country is like a conjoined twin with every other country. Free market proponents (read big businesses) have used the free of communism, socialism and the hold of big government to only increase their power and hold over our lives. Just to paraphrase what Orwell wrote in Animal farm, today there is no difference between Big Government and Big Business. They are two sides of the same coin with ‘subjugation of ordinary public’ as their common objective. Today if there is anything that is close to a totalitarian regime, it is the unified global economic order and the hold of capitalism over it.

The Big Businesses have found their ultimate example in the Roman Emperors who provided grand acts in the colosseum for the people to prevent them from thinking for themselves and questioning the emperors’ objectives and actions.  Similarly Big Businesses through their print houses, tabloids, TV channels, movie houses, sports teams are bringing us action and more unwanted and unnecessary action to our cities, our localities, our streets, our living rooms and ultimately to the sacred space in our palms. After exhausting all our time, energy, money and cranial capacity on all these activities, we can hardly think about and act in our own best interests.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm

One of my MBA professors once said, ‘If I have to talk sense, I can make it even in five minutes; I don’t need a whole hour.’ Animal Farm by George Orwell is small book (a novella – 95 pages in Penguin Book that I read) that makes a lot of sense even though seventy years have passed since it was first published. The author wrote this fable/ allegory or fairy tale with Soviet Union under Stalin in mind and yet a vast majority of the situations and observations are applicable even today’s world, even to democracies like India.

Such is the brilliance of Orwell that while reading some of the lines in the book, I was reminded about news items that I have read in the recent past. Take for example this line from the book: ‘Two cows, enjoying a drink at the pool, would exclaim, “Thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, how excellent this water tastes!”’ On reading this line I was reminded of the umpteen number of times how the success of government schemes are attributed directly to the efforts of only the Chief Minister/ Prime Minister. Another one: ‘Squealer always spoke of it as a “readjustment,” never as a “reduction.” On reading this one I got reminded of how Hillary Clinton claimed on TV during a prime time interview that FBI Investigation against her is just a “Security Review” and “not an investigation.”’ Not to forget the barrage of ‘my statement was taken out of context’ or ‘my tweet was taken out of context’ statement that you get to hear these days.

Another brilliant line from the book, ‘Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves richer – except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.’ This line could just be an apt criticism against today’s Capitalism and Globalization. I was also reminded of the growing income inequality and the recent Bernie Sanders campaign which focused a lot on the income and wealth of the richest one-tenth of one percent of Americans.

A gem of a statement from the book, ‘All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.’ On reading this I was reminded of how a loan defaulter billionaire was allowed to leave this country, how the hit and run case of a Bollywood super star has progressed nowhere in over a decade and how even a retired judge was also in favor of clemency for a Bollywood actor convicted of possessing a gun.

Or this wonderful line: ‘Throughout the whole period of his seeming friendship with Pilkington, Napoleon had been in secret agreement with Frederick.’ This line reminded me of how parties that competed against each other in assembly elections become allies by the time the Lok Sabha elections are around the corner, within just a few months.

In the end Animal Farm is about a few simple truths:

  1. No sooner than the objectives of a movement are achieved, the ideals behind the crusade are forgotten
  2. The leaders of the movement who get elevated to power centers soon forget the people and enforce policies that are beneficial only to themselves, which would aid in extend their reign.
  3. Without proper checks and balance any system would fail in the long run
  4. Blind faith and apathy of the people are as dangerous to the people and the country as nepotism, corruption or tyranny.

Animal Farm is a must read for anyone irrespective of their political ideology. It is a short but brilliant book. Hats Off to George Orwell for writing this timeless Classic.

A Country worth Exploring

Which is the closest country to Australia? If you answered New Zealand, you are wrong. If you answered Indonesia, you are wrong again. Papua New Guinea is the closest country to Australia. Papua New Guinea (PNG), is an independent country that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Its capital, located along its southeastern coast, is Port Moresby. The western half of New Guinea forms the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. Papua New Guinea achieved its independence in 1975 following almost 60 years of Australian administration. PNG is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. The country has a population of about 8 Million people, has a per capita GDP of $2,283 and is classified as a developing nation by the IMF.

Some interesting facts about PNG:

  1. Papua New Guinea is only 3.7 kilometers away from Australian soil at its nearest point
  2. Papua New Guinea and Indonesia share the island of New Guinea which is one of the world’s largest islands.
  3. It is one of the very few places on earth which lie close to the equator where places at higher altitudes experience snowfall.
  4. PNG is one of the most ecologically and culturally diverse countries.
  5. The world’s only known poisonous bird, the Hooded Pitohui (Pitohui dichrous) is native to Papua New Guinea.
  6. Even until the 1950’s cannibalism and headhunting were rampant in Papua New Guinea.
  7. Until 1933 the country used sea-shells as its national currency. Post that, it switched to the Papua New Guinean Kina (PGK).
  8. 852 languages are listed for PNG, of which 12 have no known living speakers
  9. The highest point in the Independent State of Papua New Guinea is Mount Wilhelm (4,509 m).
  10. PNG is fantastic for birdlife with the famous birds of paradise and 750 different species to look out for. There are tree kangaroos, wallabies but no other real mammals.
  11. Many species of birds and mammals found on New Guinea have close genetic links with corresponding species found in Australia (e.g. kangaroos and possums)
  12. The Great Barrier Reef extends from Australia to almost the edge of Papua New Guinea
  13. The Japanese army suffered their first land defeat in the Pacific War (part of WWII) in 1942 in PNG

If you are interested in visiting PNG the following links might be useful to you:

http://www.pngtia.com/

http://wikitravel.org/en/Papua_New_Guinea

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/papua-new-guinea

http://www.papuanewguinea.travel/birdwatching

http://www.tropicalbirding.com/australasia-tours/new-guinea/papua-new-guinea/

http://world.new7wonders.com/?n7wn-finalist=great-barrier-reef-australia-papua-new-guinea

I will leave you with a couple of videos, one of PNG and one on Birds of Paradise.

Sources:

Article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papua_New_Guinea

http://www.traveller.com.au/have-you-visited-australias-closest-neighbour-papua-new-guinea-ghfi04

http://www.10-facts-about.com/papua-new-guinea/id/898

http://www.factsking.com/countries/papua-new-guinea/

https://papuanewguineacasestudy.wikispaces.com/Learn+More+about+Papua+New+Guinea,+Fun+Facts!

http://travelpost.noble-caledonia.co.uk/articles/papua-new-guinea-interesting-facts-travel-tips

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird-of-paradise

Photos:

http://missionpng.com/PNGScene.htm

https://pucpng.wordpress.com/

http://www.globaldivingadventures.com/expedition-papua-new-guinea/

Note: This post has been written for IndiSpire Edition 116: ‘Choose a country you don’t know much about. Now read up/ research about it. And tell us something interesting about it. Can be anything – history, politics, music or whatever tickles your fancy.  #DiscoverACountry’