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:
My thoughts on the ongoing protests to lift the ban on Jallikattu:
#Jallikattu #Jallikattuprotest #AmendPCA
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
If you are interested in visiting PNG the following links might be useful to you:
I will leave you with a couple of videos, one of PNG and one on Birds of Paradise.
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’
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