Words of Wisdom from Kevin Kelly

A friend of mine sent across an article titled, 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice, a couple of days ago. I managed to read it only today. It’s actually a list of advice by Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired Magazine. The list contained 68 points, a number that Kevin had chosen to be in parity with his age (68 years). I was thinking of writing a blog post about my favorite ones from Kevin’s 68 points of advice. However as I started compiling a list, I realized that reading through the list and grouping them to relate to broad areas was difficult; to start with the list was not even numbered. So I have grouped Kevin’s 68 points of advice into broad categories (pretty subjective) so as to make it easy to understand and refer back. So given below is my classification of Kevin’s 68 Maxims.

Collaboration:

  1. Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask a question that may sound stupid because 99% of the time everyone else is thinking of the same question and is too embarrassed to ask it.
  3. Rule of 7 in research. You can find out anything if you are willing to go seven levels. If the first source you ask doesn’t know, ask them who you should ask next, and so on down the line. If you are willing to go to the 7th source, you’ll almost always get your answer.
  4. Don’t ever respond to a solicitation or a proposal on the phone. The urgency is a disguise.
  5. Be prepared: When you are 90% done any large project (a house, a film, an event, an app) the rest of the myriad details will take a second 90% to complete.

Communication:

  1. Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more.
  2. Rule of 3 in conversation. To get to the real reason, ask a person to go deeper than what they just said. Then again, and once more. The third time’s answer is close to the truth.
  3. Everyone is shy. Other people are waiting for you to introduce yourself to them, they are waiting for you to send them an email, they are waiting for you to ask them on a date. Go ahead.
  4. Don’t say anything about someone in email you would not be comfortable saying to them directly, because eventually they will read it.
  5. How to apologize: Quickly, specifically, sincerely.

Creativity:

  1. To make something good, just do it. To make something great, just re-do it, re-do it, re-do it. The secret to making fine things is in remaking them.
  2. Pros are just amateurs who know how to gracefully recover from their mistakes.
  3. Separate the processes of creation from improving. You can’t write and edit, or sculpt and polish, or make and analyze at the same time. If you do, the editor stops the creator. While you invent, don’t select. While you sketch, don’t inspect. While you write the first draft, don’t reflect. At the start, the creator mind must be unleashed from judgement.
  4. Art is in what you leave out.
  5. Anything real begins with the fiction of what could be. Imagination is therefore the most potent force in the universe, and a skill you can get better at. It’s the one skill in life that benefits from ignoring what everyone else knows.

Interpersonal:

  1. Gratitude will unlock all other virtues and is something you can get better at.
  2. Treating a person to a meal never fails, and is so easy to do. It’s powerful with old friends and a great way to make new friends.
  3. Reading to your children regularly will bond you together and kick-start their imaginations.
  4. The more you are interested in others, the more interesting they find you. To be interesting, be interested.
  5. Optimize your generosity. No one on their deathbed has ever regretted giving too much away.
  6. The Golden Rule (Treating others as you want to be treated) will never fail you. It is the foundation of all other virtues.
  7. Perhaps the most counter-intuitive truth of the universe is that the more you give to others, the more you’ll get. Understanding this is the beginning of wisdom.
  8. Friends are better than money. Almost anything money can do, friends can do better. In so many ways a friend with a boat is better than owning a boat.
  9. This is true: It’s hard to cheat an honest man.
  10. Hatred is a curse that does not affect the hated. It only poisons the hater. Release a grudge as if it was a poison.
  11. To make mistakes is human. To own your mistakes is divine. Nothing elevates a person higher than quickly admitting and taking personal responsibility for the mistakes you make and then fixing them fairly. If you mess up, fess up. It’s astounding how powerful this ownership is.
  12. When someone is nasty, rude, hateful, or mean with you, pretend they have a disease. That makes it easier to have empathy toward them which can soften the conflict.
  13. Don’t take it personally when someone turns you down. Assume they are like you: busy, occupied, distracted. Try again later. It’s amazing how often a second try works.
  14. Promptness is a sign of respect.

Learning:

  1. Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe.
  2. Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points.
  3. A worthy goal for a year is to learn enough about a subject so that you can’t believe how ignorant you were a year earlier.
  4. Don’t be the smartest person in the room. Hangout with, and learn from, people smarter than yourself. Even better, find smart people who will disagree with you.
  5. There is no limit on better. Talent is distributed unfairly, but there is no limit on how much we can improve what we start with.

Life-Hacks:

  1. The purpose of a habit is to remove that action from self-negotiation. You no longer expend energy deciding whether to do it. You just do it. Good habits can range from telling the truth, to flossing.
  2. Never use a credit card for credit. The only kind of credit, or debt, that is acceptable is debt to acquire something whose exchange value is extremely likely to increase, like in a home. The exchange value of most things diminishes or vanishes the moment you purchase them. Don’t be in debt to losers.
  3. When you are young spend at least 6 months to one year living as poor as you can, owning as little as you possibly can, eating beans and rice in a tiny room or tent, to experience what your “worst” lifestyle might be. That way any time you have to risk something in the future you won’t be afraid of the worst case scenario.
  4. If you are looking for something in your house, and you finally find it, when you’re done with it, don’t put it back where you found it. Put it back where you first looked for it.
  5. When an object is lost, 95% of the time it is hiding within arm’s reach of where it was last seen. Search in all possible locations in that radius and you’ll find it.
  6. If you lose or forget to bring a cable, adapter or charger, check with your hotel. Most hotels now have a drawer full of cables, adapters and chargers others have left behind, and probably have the one you are missing. You can often claim it after borrowing it.
  7. For every dollar you spend purchasing something substantial, expect to pay a dollar in repairs, maintenance, or disposal by the end of its life.
  8. On vacation go to the most remote place on your itinerary first, bypassing the cities. You’ll maximize the shock of otherness in the remote, and then later you’ll welcome the familiar comforts of a city on the way back.
  9. When you get an invitation to do something in the future, ask yourself: would you accept this if it was scheduled for tomorrow? Not too many promises will pass that immediacy filter.
  10. Buying tools: Start by buying the absolute cheapest tools you can find. Upgrade the ones you use a lot. If you wind up using some tool for a job, buy the very best you can afford.
  11. Learn how to take a 20-minute power nap without embarrassment.
  12. Don’t trust all-purpose glue.

Success Tips:

  1. Show up. Keep showing up. Somebody successful said: 99% of success is just showing up.
  2. Don’t be the best. Be the only.
  3. Saving money and investing money are both good habits. Small amounts of money invested regularly for many decades without deliberation is one path to wealth.
  4. You are what you do. Not what you say, not what you believe, not how you vote, but what you spend your time on.
  5. The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.
  6. If you are not falling down occasionally, you are just coasting.
  7. When crisis and disaster strike, don’t waste them. No problems, no progress.
  8. If you desperately need a job, you are just another problem for a boss; if you can solve many of the problems the boss has right now, you are hired. To be hired, think like your boss.
  9. You can obsess about serving your customers/audience/clients, or you can obsess about beating the competition. Both work, but of the two, obsessing about your customers will take you further.
  10. You really don’t want to be famous. Read the biography of any famous person.
  11. Experience is overrated. When hiring, hire for aptitude, train for skills. Most really amazing or great things are done by people doing them for the first time.
  12. Following your bliss is a recipe for paralysis if you don’t know what you are passionate about. A better motto for most youth is “master something, anything”. Through mastery of one thing, you can drift towards extensions of that mastery that bring you more joy, and eventually discover where your bliss is.

Wisdom of a Lifetime:

  1. Trust me: There is no “them”.
  2. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
  3. Extraordinary claims should require extraordinary evidence to be believed.
  4. Acquiring things will rarely bring you deep satisfaction. But acquiring experiences will.
  5. Eliminating clutter makes room for your true treasures.
  6. A vacation + a disaster = an adventure.
  7. I’m positive that in 100 years much of what I take to be true today will be proved to be wrong, maybe even embarrassingly wrong, and I try really hard to identify what it is that I am wrong about today.
  8. Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.
  9. Before you are old, attend as many funerals as you can bear, and listen. Nobody talks about the departed’s achievements. The only thing people will remember is what kind of person you were while you were achieving.
  10. When you die you take absolutely nothing with you except your reputation.

Hope you find my classification.

Do book mark Kevin Kelly’s website. It has a treasure trove of articles on a host of subjects: https://kk.org/

Oh, I almost forgot.

Belated Happy Birthday Kevin.

Thanks a lot for sharing your words of wisdom.

Image Source: Flickr
Image by: Christopher Michael

Resources to keep the kids actively engaged during the COVID19 Lock-down

Once the lock-down was enforced in India, I and my wife struggled to find useful ways to keep my eight years old daughter engaged. Her school shut-down for the academic year and all of her after school classes were also closed. On top of that she could not meet any of her school friends in per either. We wanted to limit passive screen time (TV & Mobile). I tried to look on the web for resources that I can use to keep my daughter actively engaged. I had compiled a list of resources that I shared with my friends friends and acquaintances on WhatsApp. Thought I will share the list on a blog post. I have added the Origami as well as miniature crafts resources that I came across in the last week. Hope you find them useful.


Academic:

Khan Academy is offering free resources for learning.

Scholastic learn at Home website

Twig Education website

Google Education Resources 

Stories/ Reading:

Amazon Audible has made its story collection available for free. 

Compendium of Resources:

Boston Globe has published a list of resources to keep kids engaged

Simple Most has published a list of resources

USA Today has published a list of resources

Beyond the Chalkboard website 

Drawing/ Doodling:

Skillshare resources on Doodling

Open Culture resources on drawing lessons for kids

Thrive Art School YouTube Channel for art lessons

ThoughtCo resources on drawing lessons

IQDoodle website courses on doodling (paid service)

KlineCreative free online drawing classes

LUNCH DOODLES with Mo Willems YouTube Channel

The Visual Alphabet – Free 5 Day How to Doodle Course by IQDoodle on YouTube

PicCandle Doodle Tutorials on YouTube

Doodles by Sarah YouTube Channel

Origami YouTube Channels:


Mica’s Paper Craft Channel 

Nghe Thuat Origami

How to Make

Paper Origami

TN Channel

Super Mega Makers

Miniature Crafts YouTube Channel:

Tiny Little Things

Programming for Kids:

List of 7 programing tools on Lifewire

CS First with Google

Scratch coding for kids by MIT

Tynker coding for kids

Snap coding for kids by Berkeley

Blocky coding for kids by Google

THRIVING IN TIMES OF COVID19 – 4

Got an extended weekend due to Friday being May Day. Woke up early on both Friday and Saturday (just 6.30 AM, pretty early by my standards for a weekend) to order groceries and vegetables on Food Delivery Apps. I was not successful in ordering on Friday but was able to order on Saturday. Somehow I have not been sleeping at the usual hour and I have been staying awake till 2 AM on both Friday  & Saturday morning. So the combined effect was that, during the first part of the day I was feeling extremely sleepy and moving around my house like a Zombie.

For about an hour on Friday evening and about an hour on Saturday evening, I played cricket with my daughter & son. I also played cricket with my son for about an hour at around Noon on Saturday as well. We used my son’s plastic cricket bat and a bunch of plastic balls. I was the bowler to both of them as they took turns as batters. It was fun play time for the three of us. 

One of the things that I have realized is that the only Truest Measure of Love is Time and not money. And you get to see that and feel that when you have very young kids. I have heard Conor Neill ask in one of his YouTube videos, ‘How does a child spell love?’ And went on to spell the answer as: ‘T-I-M-E.’ I got to experience this fact so dramatically a couple of days ago. On that day, I was going for my evening walk  trying to catch up on my step count for the day (more on this in a later post). As I was going from one room to another, my son was frequently crisscrossing my path and making it difficult for me to walk fast. So I told him, “Let’s go for a walk,” and held his hand. At this very moment I saw his face lit up with a smile that was better than the sight of a million flowers blooming at the same time. As we were walking from one room to another and taking left or right turns, he was visibly excited and was laughing out loud. During that indoor walk session, I  realized that parents spending time with kids means a lot for them, even if that time is spent on simple activities. In fact every activity and every moment that parents spend with kids is absolutely special for them.

On Friday night, post dinner as I was sitting with my son in our room not knowing how to keep him engaged, I made paper boat and paper gliders for him. As I finished making the glider my daughter walked into our room. She too wanted to make paper boat. I gave her a sheet of paper from one of her old homework notebooks. As she was making the paper boat I thought this could be a good way to pass time. So I went to YouTube and typed ‘simple Origami for kids.’ I got a string of results from which I chose the video about making a paper shirt. We did not have colorful Origami papers so we decided to use papers from my daughter’s old homework notes. After finishing the paper shirt, my daughter chose the video about how to make princess dress. The instructions in both the videos were easy to follow and we ended up with final products that looked like something shown in the videos. It’s a big surprise to me that even I was able to get it right!!! 

On Saturday night, we decided to do a couple of Origami stuff once again. My daughter chose both the videos. The first one was on how to make sun glasses which was very easy. The second one was on how to make sword. This one was more complex than the other three stuff that we did. We kept missing the folds here and there and had to watch sections of the video multiple times to get the sword design right. But finally we managed to get both the swords right. Overall the time and effort was well spent. Not only did my daughter like it, even I found the time spent on doing the simple paper craft very refreshing. 

Just before the lock-down I had gone to Odyssey to buy some craft-work DIY kits for my daughter. I had picked up an Origami kit in my hand initially, but decided to a buy the Quilling Jewellery kit and Amar Chitra Katha Mahabaratha book-set for her. The Origami kit would have come in very handy yesterday and the day before it. But it’s OK as long as we get any paper. For sometime now, my daughter has been pleading  to open the Quilling kit and make the rings. But, I have asked my daughter to make the rings the week before her school reopens so that she can gift those rings to her school friends. Instead she has been keeping herself busy reading or drawing. 

Checked on Amazon for Origami kits but they are still delivering only essential stuff. Till we are able to get Origami kits from some shop or Amazon, guess we will have to use papers from daughter’s old homework notes.

THRIVING IN TIMES OF COVID19 – 3

I live on the third floor of our building. Most of the houses in the neighborhood are either G+1 floor or G+2 floors. As a result, I can get visibility of far more buildings and terraces than if I were living on the first floor. One the results of the COVID19 lockdown is that the terraces of the buildings in my neighborhood have become relaxation/ socialization spots for people in the evenings. I live in a densely crowded part of the city and going for a walk on the streets is not advisable. Since its peak summer here and staying indoors for an extended period of time is extremely suffocating, a stroll in the terrace is a welcome break or rather an unusual luxury during these extraordinary times.


The terrace of the apartment complex immediately behind my house gets converted into a cricket field @ 5.20 pm almost everyday. A guy in his fifties comes to play with his two sons, one probably in his late teens and another in his preteens. They look like Tamilians but the boys talk only in Hindi. As is usually the case with boys of this age and age gap, they keep quarreling a lot about a potential catch, wrong delivery, bad shot and on and on. The dad is an extreme contrast to his sons, he rarely speaks and the look on his face resembles that of a Zen monk. After the match and on days when his sons don’t come to play cricket he goes for a brisk walk on the terrace. I think the elder son goes for cricket coaching and I have seen him do exercises (similar to the ones done perform cricket coaching sessions) on the terrace. 

I have seen a couple of ladies go for walking or do warm-up exercises in the evening. But they never interact and one of them is always wearing a earphone connected to her mobile. Around 8 to 8.30 PM a couple of college guys come to the terrace to talk on mobiles. Sometimes they also do group study on the terrace. The terrace of the building beyond this one gets converted into a playground for less than 10 year olds. They are mostly accompanied by their grand parents. Sometimes I see these kids lean on the parapet wall and talk to kids in the next terrace or kids standing in their balconies in the next building. 

On the terrace of the house immediately to the left of my house an elderly man and an elderly lady (most likely a couple) go for a walk in the evenings. The lady goes for a very brisk walk while chatting on mobile phone; Abishek Bachan would be proud that she is following his maxim: Walk & Talk. The guy generally strolls slowly with the look of reluctance in his face. The house and the apartments next to this building also  have someone or the other in walk & talk mode. The family in the house immediately in front of my house never venture to their terrace or their balconies in the evenings. However one of the persons who lives in the house aging about sixty comes to his balcony in the mornings and chants come mantra while holding a little bit of water on his right palm. 

On the terrace diagonally in front of my house, there is a very small roof garden with flowering plants. Every evening a guy in his forties or a lady in her sixties are either watering the plant or doing some sort of attending to the plants. There is a railway line of Elevated Metro Train Service very near my house. In normal days you could see and hear the sound of the trains. With the lockdown in place, the trains have gone silent. Despite all these people that I have described doing some activity or the other, a vast majority of the people still do not venture out to the terraces. Not sure, what do they do keep themselves occupied and remain sane. 

Thriving in times of COVID19 – 2

There are a bunch of trees near my house, a rarity in my city these days. As a result I get to see a bunch of birds every time I step into my house terrace. Ever since shifting to this house I have made it a point to feed the crows that live in the nearby trees. Since the lock-down feeding the crows has become a ritual. I feed them twice a day, once around 10.30 AM and once around 4 PM. It’s a fascinating sight to see the crows flying towards my house as I start placing food on the parapet wall of our terrace. 

As the days have passed I have noticed a few smaller things that I have not paid much attention to in the past.  The crows do seem to have their favorite foods: Chapathis are their favorite, bread comes next and they like savories like Ompodi & Mixture. The have a particular liking for Medu Vadai. They are ok with biscuits, water melon & musk melon but do not seem to like bananas. They don’t like Sundal either. Crows also exhibit different personality traits: some of them descend down on the wall pick up their share of food and fly back to the trees, some sit on the wall and eat uneasily, while others rather than eating, shout on top of their voice to broadcast to others that food is available.

I get to see other birds too. There are a bunch of pigeons that live in the neighborhood. My immediate next house neighbor places water in mud plates on his terrace for the pigeons, so they have kind of made his terrace their home. Two of the pigeons come to eat if I place scraps of fruits for the crows. Ditto for a couple of squirrels. The pigeons and squirrels come to eat only after most of the crows have left. A couple of times I have seen a solitary Myna too eating on our terrace. However all these creatures make a quick exit if I even get near the door of our terrace. 

There are about 4 parrots living in a hole on the side walls of apartments two building from my house. I can see them only in the morning around 8 AM but they seem to vanish from sight after that. In the evening they will be flying at high-speed from one tree to another. Guess they have the same attitude of adolescent guys indulging in bike racing in East-coast Road. I have never seen these parrots coming to eat at my house or drink at my neighbors house. May be once of the days, I need to wake up at daybreak and see what these parrots are up to. 

I also get to see cranes flying in the sky; guess they are moving towards Foreshore Estate where there is creek / backwaters. I get to see eagles gliding  high in the sky over a nearby hotel, the most that I have seen is six of them. I guess a crows have made nest on the terrace of the hotel. From time to time, I see a couple of crows trying to chase a solitary eagle; it’s like watching fighter planes indulging in dogfight. Most of the times, the crows seem to be successful; happy ending… for the crows and hungry tummy for the eagles. 

Around 6 PM, the villains of the current season, Bats start making their appearance in the sky. It’s quite a scary sight to see a constant stream of bats flying from south-east to the north-west direction. I guess they are coming from somewhere near Foreshore Estate where there are a couple of water-bodies and a lot of trees, but I am not sure. Once the bats start gracing the sky with their appearance, I shut the terrace door and get back into the house.  The sun by this time would be beating a hasty retreat and in no time mosquitoes would be busy making everybody’s life uncomfortable.

It’s my deepest wish or daydream that on one of the days when I open my terrace door to feed the crows there should be bunch of Scarlet Macaw Parrots or a couple of Indian Peafowls sitting on my terrace’s parapet wall. 

Thriving in Times of COVID19 – 1

  It’s been a long time since I wrote something or blogged. Have been thinking seriously about starting to write on a regular basis. COVID19 has turned our life upside down. The only way to maintain sanity is to focus on the positives in life and stay away from the negatives. As a result I have drastically cut down on daily news intake and cut down completely on arguing online (on WhatsApp) with friends & acquaintances. It been nearly two months since I started working from home. With the the lock-down and curfews, its become very difficult to go out and meet friends & family members too. While it did not strike me until this point, that blogging about useful activities that I and family members indulge in would be a good way to start writing once again. 
       

My eight year old daughter is having her summer holidays, without her usual summer classes, etc. She has not been able to step outside to play, go and meet her friends on their birthdays, visit malls & play areas; needless to say it’s been a very boring summer vacation for her. As a result, like most parents, I and my wife have been trying to keep her occupied with some usual activity or the other. My year old son is still using the entire day for playing and throwing things around as he like. One of the things that my daughter likes is drawing. She used to go for drawing classes for the past three years or so. My wife also draws from time to time. Since I am working from home, I have made it a point to encourage them to draw/ paint as much as possible. Just before the lock-down started I went to Odyssey and bought some drawing & painting related stuff. In hindsight it turned out to be a very good decision. 
     

  I keep finding  instructional videos for painting for my wife & daughter. A friend who knows about my wife’s interest in painting sent an Instagram link about Live painting instruction sessions conducted by Hindustan Trading Company @ 5 PM everyday during this lock-down. So, I created an Instagram account.   Yesterday my wife and daughter attended the live art sessions for the first time. Due to bandwidth issues, the video kept pausing quite a number of times. So, they decided to follow instructions from the recording of an earlier session about making bookmarks. I have posted the pictures of the bookmarks that they made. I read a lot of books, so they made the book marks as a gift for me. It was about an hour and half well spent for my daughter and wife. 

Painting by my Daughter
Painting by my Wife

There’s a Circus in Town

There’s a circus in town
Election circus is in town
Selling us Utopia
Cashing on our Myopia
Begging for our votes
Enticing us with notes
There’s a circus in town
Election circus is in town
Bottles mask the potholes
Money masks the assholes
The trivial trumps the actual
The troll trumps the factual
There’s a circus in town
Election circus is in town
Clowns pose as knights
As defaulters board flights
Caste & cult, a heady combo
Leaving the nation in a Limbo
There’s a circus in town
Election circus is in town
Devotion to them is delusion
Choice is but an illusion
Election day is quite an occasion
Leading to five years of suffocation
There’s a circus in town
Election circus is in town
All of us yearn for the pinnacle
All we get is election spectacle
Money and power are in bed
Leaving our democracy in red
There’s a circus in town
Election circus is in town
The crooks get the crowns
And make us all clowns
It’s been quite a long night
There’s no dawn still in sight
There’s a circus in town
Election circus is in town

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Amusing Ourselves To Death

Around the time of First Gulf War, on Fridays I used to stay awake at night longer than usual to view my favorite program, ‘World This Week,’ the international news show by NDTV. The topics covered, the visuals and the presentation were completely different from what Doordarshan’s other news programs had to offer. In those days Doordarshan was the only TV Channel available. On Friday evenings when ‘Oliyum Oliyum’ (a program from DD Chennai featuring Tamil Movie songs) was telecast the streets used to be empty. In those days I, like a lot of boys of my age used to bunk school to watch Indian Cricket Team Play, on TV.

Cut to today, January 14, 2018, the day of Pongal, the most auspicious and important of Tamil Festivals. All Tamil Satellite and Free-to-Air TV channels are drowning viewers in Pongal Special Programs (read movies and programs featuring Movie Actors and Technicians). As I write this post Indian Cricket Team is playing against South Africa in their second Test Match somewhere in South Africa; India is actually batting. Countless news channels are blaring about the day’s happenings. Yet instead of getting glued to one of the three TV sets at home, I am sitting and writing this blog post about a book that talks about the ill-effects of Television. From yearning for more TV content to TV addiction to weaning myself of TV, my world has come full circle.

From being deprived of TV channels and TV content to literally drowning in TV programs, India has come a long way. All this started with liberalization in the early nineties. Today my DTH subscription offers me hundreds of channels from all corners of the world. For each category there are a dozen channels. I could have a dozen clones of myself but still may not be able to cover all the TV programs in my favorite channels in a single day.

I always used to think of TV as a source of general knowledge. When I think of TV programs like ‘Turning Point,’ ‘Surabhi,’ and ‘World This Week’ come to my mind. Not to mention the various news telecasts that helped me to be update with the happenings in the world. But somewhere after my MBA days, I started realizing that a lot of incidents not worthy of being covered were getting unusually disproportionate amount of airtime. Consider the news flash telecast by a popular news channel, ‘Police Commissioner’s lost pet dog has been found.’ How about manufactured for TV sporting events like IPL, ISL, PBL, etc. The worst type programs on TV are the reality shows (think of ‘Rakhi Ka Swyamwar’ and its close cousins). How about Radia Tapes which nearly destroyed the credibility of TV News Channels? Also I realized that while random acts of crime/ hatred will find airtime, random acts of kindness never got a mention; TVs Channels have and obsessive compulsion to focus and telecast negative news.

For some time now I had been thinking of reading a book that deals with the ill-effects of viewing too much Television. Thanks to Amazon’s recommendation system, I stumbled uponAmusing Ourselves to Deathby Neil Postman. The book was written in 1985, and deals with the ill-effects of too much TV on American society. I wish every Indian reads this book for what TV viewing patterns did to Americans in the seventies and eighties, they are doing to Indians in the second decade of this millennium.

Some of the key points discussed in the book are:

  • Between the dystopian futures prophesized by George Orwell, ‘People will be overcome by externally imposed oppression. Truth will be concealed from people’ and Aldous Huxley, ‘People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. Truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance,’ Huxley’s Prophesy has come true.
  • The most significant American Cultural fact of the second half of the twentieth century is the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television.
  • The news of the day is a figment of our technological imagination. Most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.
  • In every tool that we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself.
  • Every new technology for thinking involves trade-off. It giveth and taketh away, although not quite in equal measure. Media change does not necessarily result in equilibrium.
  • The form in which ideas are expressed affects what those ideas will be.
  • There is a difference between thinking in a word-centered culture and thinking in an image-centered culture.
  • Each of the media that entered the electronic conversation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries followed the lead of telegraph and the photograph, and amplified their biases.
  • Television does not extend or amplify literate culture. It attacks it.
  • The problem is not that TV presents us with entertaining subject matter but all subject matter is presented as entertaining. Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television.
  • Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore, how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly staged.
  • Television serves us most usefully when presenting junk entertainment; it serves us most ill when it co-opts serious modes of discourse – news, politics, science, education, commerce, religion – and turns them into entertainment packages.
  • To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is a friend to culture, is stupidity.
  • Introduce the alphabet to a culture and you change its cognitive habits, its social relations, its notion of community, history and religion. Introduce the printing press with movable type, and you do the same. Introduce speed-of-light transmission of images and you make a cultural revolution. Without a vote. Without polemics. Without guerilla resistance. Here is ideology, pure if not serene.

 

The book is divided into two parts: the first part deals with historical context on how America transitioned from the Age of Typography to the Age of Television. The second part deals with the effects (on the American society) of television transforming key aspects of American society (News, Politics, Religion and Education) into entertainment packages. The book is short but thought provoking. The author’s observations and choice of words are spot-on and make for an interesting and absorbing read.

Though written about thirty years back the book is still relevant and its importance only increases when we consider the fact that we have augmented the age of TV with the age of internet, the age of social media and the age of mobile. As technology become ever pervasive in our lives it is very important to pause and think if every change introduced by technology in our lives is for our betterment and if every change promised by technology is necessary in the first place. Reading this book and following it with some contemplation is a welcome first step in that process.

Below are the two part interviews by Neil Postman on the Book given in December 1985 and January 1986.

 

 

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.