Saturday, March 4, 2017

The joys and perils of increased connectivity

I am very comfortable in my zone as a laggard when it comes to adopting and adapting to technological innovations.  I took a very long time to convert from my flip phone to a smart phone.  Even my current phone is a few versions behind the latest version that is out there.  And that is okay.  I do appreciate the brilliance, taste and thoughtfulness exhibited by the inventors of these tech products.  But it is not something that I will spend too much money on.  As I think about it, it is not just the money aspect.  Blogger, Facebook and Twitter are all free.  Yet, I took my own sweet time.  (I do blog (clearly!) and am on Twitter but not on Facebook.)  As I think deeper, I think the reasons are two-fold. 

One, I have a very small world, with priorities, preferences and interests that hardly need the bleeding edge of technology.  There are less than 15 people that comprise my ‘family’, including my "chosen family" - my family of friends.*  And, there are just a half-a-dozen bloggers that I actively follow, but I follow them religiously.  They give me tremendous joy through their work, they make me think, smile, laugh and in a few instances, have made me tear up (as when one spoke about seeing her newborn pass away in her arms).  All of this is to say that when a true ‘connection’ happens, it tends to stay strong and abiding, barring a few isolated instances. 

My preferences are quite old-fashioned.  I still prefer in-person meetings and phone calls!  Heck, I still send handwritten cards to people for their birthdays!  I don’t do Facetime (Thank you, Steve Jobs!) except when my family wants to spend time chatting with my son!  And even my no-frills HTC phone supports Whatsapp quite well!  I spend considerable amount of my leisure hours reading non-fiction but I spend even more time to pause, reflect on and sometimes, write about what a particular book means to me and how it can help me evolve as a person.  So, in a given year, I would not have read more than five to six books.  I am still most at home reading hard copy versions of books; not a compelling need for any favors from Jeff Bezos there! 

And secondly, I have a healthy amount of fear when it comes to modern tech innovations, be it apps or otherwise.  Yes, fear.  The trepidation stems not from the innovations themselves but how people use them.  I just cannot get myself to truly accept the fact that people abuse the comfort of anonymity and dare to do things outside the ballpark of decorum and decency. (Sometimes, it’s not just outside the ballpark but outside the “league” and outside the “sport,” as Samuel Jackson said in “Pulp Fiction!”)

The truth is that this increased connectivity is a double edged sword.  It has been utilized in umpteen positive ways and I love the fact that things go 'viral' at the speed of light.  When large scale crises happened, such as the Chennai floods or the Jallikattu protests, smart phones, Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook were all used to drive awareness, connect people and mobilize resources in a truly awe-inspiring manner.  But by the same token, negativity can go viral so fast that it could give pancreatic cancer cells a run for their money.  

The recent crisis involving singer Suchitra Karthik’s twitter account is a case in point.  There were some truly appalling content shared about some of Tamil cinema’s top celebrities and some equally disgusting personal attacks by commoners who, with the ‘privilege’ of anonymity, put up insulting and hurtful remarks.  There was hardly any display of empathy or even the willingness to be patient enough to find out what exactly was happening.  We still do not know what she went through or is going through and even whether the tweets were hers to begin with.  Fortunately, amidst all the comments were some truly sane voices such as stand-up comedian SA Aravind, whose comment was at once eloquent, empathetic and touching.  He wrote, “Our empathy is any day more important than our curiosity. It really is that simple guys. Think about it and let things be.”  It is voices such as his that must resound as loudly as the background score of Singam-3!  It is comments such as his that must serve as the panacea that outpaces and curbs the growth of malignant societal tumors such as nastiness and meanness that threaten to destroy every atom of the society’s being and kill its progress.

As I reflect on what this increased connectivity has given me, I consider myself fortunate to have come across people across the globe whose voices I respect, whose writing I admire and whose thoughts help shape my own thinking.  And, I am thankful to the different technologies that have eased my lines of communication (pun intended) with the people that make up my little world, despite the geographical distances that stand in our way.  At the same time, I wish and pray for a better future for those that are abused in myriad, unfortunate ways.  I will continue to hope for a utopian society where abusers can begin to recognize the ill effects of their behaviors.  I once came across a lovely quote, “Everybody has a chapter that they don’t read out loud.”  While people might be exposing themselves by opening up their own wounds in public, what we may be seeing is only a line from that “chapter” of their life.  What led to it and what follows it might be things that we will never, ever know.  But for now, let’s not judge the book by a few painful 140-character lines in a very difficult chapter.  That, right there, would be the ultimate insult to not only the pioneers behind these technologies but also to humanity itself.
* - In a recent tweet, Anu Hasan referred to her friends as her "chosen family."  I loved that choice of words, hence its inclusion here.


Nandini said...

Such an apt topic amidst all the drama on twitter. Social media and technology can be used or abused. It's our choice. I agree with you regarding how we need to be very conservative in order to limit our risks of overexposure.

Uday Senan said...

Ram, while i was reading through the first few lines, I somehow got reminded of the Suchi issue. And I was Pleasantly surprised to see that you had mentioned the same too. Brilliantly written. Apt article amidst all the drama on Twitter as nandini says. I am completely with you on this.
I feel things would be a lot better, if
1. We all have some acceptance in life and not react like we're losing our minds over every possible thing.
2. Not everyone needs to know what's happening in one's life. This curiosity is the nucleus of such issues going viral.
3. Just let things be as Aravind said.
4. Be patient.
Love reading your blogs as always. Keep them coming bro. This world needs a more of you. :)

Zola said...

Ram Murali : Before anything else...noticed that you were born on June 27th like some very very artistically talented people such as 'Kokila' Namagiri Sunderam (mother of Ravishanker Sunderam alias Zola) and the one and only Robert Redford :)

Second, before anything else apart from the above, I have to confess I lost my temper big time today. It happens once in a year or couple of years but when it happens its ugly. When it happens to an adolescent student of Lakshmi teacher its fine but not when it happens to a balding, greying man pushing fifty.

I'm still smarting and remembered your article on anger management.

This article goes one better.

I'm of the same page when it comes to the use of twitter and wordpress butFb is another thing altogether and I'm not comfortable with it.

IMHO its like allowing people into your private bathroom.

When people talk about security features I feel like throwing Irving Wallace's line at them "If you can convince me of a "little" pregnant then you can convince me of a "little" (self) censorship"

After reading your article it only reinforces my belief that face Book is symptomatic of everything thats wrong with the time in which we live in. A desire for exhibition and instant gratification.

Let me share one more incident.

I met up with a close friend and and classmate recently - he's settled in the US.
He's also a very tardy correspondent.

I kinda took out my frustration on him and said "You have to be on SOME platform. If not Twitter atleast on whatsapp. Do you sign your cheques with a quill too ?"

To give you some background he married very late in life and also had a son very late and spends a large part of his time looking after him. Despite being a professor in a University he has daily long conversations with his parents. Everything I never did or never do.

The next day when I met him I told him "Remember what I told you yesterday ? Just forget it and dont heed my instruction. And DONT get on Social Media. When you do you take time from your near and dear ones and channel it into Social Media. Atleast you stay uncorrupted"

Zola said...

Uday Senan : Very well put and summarized.

Ram Murali said...

Nandu - I am glad that the blog post resonated with you.

Uday - Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. You are absolutely right about an unhealthy curiosity being one of the root causes of a lot of negative online behavior. I also feel that the tendency to abuse anonymity is another huge reason.

Ravishanker - thank you, as always, for your prompt comment. I laughed out loud at your "quill" comment :) Irving Wallace's line was so, so true! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Regarding the temper episode, it happens. We are all human after all. It is admirable that you are thinking about it and looking at how to avoid it.

Anupama kumar said...

I totally agree with u ram... have always been wary of this form of communication... that is the reason i never caught on to the whole twitter phenomenon...

Very well written as usual :)

Zola said...

Ram Murali : In a nutshell "pinni pedal edukkariyaypaa !". You are simply on a roll these days.

All this simply warrants publication in a larger forum.

Ram Murali said...

Anu - thank you for reading and commenting.

Ravishanker - Nandri pala :)

Anu Warrier said...

I'm not on FB or on Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram or whatever the social media platform du jour is; can't stand the daily deluge of inanity and negativity, and don't want to collect 'friends'. Even my blogging is a time-suck; can't imagine being on social media to disperse gyan. :)

I don't blame the platforms themselves; they are tools being used by humans. Cynical-me is not surprised that given the shield of anonymity, anyone can say almost anything without fear of retribution. People are intolerant, bigoted, racist, sexist, misogynistic, etc. They always were. Earlier, they were forced by rules of polite society to hide their baser emotions. Today's anonymity and a platform filled with their tribe gives them the freedom to let loose their vitriol.

Somewhere, others have become voyeurs to strangers' lives, and feel the need to a) put out every bit of information about their own lives, as uninteresting or insipid as it may be and, b) to comment on every little aspect of others' lives.

I don't think social media platforms are bringing us closer; that's a mirage. What it is doing is spreading the divisiveness of hatred and intolerance. Again, the fault lies in us. Not in the tools themselves.

Ram Murali said...

Anu, that was one of your most eloquent expressions of sentiment.
Thank you for making the comments space - and the blog itself - richer with your perspectives.

Zola said...

Great comments Anu ! Amen Ram !

Its sad that today if you're not on some Social Media platform you dont exist.

Its almost as if you've fallen off the face of this earth.

For certain professions or streams of activity its become a necessary evil (I've never fully understood that term myself - if its evil why is it necessary)