Internet is fun, but not on ‘fone’

I thank  IndiBlogger and Vodafone.  For they set me thinking of  god,  saithan,  fun and the Internet,  all  in the same thread.  I think the Internet is  God,  if only because  I don’t understand either.  Moreover ,  the Lord,  they say, works in mysterious ways.  So does the Internet.  Our God,  we believe,  is omnipresent;   so is e-mail network.  And then isn’t  it  a godly attribute to produce miracles ?  By my book,  the dot com can do us  wonders.

It  had me reconnected with a friend I thought I had lost over 50 years back.  The Web facilitated  my  blog-to-blog  dialogue  with T R Kini,   aging  friend ,  ailing,   and living way away on another hemisphere.   In our younger days we  had  spent a couple of years in London of the 60s.   Kini is  now down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Bound to wheel chair life can be excruciatingly confining.  Kini’s window to the world around  is his  Net connected computer screen.  We blogged about the years we spent together,  about the Swinging Sixties,  our travels overland when hitching rides  was the youth’s preferred mode of cross-country  travel.  My friend Kini, who hitched rides through Pakistan,  Iran, Turkey to Paris and beyond,  wrote of his vintage experiences in our blog-to-blog.

I re-discovered  Irshad via a blogpost I did after watching a movie on TV.  Featured in this German movie  I recognized a friend I had lost way back in 1960s in New Delhi. We used to meet on a daily basis at Janpath coffee-house.  It was quite a thrill, discovering your coffee-house friend on a TV screen.I wanted to get in touch. Googling Irshad Panchatan produced a Wikipedia entry that didn’t help much.So I blogged –  Irshad  Mia, where are you?   It was my way of sending a message in the bottle, hoping my friend,  Net browsing, might happen by my blog.  He didn’t,  but Irshad’s daughter did –  find my message-in-the-bottle and conveyed it to her father in Berlin. Internet can be fun,  even for those uninitiated into live chat, video games,  web streaming and what-have-you.  I read about a Vizag-based web-casting agency that  streams live a wedding in your family.   Sharing a family event live with out-of-town friends and relatives is fun.

Early earthlings  worshiped  the  Sun, the moon,  rain and wind.  Ancient Greeks had god or goddeses for earth and the sky,  beauty and fertility,  war and violence. If we have a  goddess for fun,  we would call her the Internet. Not an unmixed fun,  perhaps.  For the Internet also serves  miliants as an instrument to promote terrorism . Terrorist training manuals in PDF format in German, English and Arabic,  were among the digital documents  they recovered from Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad,  Pakistan. Terror plots relating to Mumbai-style attacks targeting European cities,  and al-Qaeda road map for future operations were found in digital storage device and memory cards.  And mobile phone,  far from being a source of fun,  can be lethal in the hands of terrorists.  Bad guys in movies use cell phone as trigger device to blow up places.

A mobile,  going by promos and Vodafone  commercials,  is no longer used for basic communication  by way of a telephoic talk. Instead,  it is marketed as a fun,  in-thing,  with which you listen to music, take photos, play games,  send  SMS, check mail, and trade missed calls with those you want to avoid talking. Writing on the death of the phone call ,  Clive Thompson reckons this  generation ‘doesn’t make phone calls,  because everyone is in constant, lightweight contact in so many other ways:  texting,  chatting,  and social network messaging’.

Gone are the days when we engaged in conversation the  people we met  at railway platforms  ,  we  made friends on travel.  In buses, during train travel, we find youngsters into their own trip,   meddling with their mobile  to check mail, watch video ,  play games and whatever else they do with that thing in their palms . Even elders on morning walk  nowadays seem to have forgotten the old world  grace of greeting those  walking by,  or  the art of striking a park-bench conversation with strangers.  Instead,  we keep our ears plugged in to mobile music mode.

The internet on mobile  isn’t just a no-fun thing ;  it is unsociable to plug  in  your ears to a  mobile,  utterly unconcerned about the happenings around you.  If  Internet is  fun,  do we need to have it on call,  and round the clock ?  In our addiction to the digital kind we may well be losing out on the fun we  can stumble on,  in real world,  at the park,  on our way to work.    I am all for fun on the Net, but a mobile  shouldn’t be so packed in with  ‘fun’  features that we lose sight of  real  point of a mobile –  to make/take  a call on the move.
The Internet,  in my book,  isn’t fun on any  ‘fone’.   And I wouldn’t fault Vodafone,  if my post is considered off-topic,  for the IndiBlogger contest on  How Internet is fun on your mobile’.

Who runs a newspaper ?

Not the editor,  it appears.  I can’t  see  any  newspaper editor  accepting the idea of a no-news , all-ad.  front page.  Going by the  incidence of   ad. alone  front page  in  newspapers nowadays  I would suggest  re-designation of  editor  as  ad-itor.  Gone are the days when the front page was reserved for news .  In print media those days  we dealt with news of three types –  news that is fit to print,  the one that made headlines,  and the Page One copy  (a news report is called copy in media parlance).  At the night news desk  we had a copy-taster  whose job was to sort out Page One copy from rest of the day’s  news reports.  And a night editor put together the front-page with selected news reports.

At New Delhi Times House  (Bahadurshah Zafar Marg)  the news desk  (in late 1970s)  the night chief-subeditor  (Bhutalia,  Chagothra,  Khandhury or Sahaney) decided which news reports went on Page One,  their position on the page,  the size of heading,  and length of the text.  I have seen ad. managers  chasing the night chief-sub  for placing  an ad. they  received late for the edition.  If the chief-sub  okayed it ,  a news item or two were taken out  to accommodate the ad.  The decision was clearly the  editor’s  prerogative.  I don’t know how they sort out such issue nowadays.   There have been instances where I have witnessed the  editor jettisoning  a display advertisement from an edition   to make space for late  news development.

Till some years  back newspapers cared about reader preference ; and  readers  generally believed the front page was an exclusive preserve of news.  When Wall Street Journal first published a Page One Ad in  ‘the lower right hand corner of the front page ‘in July, 2006 the  publishers found it necessary to explain the development with a 10-paragrah statement , while assuring readers, the front page of the Journal will continue to include the same number of page-one  stories as it does currently.

Today’s newspapers print nothing but ad.  on front page.  With no word of  explanation to loyal readers.   But then  The Hindu edition  (in the photo)  had  a  second  ‘ front-page’  ,  presumably,  to please traditional readers.  It wouldn’t be long before,  I guess,   newspaper publishers  give up  the formality   of  printing  two  ‘ front-pages’  in a given  edition –  one for the advertiser and the other, to retain their loyal   readers.

But then  publishers or ad. executives  didn’t invent it.  It was an editor,  Herold Evans of  The Sunday Times ,  who set the precedent, of printing  a double front-page edition.  It happened in 1981 on the night when US President Ronald Reagan was shot at outside the Washington Hilton Hotel.   The Sunday Times, London,  of which Harry Evans was then editor,  received three photos – 1) of President Reagan looking at the gunman; 2) a photo of him being hit;  3) the one showing the injured President being bundled into a car.
Such dramatic pictures,  in action sequence,  called for bold and proper display. Editor Evans chose to  run all the three photos, running six columns wide down the page.  He also  decided to  run an entire  page on Reagan story.

“I ruled that the whole front page would be given to all the Reagan elements,  and I created a second  ‘front page’ in the normal Times style for other news,”  wrote the then editor of the Sunday Times,  London.
Referring to the Reagan story  in his book,  My Paper Chase ,  editor  Evans wrote it was a departure from the traditional Times  style,  ‘as dramatic as the event,  and I’m still proud of it today’.  The Sunday Times developed the same approach for other late-breaking news:  the Challenger shuttle explosionIsrael’s bombing raid on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor;  the assassination of Anwar Sadat ;  riots in London and Liverpool.

It  was a precedent the Sunday Times editor set for reporting dramatic news developments.  A precedent, he wrote, he was proud of.   I am not sure if Harry Evans would be all that pleased to learn that the precedent he set  is being adopted by our newspaper publishers  as ploy for  making money on big-ticket advertisements.

India at Davos: Advertising the unavailable

They advertised India’s $35 dollar computer in Davos during the World Economic Forum 2012. The photo on The HIndu op-ed page came as an  ‘eye-opener’ for me, in the sense that I didn’t realise our India-brand building specialists were capable of advertising abroad something that is not available off the shelf in India.  Anyway,  I don’t suppose anyone in Davos took up the computer maker on their  bargain offer (of $35) .

The advertising agency involved in the  ‘India Ingenious’  campaign may well be  justified if they say  they are in the business of marketing,  not a product, but  a perception.  The product in reference – Aakash tablet computer –  going by its  status reports,  is still  very much a work in progress.

The photo credit: Ravinder Kaur,  associate professor,  Modern South Asian Studies,  Copenhagen University,  who took the photo to go with her article : Dazzling images do not a shining nation make.  Notable among the points made  by the author  is that India,  in mounting the  image campaign through billboards,  and promos .  on city  buses,  cafes,  streets and, even half-empty parking lots,  of  Davos,  has  had to compete  with players such as  Mexico,  Thailand and  Azerbaijan,  for attracting foreign investment.  China, they say,  was conspicuous through its visual absence.

Of Team Anna and Arun Maira’s ‘fireflies’

Our industrial output,  slipping into a negative growth mode,  plunged to minus 5.1 percent in October (see headline).  The same month last year saw a robust 11.3 percent growth.  Economics alone wouldn’t  explain such  steep fall to dismal depths within a year.  Corporate leaders talk of a governance deficit.  The government (read PM),  facing the charge of  decision-making paralysis,  points to compulsions of coalition politics that resulted in the govt. having to put on hold FDI in retailing, despite a cabinet decision. Localised protests hold up commissioning of Kudamkulam nuclear power plant. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are engaged in disruptive politics over the future of Mullaiperiyar dam.  And then we have Team Anna  dictating terms to the govt. on drafting the  Lokpal Bill, and giving parliament a timeline for enactment of the Bill.

This then is the scenario in which I got to read  Arun Maira’s  ‘Transforming Capitalism.  The book’s sub-title – ‘Improving the World for Everyone‘ – sounds rather presumptuous , I thought.  But then I wouldn’t fault the author, for it is often the publisher who gives a book the title that   sells.  A  compilation of  Mr Maira’s  newspaper and magazine articles,  the book is designed to help business leaders and managers undertand the social issues they need to factor in,  while making business decision. Mr Arun  Maira,  a Planning Commission member,  has spent decades in the corporate sector –  in the Tatas and later at the Boston Consulting Group.

Transforming Capitalism‘ is the sort  of book  you choose to  read for ideas,  for professional guidance,  and for other info. of  your interest.  You don’t need to start at the beginning  ,  and plod through chapter, after chapter, to get at the guts of it , on Page 148 (as I did) . The chapters, reproduced from Mr Maira’s media writings  ,  are stand-alone pieces  that  people read on morning commute.  As the author says in the preface,  his chapters are longer than Tweets,  but they are short enough to be read during a brief plane ride. You can start anywhere, flip through chapters,  go back and forth. I did this all,  and also revisited a chapter,  in which Maira writes about  people’s movement led by Arvind Kejriwal  – Parivartan.

Reading of all  the good work he has done at Parivartan,  I couldn’t help wonder if too much TV does a person  any  good  for his  reputation or for  the cause he upholds .  Mr Kejriwal  of  Team Anna fame is all over on TV nowadays,  so much so that you can’t escape his  presence at prime-time  talk-shows,  by switching channels, unless  you switch to cartoon channel or switch off altogether.

Anyway,  even as the govt.  announced  the  date for moving the Lokpal Bill  in Lok Sabha  Anna Hazare  reiterated his threat to go on fast from December 27, if,  by then the Bill doesn’t get passed in parliament.  Team Anna may have zero trust in  govt., but their apparant intolerance with the ruling party,  and the ultimatum Anna Hazare sets for the parliament  do not set a healthy precedent  for growth of people’s movement in a democracy.

In refreshing contrast to present day,   the 2009 scenario   of   civil society awakening after RTI,  as articulated by Mr Maira in his book , appeared  conducive to the spread  of  Parivartan-type communities in various  parts of the country. The  communities were driven by  by varied causes –  provision of drinking water,  adult literacy,  village schooling,  micro-lending,  women’s issues and concerns.

Mr Maira,  terming them  ‘communities of practice’,  says the spread of such communities  would transform India from bottom up. The communities  (‘fireflies’, in Mr Maira’s book) that used the provisions of the Rights to Information Act  to help people get their dues and prevent grass-roots corruption can be connected to each other through networking, and not by hierarchies.  The  author would like to see the govt. (with its  power to facilitate ) as well as the corporates (with their  resources) stepping forward to promote a supportive framework that enables many more ‘fireflies’ to rise.  This, according to Mr Maira,  is the only way India can step up growth in a free market economy. This perceptive chapter in the book has been reprinted  from  Civil Society,  a monthly magazine.  Its publisher Umesh Anand  was the one who persuaded Mr Maira to do the book.

And I got to read Arun Maira through  this  programme of  book reviews by bloggers.  Anyone who blogs; and  has flair for books  can access Blogadda for details .

Media practices

Taking the back page first,  The Hindu today carries  a report about the World Newspaper Congress calling on newspapers to focus less on profits than on their role in democratic society. And then there was a mention made about the print media accountability to their readers.
Here is the newspaper’s  Page One of the day
Pages  2 &  3
It for readers to judge whether The Hindu serves the readers interest by allowing their advt. people and accountants to have the run of their pages this way.

Of mimic tweets, and proxy blogs

A Mumbai-based tech media reporter and spare time satirist started (Oct 6) Twitter account ‘Shashi Tharoor Fake’. Why ? Because, she says, satire enriched her soul. Besides, doing it at Shashi Tharoor’s expense gave her media mileage. But Mr Tharoor wasn’t amused with her initiative for soul-enrichment . He had her Twittered out within weeks. Someone else who mimic tweeted Nandan Nelekani had the account – http://www.twitter.com/nandannilekani suspended.

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‘Techgirl’ who authored the short-lived ‘Tharoor Twitter’ (not to be confused for the real one maintained by the ‘cattle-class’ minister himself) was evidently on to something that had been tried out some five years back in the UK through blogs. Twitter wasn’t around then. Tim Ireland, a web marketing guy,  sought to get elected representatives in Britain to interact online with their constituents.

He wanted to initiate MPs into blogging.   Not many bought his line – “It’s not easy getting people off their arse”.  To tackle MPs who didn’t have their own blog or seem to care for one Tim  evolved the concept of running ‘proxy’ blogs.  He persuaded some proactive constituents to blog on behalf of their MPs.

Before he set up his own blog,  Keith Vaz,  a Goa-born MP from Leicester, a constituent ran  an unofficial blog in the name of the MP.  The blogger put it on record, “I’m not Keth Vaz, nor am I a member of his staff; not in anyway associated with him”. Aim of the Keith Vaz proxy blog was to let his constituents know what their MP was is up to.  “This is a job he (MP) should be doing himself”,  said the blogger, adding that he would be happy to close shop,  if Mr Vaz chose to run a blog on his own.

Tim’s proxy blog sought to encourage politicians to take to the web; help them see the value of maintaining a blog,  as a resource material,  as a portal to inform constituents about their work on an ongoing basis.  With the frequency of posts the blogger politician has  potential to reach a wider audience.

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A constituent of Labour MP Jim Cousins ran a proxy blog that declared: “This blog is not run by Jim Cousins; nor does he endorse it.  Maybe Cousins doesn’t even know of it;  if he ever finds out, he can have it”.  Far from trying to shut out the blog, the MP’s aides got in touch and  offered resource materials for the proxy blog in the form of FAQs on Jim’s views and copies of other materials on various matters.  This led to a meeting between Cousins and the blogger. While agreeing  the blog would be a very useful means to communicate with his  constituents Jim wasn’t prepared to take the blog over yet.

The Guardian wrote a number of bloggers took to Tim Ireland’s  proxy blog model . Besides Jim Cousins,  there were blogs  dedicated to six other British MPs,  most of them ,  not friendly.  The moral is:  if you don’t launch your own blog, someone might do it for you.

Playing the Reliance tune

HinduAd.Oct.31 001In normal course actor Hrithik Roshan wouldn’t have made it to The Hindu Page One, and that too, this big ;  even if he were to pick up an Oscar. Here we have him playing music and dancing to the tune set by Reliance Mobile.

Not every newspaper reader appreciates such loud advert. display.  Nor, on an unrelated note, did everyone in his neighbourhood appreciate Hrithik’s  music. As a web report put it,  the Bollywood actor was recently warned by the police  not to play  music loud at his suburban Juhu residence.  No complaint was registered against the Roshan family, as the police didn’t find any violation of rules.