No Way Out

Here’s a perspective on the amount of data and information that’s out there, and continues to be created every day…

The amount of digital information created in 2010 (1.2 zettabytes) will equal 75 billion fully-loaded 16 GB Apple iPads, which would fill the entire area of Wembley Stadium to the brim 41 times (via Information-Management.com, May 2010)

The amount of digital information created annually will grow by a factor of 44 from 2009 to 2020, as all major forms of media – voice, TV, radio, print – complete the journey from analog to digital (via EMC)

Twitter is estimated to have 175 million users, generating 95 million tweets a day (via Twitter.com, Sep 2010)

As of mid 2010, Facebook reports more than 500 million users worldwide who share more than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) each month (via Facebook.com)

Shocking statistics, aren’t they? The question really is: How are you gearing up for it?

Here’s what I think.  The problem is only going to get worse in the years to come.  There’s not much you and I can do about that.  What we can do, however, is develop the ability to filter out the noise from the music.

That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re looking at “information overload” so large that no single phrase can adequately describe how BIG the overload really is.  We’ve all faced consequences of it, either by way of a burgeoning Inbox that refuses to quiet down to manageable levels, or via the endless barrage of tweets and status updates we have subscribed to, or even the always-on Blackberry culture that keeps us tethered to the office.

For some, it may mean reducing the number of xml subscriptions in their newsreader, reviewing the number of twitterers to follow, or even unfriending some folks from their FB list, even if it means risking some “social quotient” in the bargain.  For others, it may mean changing their complusive habits, and slowly but steadily, learning the art of focusing on the essentials and ignoring the rest… 

Whatever be our approach, we’re all going to have to make some tough choices.  It’s the only way out.

P.S. For good measure, let me share with you a link to an incisive TED talk on achieving the balance we so desperately need. Highly recommended.

Watch Out!

Pritish Nandy puts forth some great points in his recent post entitled ‘The deficit of trust‘…

I live on the 24th floor of a well secured multi storied building no one can enter without an ID card. Yet how often have I left my front door open? Never. How often have I left my car unlocked and run out for an errand? Never. How often do I stop on the street and help someone in need? Not as often as I ought to. How often do I stop and feed a hungry stray dog? Not as often as I could. Why? I am programmed to fear it may bite me. How often do I help an accident victim? Rarely. Why? I worry about being drawn into a police case. How often do I give money to an urchin? Not as often as I’d like to. Why? I fear I may be encouraging begging. Behind every small act of ours is a deficit of trust.

… We are always warning friends, associates, colleagues, spouses, children to be wary. Never take candy from a stranger, is every mother’s first tip to her child. Never hire a great looking secretary, is every wife’s first threat to her husband. Think twice before you marry a great looking or successful guy, is every friend’s advice to another, he can always ditch you for someone else. In fact, the moment you ask someone for advice, on anything related to a relationship or a health issue or a property deal, be sure to be warned.

Our first reaction to everything is: Watch out! We even sign off, saying Take Care.

As an informed citizen, most of this comes naturally to me, as it does to many of us.  As a parent, I hardly even think about the alternatives, when it comes to erring on the side of safety for my children.  Nandy argues that “the deficit of trust besieges us with fear”.  It’s changing our lives, and not for the better, I’m afraid…

Will we ever be able to break out from this?  Or, are future generations doomed to live a life of even more mistrust?!

Making Sense of the Internet

Everything you need to know about the internet” is a brilliant essay from The Guardian that is not only instructive but also engaging in its content and significant in its scope.  (Thanks, BoingBoing, for the pointer.)

Here are just the key points, though you will need to read the entire post if you want to make sense of the world we now live in…

Take the Long View
The Web isn’t the Net
Disruption is a Feature, not a Bug
Think Ecology, not Economics
Complexity is the new Reality
The Network is now the Computer
The Web is changing
Huxley and Orwell are the bookends of our Future
Our IP regime is no longer fit for purpose

As John Naughton writes in his essay, “The internet has quietly infiltrated our lives, and yet we seem to be remarkably unreflective about it.” 

If you’d like to change that, you need to start with this.

The Great Indian Tragedy

According to the backgrounder by The Economic Times:

A lethal plume of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas escaped from a storage tank at the Union Carbide pesticide factory in the early hours of December 3, 1984 in the central Indian city of Bhopal.

Government figures put the death toll at 3,500 within the first three days but independent data by the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) puts the figure at between 8,000 and 10,000 for the same period.  The ICMR has said that up to 1994, 25,000 people also died from the consequences of gas exposure.

Union Carbide settled all liabilities related to the accident, including cleaning up the site, with a 470-million-dollar out-of-court settlement with the Indian government in 1989 after years of wrangling about the amount… The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), an umbrella group of survivors’ organisations, says most survivors received 25,000 rupees (500 dollars) to fund a lifetime of hospital visits.

Yesterday, after a 25-year-long wait, the final verdict was out.

A quarter of a century after the worst industrial disaster in history, a Bhopal district court sentenced seven people, including businessleader Keshub Mahindra, for two years in jail under sections of Indian law usually applied to road mishaps.

The Monday verdict didn’t mention Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide global chief during the disaster. Anderson, who was arrested in Bhopal in 1984, was freed on bail on assurance that he will return. Four years later, the CBI chargesheet named him, and in 1989, the chief judicial magistrate of Bhopal issued a non-bailable warrant for his arrest for repeatedly ignoring summons. In 1992, Anderson was declared a fugitive by the Indian courts.

The Indo-Asian News Service reports:

The United States has ruled out reopening any new inquiry against Union Carbide after Bhopal court’s verdict in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak that killed more than 15,000 people, hoping it would bring closure to the probe into the tragedy.

“Obviously this was one of the greatest industrial tragedies and industrial accidents in human history,” US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robert Blake told reporters on Monday.  “But I don’t expect this verdict to reopen any new inquiries or anything like that. On the contrary, we hope that this is going to help to bring closure,” he said…

Pritish Nandy seemed to hit the nail on the head when he tweeted:

We have simply stopped respecting the lives of the unknown any more. No number of deaths interest us, unless the dead are famous.

Bhopal will no longer be remembered for the crime: 6 lakh lives destroyed. It will be remembered for the injustice meted out 25 years later.

Today, I am ashamed to call myself an Indian.

Someone wise once remarked, “There is only one question – How to love this world?”

Update : 16 June 2010

Amar Hingorani, an advocate in the Supreme Court of India, posts a shocking and brilliant editorial in the Hindustan Times in which he informs us that: “The law empowering the Indian government to represent Bhopal’s gas victims was unconstitutional. In effect, two guilty parties negotiated with each other.”

 

See Also : Union Carbide’s official statement

Who You Are

Thanks to Jin, I discovered a gem of a guest post on the excellent GapingVoid blog.  In “You, Less Than“, Pamela Slim presents her views on finding an identity that is distinct and true to your self.

Circumstances can cause you to question who you are… A boss writes you a stinging performance review… A reader leaves a bitter comment on your blog post… A vocal audience member questions your authority in the middle of your presentation… 

And you go from You, The Champion of the World to… You, less than.

When you fall into this deep pit of treachery and despair, you need something to pull you out. An image, a word, a note. It helps when this object reflects both the love you have for yourself as well as the love someone has for you.

Like a picture of you through your parent’s eyes… Or a note from an impassioned reader who loved the piece that you loved to write… Or a rock from a beach that was so beautiful you could swear that the sand was kissing your feet.  

You, less than, is a lie… Remember who you are.

Remember who you are?

Then What?

Another brief but thought-provoking post from Seth Godin, called Sad Tim:

At the post office the other day, a guy wearing a beautiful handmade scarf finishes his transaction and starts away from the counter.

A small nail holding the molding apparently isn’t hammered in all the way. It catches the scarf, pulls the threads and ruins the scarf. The man turns to the counter, looks at the postal worker who took his money and says, “There’s a loose nail here, it just ruined my scarf.”

Tim, the postal worker, beaten down, tired, given up, stands behind the counter and barely makes eye contact. “Oh.”

End of interaction.

When you allow (yes, allow) all humanity to be stripped from your day, all day, then what?

I’ve seen this scenario unfold so many times, in so many ways, with so many folks… Will tomorrow be any different?  I sure hope so!

World 2.0

I chance upon The Artist Farm recently, and soon find myself reading post after post on a wide range of interesting topics.  One particular post that stays with me is the one about World 2.0:

World 2.0 is about realizing and deeply internalizing that we (especially westerners) have gone beyond day-to-day survival, that we have crossed this finish line.  (Close your eyes, take a deep breath, slowly exhale… and read that line again).  Seriously, take a second to really feel this and realize it.  Yes, you worry about your finances or getting a bigger house… but you’re not concerned about having enough food for the winter or dying of malaria.  Appreciate this moment that all of our ancestors collectively achieved.  It is amazing.

World 2.0 is about appreciating this moment, and then turning around for the first time to look back at the millions of people still running the race…  It is about looking inside and asking the hard questions about what we see, what we have created, and what we have left behind.

Then, one of my favourite blogs – Mnmlist – posts a very cogent essay on Society, Reimagined (and includes a generous helping of solutions to the problem, too!) :

We’ve gotten fat, tired, sick, deep in debt, disconnected from our kids and other family members, divorced, separated from our neighbors. We’re polluting and causing global warming, all in the name of money and work and profits and buying. This seems broken, to me.

But what’s a better way of living? A society reimagined, built around people and a love for our environment and living and working and playing together, a love for being outside and playing and being active, a love for doing things and spending time with people rather than for buying things and working to support that buying habit.

And finally, a friend – Joy Dutta – posts about the “dumbing down of society” on his blog:

Look at the senseless media explosion and the priorities of news consumption by the masses. A celebrity scandal is perceived to be ten times more important than the serious geographical, social, political and economic issues we face today. Why ? Because the former is a no-brainer entertainment while the latter demands some maturity. It is all about popular culture now…

When I look at the kids here in the west it makes me sad. No genuine curiosity, no manners, no respect for elders. Despite free public schools, the abysmally low standard of curriculum and lack of discipline from parents are making them far from the generation we need in the future…

Once again, I get the feeling that the Universe is conspiring to tell me, and you, something… Which of these matches your world-view.  And, more importantly, what do you plan to do about it?

Fighting Complacency

I few days ago, I encountered a blog post by Jin Yang entitled ‘Complacency‘.  In it, Jin writes about his early years growing up in China, and then moving to the US only to discover that life was way easier than imagined:

I still remember the end of my elementary years. My school days were from 6am – 6pm. After I got home it was a brief dinner and then I studied until I went to bed. Everyday. Winter and summer breaks were short, also burdened with homework. During the final preparation for the middle school entry exam, I studied so hard the corners of my text book pages became translucent…  The magnet middle school I applied for required a minimum of 247 points (out of 250). I scored 247.

Two months into the first semester in middle school I came to the U.S. to visit my mother. I ended up staying permanently. How could I not? School here was a cakewalk. Everyday was a vacation to me. I didn’t have to come to school at 6am to clean up the class room, there were janitors doing that. (Maybe they didn’t pass their middle school placement test, I used to think)…

There was no need to be in the top of the class. There were no entry exams to get in high school, not even to enter college. There were no relatives or family friends that I had to impress. I didn’t learn anything new in math until I was a junior in high school; I was coasting off what I had learned in China…. I was being complacent and I was totally OK with it.

Upto this point in time, Jin’s story may be very different from your’s.  But, as the years go by, the lines begin to merge…

… Then I got married and had kids. Life became comfortably routine. For a couple of years, I didn’t learn anything new at all. I felt even though my skills weren’t exactly up to date anymore, they were “adequate enough” to do my job. One thing about being complacent is that you give yourself excuses and sometimes you can even fool yourself. Deep down, I knew I had enough free time to learn new things if I didn’t watch TV or play games. I knew I wasn’t the only one who was being lazy. As one gets deeper into this thing called “life,” responsibilities creep up, and the urge to learn new things gets dimmer.

That got me thinking.  I have observed this sense of “complacency” with countless friends and family members.  We grow up, we get busy with our lives, and before we realize, we get complacent.  As Jin pointed out, it’s so easy to make excuses and to fool yourself, to keep the illusion going.  But, deep down, we know it’s not the best we can do.

That computer whiz who used to be the neighbourhood’s envy, that teenage girl who enjoyed creating art, that little boy who could break the telephone apart and put it back together… One by one, slowly and steadily, we stop doing the things we enjoyed the most… We stop learning… We stop living.

It’s easy to say that we live busy lives and are not able to spare time, but time is a function of interest. 

I have two hyper-active kids, an aged mother who doesn’t keep too well, a commute that stretches well over two hours and a fairly demanding work environment.  I still make the time to stay in touch with over a hundred XML feeds (courtesy Netvibes), author four different blogs and tweet 2-3 times a day.  And, like Jin, “Everyday, I learn something new on the web, via blogs, twitter, coworkers or readers like you.”

So, I’m not buying the argument that we don’t have time for the things that matter to us.  You can fight complacency.  And win.

A Sick Joke?

A post on the Acumen blog got me thinking about something that I have witnessed and lived with all my Life!

Here was a man simply enjoying an evening at a 5-star property in South Mumbai, thinking about the extreme contrasts which most of us fail to notice as a part of our daily lives…

My biggest culture shock in India has not been the omnipresent abject poverty, or the constant deafening noise, or the thousands of people crammed together in the rickety commuter trains. Ironically, it has been the incredible wealth that sits right next to absurd poverty. More than half of Mumbai lives in slums, yet it is home to the richest collective of billionaires in the world – ahead of New York and London…

And yet, it seems to make sense to everyone but me. My middle-class Indian friends have reinforced this many times when they say: “Of course it’s normal that the rich and the poor live next to each other… The rich live here and require services, so the poor come in to fulfill that demand.” It doesn’t shock anyone that you could pay 22,000 rupees to get into a new year’s eve party, much more than the national yearly income. And no one seems to mind that the office I work in, which has air-conditioning, wireless internet, and biometric fingerprint security, sits literally across the street from hundreds of temporary workers and their families – we’re talking dozens of children per street block – who cook, eat, bathe and sleep on the dirty sidewalks every night.

In that sense, India is quite different from Africa, where the rich are merely middle-class, the poor and the rich are typically segregated, and the ultra-rich promptly shift their assets (and themselves) out of the country. Yes, as an expat in Africa, I certainly felt wealthy, privileged, or just plain lucky. But here, holding a glass of one of the most expensive champagnes in the world, surrounded by the cream of the crop of Indian society and looking down on more than six million human beings living in slums forty floors below, I can’t help but wonder if this is some kind of a sick joke that everyone, including myself, is somehow part of.

You gotta wonder if he has a point

Ideas Worth Spreading

Anil Dash drives home a hard-hitting truth in his recent post entitled “Free Publicity“:

… the world I inhabit, at the intersection of tech and media, is far more obsessed with what Apple’s going to announce about its tablet. People who write about gadgets for a living gotta pay the bills, and I love cool stuff as much as the next guy. What leaves me at a loss, though, is how many otherwise sane and sensible people give their time and energy freely to help support a company like Apple that, despite its elegant designs and generally excellent products (I use many of them), certainly doesn’t need free PR from some of the most talented people on the web…

My goal here isn’t to browbeat anybody, or to lecture. I’m in the same boat as everybody else who loves technology. But my personal reckoning has just shown me that a bunch of libertarian-leaning geeks in Silicon Valley who refuse to engage with government and civic society at all are never going to make an impact on most of the things that actually make a difference in our lives. Everybody in Silicon Valley will tell you they have a gay friend, but they couldn’t stop Prop 8 or get the hate crimes bill passed. Probably everybody at Apple thinks “We should do more to support the arts!” but they weren’t funding the NEA. There will be no iTrain…

I’m gonna try to spend at least as much time advocating for issues I care about as I do for the purchase of new gadgets. I hope that even those who disagree with me on those issues do the same.

Yes, I tweeted about the iPad on the day of its launch.  But I also tweeted about RBus.in.  As a matter of fact, I routinely use all the resources available to me, to advocate for issues that matter to me.  Hell, this entire blog began on that premise!  But, I still think that Anil’s point is worth making.  Even if it only serves as a reminder to some of us.

If you have an idea… or a cause… that warrants advocacy, do every thing you can to make it happen.  Start a blog, post a tweet, shoot a short film… do whatever you can to spread the word. 

You’ll leave the world a better place by doing so.  And, that is way cooler than simply drooling over the latest gizmo, don’t you think?! 

Read Also:
Seth Godin : Rules for Ideas worth Spreading