The ‘Mighty’ Pen’s Journey From A Sword To A Swiss Knife

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Online censorship – the new wave of repression!

Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer-prize winning foreign affairs columnist, examines the newest stage of globalization’s evolution in his latest book, The World is Flat. Friedman defines ten "flatteners" that he sees as levelling the global playing field for enterprising individuals who look beyond limitations of race, geographic location, or language. For Friedman, the ‘Internet’ is the agent that renders inevitable a transparent, democratic, decentralized, and market-based society.

This dream of a flat world through cyberspace is now convoluted with the restrictions imposed by various governments across the world. A case in point being the Chinese laws and regulations with regard to online search results. By filtering and controlling access to information, the world ceases to be flat for over a billion people in China. Online censorship is the ‘virtual’ Great Wall of China.

To comply with China’s censorship rules, the search-engine giant launched, a version of its search engine run by the company that self censors content that is considered illegal from its search results in China. However Google’s decision to self-censor attracted significant ethical criticism on how it clashed with the company’s most basic values.

I believe that we are distracting ourselves from the genesis of the problem. The point of worry here is not how global companies are changing their system to ensure continuity in one of the most populated nations. It just makes business sense to be present in countries like India and China where achieving “critical mass” is easy.

The point of concern is how consumer experience and privacy is compromised on humanitarian grounds, no matter how bureaucratic they maybe. The biggest oxymoron is the attempt to achieve a fine between local rules and regulations and upholding the ideals of freedom of information and exchange.

There are three sides to this story – the governments, global companies and the consumer. Bureaucratic governments will continue with its totalitarian mentality with respect to political speech and Internet communications and companies will have to learn to work around these.

For the Internet consumers across the world, the online medium is much more than a source of information; it is the new digital playground. It is emerging as an ‘entertainment hub’ and a popular destination for serious content research and creation. This apart the new age citizen is looking at the internet to increase political transparency (Anna Hazare), to start revolutions (Obama’s Change campaign) and dethrone autocratic regimes (Egypt and Libya).

To engage with this new age citizen more and more brands are moving online. The differentiator between a “brand” and a “loved brand” will be focus on the consumer and all else will follow.

However Internet censorship is as much a social and political problem as it is technological. So will citizens and policymakers come together dethroning governments with autocratic mindsets? Will every country rise to be the next Libya or Egypt?

And in this flat world, this is a dream that can be lived – the onus is on us.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Life was never so surreal, virtual becomes the new reality!

If you think that we are looking at ‘green’ as the new ‘black’ and taking up farming as a career alternative. Then you are being misled by this banter about laying seeds, cultivating crops and rearing cattle. And neither are we giving up our line of business and becoming Genesis Farms, it still is Genesis BM. Then how come Strawberry, Squash, and cows are being spoken about in unison. And your last guess about the return of the Green Revolution falls flat too. These ecstatic and animated conversations are about the latest hanging out zone in town called ‘FarmVille’. This Facebook game allows members to plant, grow, and harvest virtual crops, and become neighbors. Neighbors like Shilpa Kaicker and Suvir Paul who live almost 1,163 kilometers apart in real life.

Welcome to the world of social networking which is becoming a way of life for many of us. Applications on these sites have become our crystal ball that will identify your friend or foe or that faithful day when you will get married, even if you already are. Notifications about who tagged us and comments on photos is something that keeps us on our toes. And most of all the status updates that have amused, irritated and used very strategically to get a message across to a ‘particular’ person.

These sites have also become centre stage for voicing one’s opinion on politics, movies, media and business. Right from discussing Shashi Tharoor’s solidarity with the cattle class to Rakhi Sawant’s mother’s tryst with fame on Bigg Boss, everyone is brimming with opinions. Ashwani who is an active member of Twitter and Facebook, often gets us thinking about current issues like the Jet Airways strike, the changing face of CSR and the importance of social networking itself.
Social Networking sites such as Facebook, Orkut, and Twitter have exploded in the past five years and fast replacing other leisure activities like watching television, reading a magazine and even catching up with your partner after work. Natasha Gupta who has been married for the past three years hits home and heads straight to her Facebook page after a quick hi to her hubby. She defends herself sheepishly and says, “But I was just checking for comments on my Goa snaps”. Her last visit to the page was when she left work an hour back!

But she is not alone. “I find myself checking social networking sites several times a day and I can easily spend hours chatting on Facebook, checking comments, and looking through pictures.” was a view echoed by many across locations. But updating status messages topped the list of ‘must things to do on Facebook’. This is one space where one can speak one’s heart and still manage to be conspicuous and candid. Upset with your boss, angry that your domestic help who just burnt the milk or your geographical placement hour by hour, even if it means it is in the shower (honest!) The status message lets you do this and lots more. But where does one draw a line on what to put and what not to put. “Well sometimes I feel updates have become a mode to just attract attention. The ‘in’ thing to do. Why put up absurd stuff up just for the heck of it”, says Saurav Bhanot. Contesting this view, Deepanshi Chaudhary says, “I think status updates are meant for you to write what you feel like. Till the time they don’t offend someone, I guess it’s okay to write what you feel.”

But how does one deal when one finds oneself logging on to social networking sites without any goal and checking one’s profile becomes a compulsive habit. The sticky situation that many of us find ourselves in is the various paths one can take after that. “Hopping from your profile I get on to a friend’s profile and then their friend’s. Photos of the latest birthday bash, the first baby steps of my uncle’s son to who is getting married or divorced (Facebook Auto Update: XYZ is no longer in a relationship). The trail never ends and time truly flies”, says Karan Dutt.
Apart from an addiction it is a great tool to help breeze through a day where a client sent a stinker for the media that never came or when your boss gave you off for ‘typos’. Vasundhra Mudgil says, “I think it’s a great thing to do on most days; but when you are having a tough day at work, social networking websites help de-stress.”

So it is truly a case of ‘different strokes for different folks’, whether the motive is to stay in touch or express without any inhibitions or just keep one entertained. The beauty is that we are waking up to trivial things in life. The sunny day or the walk on the beach or an ice cream with your one year old nephew, all is being written down and PUBLISHED. Just a word of caution you are under the scanner always!

Post done. Off to check my Facebook account… Mansi Pal