Reviewed

If there is one progressive benefit of internet, I would unequivocally state that it has given millions of people all around the world, a voice. Over the years we have seen how the voice metamorphized into a roar as more and more people are exposed to the power of this amazing medium. One of the most important aspects of internet is that, you can find answers to your most pressing questions with the help of an array of ‘experts’ from around the world — the prominent one being online reviews. Let’s consider that you want to buy something from online — the first feedback that you would seek to ensure that the purchase is a sensible one, would be to check how well is it rated; 5 stars vs 4 stars vs… The next stop likely would be user comments. By relying on these two sources, the mind naturally starts to develop an opinion. This generation of opinion today has been manipulated heavily to such an extent that one can be really unsure of what is actually happening.

I do Google Rewards surveys regularly, where I answer few non-intrusive questions for paltry Google Play credits which I can use later for purchasing movies, eBooks etc. I regularly check the Google surveys of establishments that I frequent to get an indicator of how well they are performing. Recently I discovered to my aghast, the power of how these reviews can conversely result in bloody consequences. One of the establishments I frequent, on one occasion had a receptionist who was having a particularly bad day. The next day, I received a notification of a new review for that establishment completed by one of Google’s empowered local guides. The receptionist was blasted with the unkindest words in this review by reviewer who even went far to blame the former’s callousness to a spate of mishaps happening external to the establishment, that had affected its patrons. The receptionist was soon let go from their job based on this one review since the corporate office had zero tolerance to negative reviews. As I witnessed this farce, I was flabbergasted at the sheer impunity of ruthlessness — one that takes the human away from the equation and allows livelihoods to be trampled based on some John Doe’s opinions formulated from behind a screen.

To add to this facade, I came across a news article that showed how competitors in the world’s largest online marketplace employs fake reviewers to promote one’s products and demean competitors’ products — including the extent to which these companies stoop in these efforts. These disturbing tendencies have only increased in a commercialized and increasingly competitive world. I have heard that AI provides the employers of today with sophisticated tools that vet people based on their online presence (or even lack of) and develop highly intelligent virtual models of them on which variables can be applied to measure responses. Based on these responses, significant insights on personalities and how they are a ‘best fit’ to the organization can be developed.

To summarize, online reviews has now been reduced an artificial banter of no substance that has been harmful and undermining the purpose of why the internet was established in the first place. It has become a cancer that is slowly devouring online consciousness due to the scale of its savagery. Since this has remained unchecked for a long time and that no one wanted to make the needed efforts, only time will tell what will become of this anomaly.

The more of everything, the less of anything

Go big or go home’ is the battle cry of capitalism. ‘You need to grow faster or you are toast’ another famous cry to make hay while the sun shines.

There is a Biblical story of Joseph who could interpret dreams and was a prisoner in the Pharaoh prisons. When the Pharaoh saw a dream of seven fat cows being eaten by seven thin cows, no one in the kingdom could decipher his dreams. Upon the recommendation of his butler who was imprisoned for a crime and later exonerated, Joseph foretold a period of fourteen years — seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. He recommended steps to be done during the periods of prosperity so that Egypt could weather the periods of famine. It was a revolutionary idea for the empire building Egyptians who were known for the pyramid tombs and massive expenditures as a result. Since they did not know how to go about this, Pharaoh appointed Joseph as his Man Friday. Joseph went about an ambitious program of building huge storehouses to store the produce during the prosperous periods. When the time for famine arrived, it was recorded that not just Egypt but the entire world made its way to purchase food to feed themselves. The windfall that Joseph made for the Egyptians was spectacular. Little did he know that the entire wealth was later used after his lifetime by the same Egyptians to enslave his descendants, the Hebrews (precursor to modern Jews) into building massive monuments — some of which are even standing today.

A decade ago to be precise, was when I first heard of Netflix. At that time there was a store called Blockbuster from where you could rent movies. The shop had priced rentals of movies that you could rent and watch in the comfort of your own homes. Netflix came up with a revolutionary mail-in based DVD subscription program that was successful. However, few years later, they decided to completely move into an internet based streaming service by charging a minimum monthly fee-based subscription model. This upended the industry totally that people stopped at one time going to theatres and embarked on a cable TV cord cutting mission. The conventional media industry that relied on a movie theatre, cable, DVD model was taken aback by surprise. Here you have an internet company come up with a new model of content distribution that was remarkable and disruptive. Aided by Amazon’s servers, the entertainment now streamed 24 x 7 from the internet cloud — changing the way how one viewed entertainment forever.

Fast forward to 2019, and we see a plethora of competitors vying for the same eyeballs with massive volumes of content out there for people to feast upon. The average viewer has never had it too good. Or did they? If you look at the story of Joseph, the massive breakthrough he brought on the Egyptians by a mere deciphering of a dream was used by the former in enslaving generations of his own descendants. The new entertainment model that was envisaged by Netflix has resulted is a massive outbreak of content where the viewer can watch content on every imaginable genre available, but cannot end up liking anything. As the tech giant Netflix tries to grow themselves by piling huge volumes of debt, one can only wait and see how it all ends for the company as ambitious media-based competitors pull their content away from the platform to build their own. It is a race to the finish with diminishing returns and eyeballs for sure as viewers get tired and fatigued of meaningless content and finally resort to watching the few quality ones. With more of everything, it truly becomes the less of anything — and in the end counter intuitive.

What to do next?

Everyone seems to be angry these days and no one knows why. In the age of memes and online trolls, people are agitated, unhappy and spiteful. Despite living in one of the most prosperous times of human existence for a good majority of the world’s population; instead of being happy, spiritual and graceful, the converse has happened. Try watching the news or follow the trends on social media or watch movies, one can find that there is anger and angst everywhere. How did we get here?

How does man’s progress reach a point of sad regress? Instead of being happy with the best of technology and convenience at one’s fingertips, people have become a sorry state of themselves. If one traverses the online world, you can find unhappiness, regret and bitterness all throughout. Be it in the political space, civic space, spiritual space, religious space- there is a general and accentuated degradation of values. Why has this anomaly happened?

I think, because we do not know what to do next.

If you look at human history, the periods of progress have always been in the pursuit of something i.e., it centred around conquests of countries. Successful conquests brought long period of wealth and prosperity to the victors (mostly plundered) in addition to periods of growth and expansions from the cheap labour that the former permitted. These periods of growth were always at the expense of other human lives and livelihood. Yet their role in progress cannot be denied.

In today’s world, despite having the most cutting edge and technology enhance armour, physical wars are long, drawn out and never ending. This is because it is not easy like ancient times to subdue an entire country like the Romans did to the Jews at the beginning of the century (read Masada). The reasons why this is the case is due to the impressive strides made in human consciousness that looks down and abhors brutality and cruelty.

So what do we do next? We need to shift our focus into a higher realm of development. We need to leave the earth and invest to explore the space. The cost of destroying and permanently damaging our earth in our quest for development is simply not worth it for humans and our future generations. We cannot allow our pettiness and dastardliness to one another define who we are or what we are.

Space is definitely the final frontier for humans and it is only a matter of time before we embark on this quest. I have read somewhere, humans were created to travel, to move and explore and not to be static as it has been facilitated today by technology. We are not designed for the lives we are living today and that is the singular reason why we are angry or there is anger everywhere today. It is because, this is not what defines us as humans.

What defines us as humans is to aim higher and seek newer destinations to live a better and meaningful life.

The End Times

We are at crossroads. Never before has history repeated itself as one can see looking at the world around us. More than ever before, there is growing distrust and unhappiness in the world around us. We are in the midst of the crumbling of an old world order where people were divided or encouraged to divide themselves in the name of caste color or religion. In today’s world, such divisions are starting to crumble. The proponents of the old world order look at it alarmingly and try to rescue what they were used to, but they know that the time is definitely up.

If you look at the narrative of the past, one can definitely see how religion was cleverly used whenever there was a major power in the world. When the British empire ruled the earth, they used a form of Christianity which the missionaries took around the world so that the colonised people did not become self aware. They were successful. Later on after the fall of Berlin Wall, the American empire having vanquished its only enemy, used Evangelism as a fast food tool, to conquer the masses into its own narrative. As the oil boomed, Saudi Arabia used similar techniques to effectively subjugate Iran, remove all the moderate narratives of Islam and replaced it with a hardcore, ultra-conservative Wahhabi inspired version. With the advent of the information technology revolution, these world views have been threatened severely.

Yet today, we are definitely at crossroads. Brexit, Trump and now the emerging alternative movements in Europe and elsewhere do threaten to return us to the dark chapters preceding the Second World War.

For example. remove the word jew and replace it with muslim  and as you revisit the chapters of the past, you can see where this narrative may potentially lead us. I am not hinting that Trump may be the next Hitler, to me he looks more like a protectionist. But I do fear that the real reincarnation of Hitler will emerge in Europe which by its location and history is at a dangerous precipice today.

There will definitely be an implosion. Which may be a good thing as the world would need to move on from centuries old definition of religion to a new modern era of spirituality. May be that is what the end of times may actually mean from the holy books.

Cover photo: Auschwitz

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It is more or less the same

Eight years ago, as the world welcomed the first Afro-American president, yours truly was one among the millions glued to their television set as the purported (as it feels now) dawn of a new era commenced in the United States. It was a momentous and a historic occasion. Ever since the United States heralded the world into a brutal and bloody recession, all eyes were on the new incoming president with the hopes that he would reverse the tide, bring the perpetrators who were the reason for this in the first place to justice, change the way we see the 21st century and so on. He made tall promises that he will get it done, differently and responsibly.  Eight years later as he bows down from the office, nothing has changed. The world has become a more dangerous place to live in, the gulf between the rich and poor have grown, the middle class has been crushed and the excesses of the 21st century have grown to alarming proportions. When he took office, he promised to change all these, including fixing Wall Street. He did nothing.  To clearly show how nothing really changed during the Obama presidency, it is interesting to note that the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) that directly contributed to the 2008 financial crisis has been reborn today as the bespoke tranche opportunity, the number of convictions in Wall Street fraud is one, and the national debt grew the largest (dollarwise) in his presidency at 7 trillion dollars.

Obama came to power on a platform that was based on change, hope and belief. Hence it is safe to state the following: Do not be fooled by the allusion that things have changed – they have not. They may get better eventually there is a pattern to this madness. Everyone would like to proclaim that they want change- change themselves (I have a slogan for the year- #unbecomeyourself), change their way of life, change their family, change their car etc. But do you think that anything changes? It is all but an illusion; a perception of change. Nothing changes for real- especially when it is hoisted upon artificially.

Then there is a natural pattern to things. The change that is foisted upon by the universe- sometimes gradually or sometimes disrupting. It is like the classic Aesop’s tale of the hare and tortoise. Humans yearning for change are like the hare. They start the race and sprint like the hare. Midway on seeing how far they have come with regards to everyone they have left behind (tortoise) – friends, family, circumstances, home etc., they just get complacent and go into a rut. Once they come out of that rut, they open their eyes and realize that the tortoise has reached the destination and patiently await their return. The defeated hare will again challenge the tortoise for another race at another day and place. However, the results don’t change.

I am a student of history. Nothing excites me more that reading history and drawing parallels with the exciting times that I currently live in. The founding fathers designed the United States of America in the shape and form of the values exhibited by the Roman Empire. The difference was the timely inclusion of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence where it was explicitly stated that the land of the free will grow and prosper based on the simple premise that-

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Did you know that Washington DC, the capital was built referring to the erstwhile Rome before it was ransacked by the barbarians? If the United States turns a blind eye to justice, equality and fairness, the fate of the erstwhile Roman Empire awaits it. Because that is all it takes for history to repeat again and for us to recollect later that- it was more or less the same!.

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A truthless world

​The other day while glancing through the website of my alma mater I chanced across a headline that read like this. ‘Trustworthy advice for a post-truth world’. It was an interesting headline one that made me think for sometime. 

Disruption is an act of nature. If you see the world around us, everything is in a state of constant and consistent change. As seconds combine to minutes, minutes combine to hours, hours to days, days to weeks and so on; with the passage of time, things change. It all seems natural and any change assisted by time is often considered to be lasting and right. However Mother Nature also has another trick up its sleeve – disruption. One that shakes up everything vigorously. It’s like being in a sudden winter storm, earthquake or for that matter an even worser natural calamity. It comes sans any warning and then jolts the living daylights out of you.

There is definitely a sense of anger and frustration in today’s world- one that is accentuated by political, economical and climatic turmoil. The recent election of Donald Trump has completely upended the world we know today on a larger scale. I remember in 2014, when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India, a Facebook friend remarked, ‘hope the Modi wave doesn’t become a tsunami’. With the pathetic condition of India at that time driven to its knees by scams and a deteriorating law and order situation, Modi’s election was the last straw for millions of Indians frustrated with the status quo.The verdict is still out on his election, yet with the recent demonetisation and surgical strikes, one can see a powerful leader determined to influence the destiny of the world’s most populous nation.

The election of Trump was entirely different. If Obama came to power as a retribution to the schmucks that drove us to the worst economic recession since the 30s, Trump’s election was a frustration from the  lack of/ or no tangible benefits from Obama’s two terms. Apart from the inflammatory statements made by Trump during the election campaign, both these ‘newbie’ politicians contested on a platform of disruption. Obama due to his tall talks of hope and positivity was a darling of the press, Trump strived on despair, bullying and had a contentious relationship with media. His election despite  relentless mudslinging by the media (which was the same in the case of Modi’s election) basically shredded the propriety of the fourth estate and made them weak. It was long overdue.

Now no one knows who is speaking the truth. Information is pounded at the poor citizens from various sources and no one speaks facts any more. It is easy to belittle or slime anyone’s character effortlessly in today’s world. It has become noisy and truthless. Is it a bad thing? No. It is during times such as these that one must truly discover oneself. Because somewhere in the noise, there is a ferocious battle between what is true and what is false. Truth will always last. It is the natural way of life. 

But it will take time.

Environmentally Correct

If the war on terror dominated the headlines in the beginning decade of this century, the issue of climate change will dominate for the foreseeable future.

Last week Alberta saw one of the worst forest fires that led to a massive evacuation of a town of nearly 80000 people. The unusually hot, dry spell of weather especially during the beginning of May provided good fodder to the fire now currently and aptly named ‘The Beast’. Being in the El Nino phase, the weather patterns have been changing in North America for the past couple of years. This warm phase should end and the cooler La Nina phase should commence soon. Nowadays ever since oil hit rock bottom prices and the growth of the oil and gas industry effectively stalled, there has been no mention of the eminent environmentalists that have been consistently dominating the headlines earlier when the prices were high. Leonardo DiCaprio won his Oscar, many of the environmentalists have either entered the polity or gone underground and so on.
Climate change has taken precedence with almost the entire world endorsing it and all doubters effectively silenced through aggressive marketing, relentless posturing and acts of intimidation etc. In a recent comedy show on Netflix, one of the supporting characters was remarking that ‘climate change is a way for Californians to sell books’. It is clear that the message of climate change has been accepted widely across the world and stringent climate rules and regulations are on its way that may affect the 21st century lifestyle that we have been accustomed to till date.
If the war on terror dominated the headlines in the beginning decade of this century, the issue of climate change will dominate for the foreseeable future. It will continue till a day when the people of this world will finally realize the true fact that climate changes consistently. The only difference here is the burgeoning population and the increased appetite towards materialism and the resulting consumerism. These factors has had an adverse impact on nature. Never before has the world’s population ballooned into such astronomic numbers and with the passage of time, the living conditions on earth will only deteriorate. Lack of clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink or hospitable conditions to work and live would make conditions hellish for a good majority of the population on this earth. The only solution would be to traverse the outer space and build space colonies and find newer worlds to live.
If the human life was meant to be a journey, may the journey to find newer worlds be the correct thing to do. I do think that climate change will be the inevitable trigger for that journey.

 

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