Saturday, December 28, 2013

What I Learned From Deactivating Facebook for 83 days

That it is not about the social network, it is about me.

I had just one thing in my mind when I took a break - "focus on studying".
I thought facebook was the reason why I could not focus on textbooks, that I would automatically start doing better when I stop using facebook.

And boy, was I not wrong?

I started getting distracted by gmail!

I started to read more of the email subscriptions I have, I started visiting more and more online magazines, reading through them, article after article.

It only felt counterproductive.

What was missing?
Having eliminated what seemed to be the greatest distraction, I was still distracted, and I started wondering why. I decided to observe myself. And the results? Not surprising at all.

I simply could not read more than a paragraph of my textbook without getting distracted. Either I would start thinking about something in the textbook. Or I would start thinking about my college. Or I would get a great new idea which will change the way world works. Or I desperately want to visit some random website on the internet.

I simply could not read.

But why?
I don't know.

I know only one thing. That there is something wrong with my will. I have an obsessive disorder. I am addicted to distractions.

If all goes right, I will come out of this. I will curb that incessant urge to be in the know about everything. I will learn how to ignore some of the unread notifications. I will learn how to archive some emails without going through them. I will learn how to even check email only in two slots every day.

But I will still be spending hours to fix tiny errors on my blog template.

I know. I am crazy.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

How Journalism Can and Needs to Change and Adapt to the Web

Internet has made traditional journalism obsolete. But we have not realized it yet.

Newspapers in print were limited by space and functionality, which restricted the stories they covered to only those very few important ones and some fresh stories. Today's first page news would be buried inside the daily tomorrow, and will be forgotten the day after. There might be a follow up story, but it is published only if it is of enough importance to warrant another covering.

For the public, this means that there is no continuity. Stories stop abruptly. Promises are forgotten. Impressions fade. They are constantly distracted by newer, more exciting events. And they conveniently forget the older, more important ones.

  • What is up with the investigation of that infamous crime?
  • Where is that famous person now? What is she doing?
  • Which film is that controversial director working on now?
  • What happened to that sincere police officer who was receiving death threats from various points? Is he even alive today?
  • Where is that ground breaking cure for the terminal illness? Why can't I buy it from the drug store already?

That is where the internet comes in.

Blogging sites, and micro-blogging sites have up to an extent relieved the pressure on newspapers to publish all the stories they receive. What is not fit for the print edition, goes to the web edition. Permanent columnists are given blogs which they can update at their own will. And individuals can publish on their own, and link to their stories via micro-blogging sites which then take care of content delivery.

But it does not have to stop there.

Newspaper websites can change their form. They can switch to a publish-subscribe pattern. And it needs minimal change to the way they are already working. Here's how it goes.

Every news item will have a "subscribe to this story" button on it. A user (identified by emails, or by creating an account on the site) who "subscribes" to a story will get all the follow up items from that story. Those follow-ups which are not worthy for prime attention, will not go on the front page of the website, but they will nevertheless go to the feed/email/equivalent of everyone who has "subscribed" to the story.

Furthermore, there could even be an encyclopedic division of stories, which a new user can browse and subscribe. That is, on clicking "browse stories" the user would reach a page with many categories listed, like "movies", "celebrities", "politics", "crimes", "disasters", "accidents", etc. Under each category there could be sub categories, like for "crimes", there could be "rapes", "theft", "murder", "bribery", etc. and so on.

Essentially, this website will look like twitter accounts maintained by journalists. Instead of following "people", the user can follow "stories".

But isn't that what content aggregators do?
Yes, and no.
No, websites like reddit and stumbleupon cover only wide topics, not individual stories.
Yes, Google news has "See realtime coverage" button under each story, but this is "determined automatically by a computer" and doesn't connect non-contiguous coverage. For the time being, the function I'm proposing is best served by Wikipedia. Each notable event gets its own wiki article, and volunteers update the wiki with latest coverage of the story. This is unreliable, and not enough.

We need paradigm shift in how journalists cover stories.

If you are a journalist, and you covered a story once, you should make it a point to follow that story up till its end. You should make sure that promises are kept, that justice is served, that people are not forgotten. You should keep the timelines alive. And do not worry about having no audience, because if something is worth covering once, it is worth covering till its completion. If it is not, then you should not have covered it at first.

And media will rise as the relentless pursuer of truth.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Men May Now Wear Veils

The law is clear.

IPC 354A
1) A man ... iv) making sexually coloured remarks, shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment.
3) Any man who commits the offence shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
But it is not complete. What is a "sexually coloured remark"?
  • "You are looking gorgeous today" ?
  • "You look stunning in this dress" ?
  • "I would kill to be your husband" ?
If you follow this definition (which you're bound to by law), you cannot seduce a woman without sexually harassing her. If you can't seduce a woman, how can you ever dream of having sex with her? If you can't have sex with any woman, how can you satisfy your biological urges?

For resolving this Gordian knot, we shall take a cue from the Holy Quran.

  • 33:59 [edited for men] "Tell thy husbands and thy sons and the men of the law-fearing to draw their cloaks close round them."
  • 24:31 [edited for men] "And say to the law-fearing men that they cast down their looks and close their eyes to not look at women, and let them wear their head-coverings over their eyes, and not see anyone except their wives or their mothers, or the mothers of their wives, or their daughters, or the daughters of their wives, or their sisters, or their sisters' daughters, or their brothers' daughters, or their men, or those whom their right hands possess, or the female servants not having need (of men), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what should be hidden from men; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their manliness may be known"
  • 33:55 [edited for men] "It shall be no crime in them as to their mothers, or their daughters, or their sisters, or their brothers’ daughters, or their sisters’ daughters, or their men, or the slaves which their right hands possess, if they speak to them unveiled"
We shall walk around wearing veils. Not looking at any woman, not giving our natural tendencies a chance to arouse our masculinity. We shall refrain from talking to women, from thinking of them as potential mates for courting, from having romantic pleasure. We shall abstain from sexuality.

And we shall castrate ourselves.

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