Tag Archives: online

An inquiring mind

A couple of my posts in the recent past have triggered some “interesting” in-person/offline reactions — people have said that I am “too philosophical” or that I “want to live in an ideal world.”

I’ve been told some of these issues don’t concern them (or me, for that matter) and never will … so why bother?

Why spend time trying to tackle issues that will never arise? Why not just let things be? Why ruffle feathers? Why advocate for change when this is what it is? Why not just “enjoy life” and “take it easy”?

Why do I look for answers where there are none? Why do I keep pushing people out of their comfort zones? Why do I espouse debate?

They tell me to lighten up. To act my age. To have some fun in life.

I ask them: Why not just stop thinking all together?

What is the point of getting an education that stresses on using one’s critical thinking skills if you’re not willing to use them? Actually, what’s the point of education, even?

Why not just go with the flow, stop asking questions, and propagate the status quo?

Complacency is so easy. So is conformity.

But is that all we want of our lives? That which is convenient?

Even if we don’t really believe in social stereotypes, just shut up and assimilate?

Because it is what it is?

I ask questions because I have a thinking mind. I wonder, I fear, I suspect, I marvel, I doubt.

I seek to be a better person. I hope to be the source of some improvement, no matter how miniscule.

I don’t think everything is right the way it is.

And I think we dwell so much on insignificant things that those that really matter get sidestepped.

Those of you who read these blog posts and tell me to enjoy life: you are a privileged lot. You have the mental faculties, the education, and the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of those who don’t.

So, to you I say, grow up.

I use my writing to probe. To analyze. To connect with a larger audience.

I am not about to squander it for posting trivia. I am not here to entertain. I am here to start a dialogue — even if it is with yourself.

I am here to express my appreciation of this life and the world we live in. I am here to comment on the beauty and the ugliness of it all.

I am here to be honest.

I am not sober and thoughtful all the time. I know how to have fun. But I cannot live the obsequious life. Or the smug life.

This blog is a reflection of who I am — it is a tapestry of many different emotions.

It’s like a car ride through different terrains. We’ll admire the natural beauty, honk through the urban setup, and even stop for ice cream along the way, but the journey is going to be bumpy and uncomfortable at times.

Hop on if you’d like to stretch those mental muscles.

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Facebook: your personal recommendation engine

Facebook is more popular than Google. At least it was in the week ending March 13.

Even though it was a miniscule 0.4 percent increase over visits to the Internet search giant, it got a lot of tongues wagging.

From being a platform where people raise virtual animals and open up their lives, Facebook is fast becoming a forum to get personal recommendations.

A handful of my friends have connected their TripAdvisor and Yelp profiles to Facebook making their hotel stays and restaurant reviews available to their network. But most people I know are using their status updates to publish queries, especially when making travel plans.

Going to the Grand Canyon area — any recommendations on where to stay?

Visiting Idaho — what are some cool things to do besides visiting boh-ring lava fields ?

Is in Honolulu — where to get the best mai tais?

Instead of “googling” this information and relying on the collective wisdom of random strangers, these folks are tapping into their network — which, if it consists of friends and family with shared interests, would make it an unbeatable resource.

A goldmine of viable ideas.

The real value lies in getting suggestions from people you know. More important: these are people who know you and your interests.

You could be off to the theater district, eating the best local fare, and hanging out with surfer dudes if you ask the right folks. But be careful before you announce your plans on any social media network — if you really don’t want to reconnect with your former high school sweetheart in person (even though you “friended” her on Facebook because it was oh-so-harmless), make sure she isn’t on the list of people with access to your status updates.

Always follow the mantra: think before you post.

And create lists with variable access.

You could have one called “Close friends” who have access to everything — photos, notes, status updates, your wall. Another one called “Acquaintances” for people who can’t see your bikini shots but can read your status updates. A third called “Colleagues,” who have access to your wall but nothing else. And so on.

There are ways to tap into the potential of social networking while still maintaining your privacy. Use it wisely.

How do you use Facebook? Do you see it becoming your personal recommendation engine?

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True love

Love to some is like a cloud

To some as strong as steel

For some a way of living

For some a way to feel

Some say love is holding on

And some say let it go

While some say love is everything

Some say they don’t know…

Love — the one emotion that all of us experience at some point in our lives. An emotion which defies definition. An overwhelming all-encompassing joy that comes saddled with its share of sadness.

I remember having countless crushes while in school. Our neighbour’s son, my best friend’s brother, a cousin’s friend, our judo teacher … I fancied them for the colour of their eyes, their swagger, or just the way they combed their hair. Harmless “puppy loves” as ephemeral as soap bubbles.

I’d always heard that you won’t even know what hit you when you find the love of your life — the one person you want to spend time with day after day after day. And it was true.

It came at a time when I was mature enough to take on the responsibilities of a relationship which demands a lot of give and not so much of take. Love was the edifice I built on the foundation of friendship. It took time to blossom. It took a lot of understanding, loads of communication, and plenty of patience to become what it is today. 

Most importantly, love to us meant a meeting of minds. Still does.

It was notches above infatuations and what my mom likes to call “the pleasures of the flesh.”

Our parents’ generation was fed lavishly with ideals. Theirs was an era of constraints, restraints, respect, admiration, and oodles of romance. An age where the distance between the sexes somehow managed to help preserve the sanctity of an amorous relationship.

Our generation, with its openness and fading lines of proximity, jumped on to the bandwagon of love with a little more haste and defiance of “traditions.”

The next generation, I fear, is going further downhill — not quite able to distinguish between physical attraction and mental compatibility. Love seems synonymous with both. Exclusively, even.

I am amazed when I hear stories of school kids bragging about the number of physical relationships they have had. I am horrified to learn that girls barely seventeen have already been in and out of five to six “hook ups.” What about the emotional baggage these kids will carry with them?

The mindset of our “always-plugged-in” generation is all too evident in their tweets and Facebook status updates — publicly handling their personal life.

I see more and more focus on physical beauty, less and less regard for intellect. Closeness gets more importance than intimacy. There is more of passion and less of emotion. More of frivolous comradeship, less of true companionship. There is more acquiring and less sharing.

More of me, less of us.

Maybe I’m old school, but to me it seems like the essence of relationships has been forgotten.

There’s much more to being someone’s beau than gifting them red roses and Hallmark cards. What about gifting our time, our company, our support, our friendship…? What about setting priorities where our loved one comes first?

What about giving ourselves, and the ones we love, time and space to build a strong foundation? What about working towards meaningful and lasting friendships?

What about honouring our commitments? What about channeling our energies and emotions towards building lifelong bonds rather than wasting them on seasonal relationships?

Love is so much more than a fleeting song and a glass of wine. It doesn’t always lie on satin sheets. It isn’t found in diamonds and perfumes and flowers.

It’s about respect, companionship, understanding, appreciation. It’s about being yourself and loving the other person for who they are. It’s about making it through thick and thin.

Relationships take work. Love makes it easy.

I believe that true love happens once in a lifetime.

Don’t let frivolous flings tire you out so much that when true love comes your way you aren’t able to receive it with open arms.

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Not wired 24/7

What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Stretch a little, drink a glass of water? Rub your eyes and will your body into leaving the warmth of the bed?

That used to be me, a couple of years ago. I’d lie curled under my Jaipuri quilt, gazing out the window — sunlight streaming through the oak leaves, the sound of finches going about their daily business.

And then something changed.

My head propped against two pillows, still not quite awake, I would reach for my laptop, slowly open my eyes and stare at thousands of updates from bloggers, friends, and journalists around the world.

While I waded through the tweets, plurks, tumblelogs, Flickrs, Jaiku activity streams, Facebook and Plaxo Pulse updates, I was also e-mailing colleagues and speeding through RSS feeds in my customized Google Reader. I would spend the first 20 minutes every morning scrambling through the noise of Web 2.0.

Thanks to my iPhone, I could also carry the “noise” with me. As I scanned through another 1,ooo+ unread news items, I munched on my mix of pumpkin seeds and flax granola mixed with rolled oats and Cheerios.

My Bluetooth device in place, I would step out to catch the shuttle that would ferry me over to the light rail station a mile away. During the 40-minute commute, I would access my social networking updates through FriendFeed, continue scanning news items and sharing the ones I liked with friends,  tweet about the crowd in the train, and review work e-mails.

I had become a cyborg.

Even though at heart, I’m more of a floppy-disk than a thumb-drive person, I had been swallowed by the “need” to keep up with the millennials. Just so, I could feel relevant.

I didn’t have a cell phone until my first job in India at age 23 and we got around just fine by using pay phones, writing letters (yes, that’s right – handwritten letters on paper that we mailed), and meeting people face-to-face.

I distinctly remember when we sat around as a family to watch the one public television channel that was broadcast from 5 to 10 p.m. on our black and white TV.

That was it.

There was no pay-per-view, or 300 channels to choose from and we couldn’t “log on” to watch YouTube videos.

We read books for entertainment, we had real-time conversations at the dinner table instead of texting our friends while chomping down a meal, we went out and played softball, cricket and badminton (not as a structured activity, but for fun!) and we waited while the phone rang and rang and rang until it got disconnected.

And then we called again.

But things have changed – and drastically so. For today’s kids, being wireless is the norm, texting is the new e-mail, and voice messages have always existed. Even the two-year-olds throw a “regular” phone away in favor of swiping their index finger rapidly on an iPhone screen!

Now we have this ever-pressing need to be “connected” — not just online — but actually actively socializing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut, Buzz, Habbo, hi5, Foursquare, Xanga or a plethora of other services.

I have 378 friends on Facebook and 162 people in my Orkut network — 99.9 percent of them are people I have met and known at some point in my life.

I love the fact that I can look at their profile updates, go through their public photos and scroll through their Walls or Scrapbooks to see what’s going on in their lives. But not everyone has this policy of “friending” — most social network users open up their network to strangers — that’s the whole point, they say, of networking!

And don’t even get me started on Chatroulette — the latest fad that pairs random strangers for Webcam-based conversations. Eek!

For me, the internet has made it a lot easier to keep in touch with family and friends. But when it starts becoming more real than the reality of your life, it’s time to take a timeout.

And that’s what I have done.

I log on to Facebook thrice a day: once every morning to check on friends’ updates and ask my question of the day, then sometime in the afternoon to post an update of this blog, and then for half an hour at night to beat my opponents at Bejeweled Blitz.

I’ve stopped following Twitter as rampantly and phased out all the other services that hogged my time and attention, leaving me no time to think. Just consume. Reams and reams of unstoppable information.

I’ve whittled down my Google Reader subscriptions to the ones I will actually read, not keep saving to pore over “some day.”

Now, I take a minute, sometimes two, to appreciate being alive to see another morning before “plugging in.”

I watch the weather and traffic reports while eating breakfast and listen to the radio during my commute.

Sometimes I take a break from the distant chatter in the background and just hum.

I like being able to think critically, stretch my mental muscles, and analyze, not just observe, what is. I like being able to share something meaningful. And as much as I want to be in step with the times, I’m not going be so obsessed with documenting irrelevant updates that I lose touch with reality.

I don’t want to be one of those people for whom events become real only when they tweet about them.

Maybe I’m just getting “old.”

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Confessions of the “non-feminine” kind

“But every woman loves going to the mall!!”

I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve had the same surprised … nay …. jaw-dropping reaction to my disinterest in going to a 50,000 square-foot zoo of clothes, shoes, knickknacks, and fast food. I just find it a terrible waste of time.

It’s crowded. There’s always the temptation to buy junk food. You browse and browse and browse and after some time it all starts looking the same.

When I can buy almost everything stocked in a mall online, why would I go through the hassle of driving to a shopping center teeming with people, spend an average of 15 minutes looking for a parking spot, and tire my soles walking from one end to the other because the two stores I need stuff from are at opposite ends of the mall?

And why would I lug those bags when I can get the same items delivered (for free most of the time) to my doorstep?

Even on those rare occasions that I do end up going to the mall (and believe me, before taking that extreme step I try everything in my power to avoid it!) I’m in and out in half an hour.

I know exactly what I want, which shop I’m headed to, and how much I’m willing to pay. If I don’t find what I’m looking for in that one store, I head out in 10 minutes. If I do, I try it on … if it fits, I pay for it and am on my way. I can’t look at one thing in one store, then head to another to compare the style, the price, the what-have-you … I just don’t have the patience.

Same applies to manis, pedis, facials — too much time investment. When all you really need is a daily cleaning-moisturizing regimen. The only time I’ve experienced these extravagances is right before my wedding. To make mom happy.

Makeup? My “kit” includes a foundation, a mini eyeshadow box (a gift), and lip balm.

Jewelry? I’m not into diamonds, let’s just say that. Or gold. Or silver. I go for the $2 earrings, have worn the same modest ring for the last nine years without any urge to “upgrade” and even though I got my nose pierced last week, I know the stud’s only going to be replaced (if at all) with other $2 equivalents. The more expensive the jewelry, the more a waste of money it seems. $800 for a tiny piece of rock that catches the sun? That could be my trip to Kauai!

Handbags? Most days you’ll see me with a cloth sling bag just big enough to hold my wallet, phone, and keys. It’s practical.

It’s not just women who think I’m weird when I express my disinterest in these supposedly “feminine” things. It’s also men.

“You’d rather stay back and play Monopoly with us instead of going to the mall with our wives? Are you sure?” ask my male friends.

When we visit our friend in San Francisco, he always insists we go to the Bloomingdale’s across his house.

I always ask for other options.

“You’d rather hike when you’re sitting in the middle of this shopping mecca?” he asks eyes widened, mouth open, voice shrill.

I think heels are impractical, pantyhose is useless, and perfumes are for those who smell bad enough for others to notice. And don’t even get me started on lacy lingerie — such a scam!

It’s not that I’m not “girly” — whatever that’s supposed to mean — but these are just some things other women enjoy and I don’t. It’s just that simple.

Some female friends have commented that I enjoy defying stereotypes, but I really don’t have an agenda.

All I ask is why restrict yourself with labels? Why not do something you truly enjoy doing instead of being stuck with society’s notion of what you should and shouldn’t do? There’s a whole world of opportunities out there for me to discover — why shouldn’t I experiment?

Men like this, women like that — oh  baloney!

Unearth the joys of discovering yourself. And go do what you like!

Side note: try doing a Google image search with the keyword “shopping.” No surprises 🙂

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Civility: A golden rule

Sitting across the board room conference table you have a disagreement with your colleague — do you shout and tell them to shut up because you know you’re right?

Do you stand up defiantly, raise your hand, and say, “You are useless. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Get out!”

Do you cross your arms against your chest and with piercing eyes, say, “So what? I don’t give a damn!”

Do you attack their personal beliefs, drag their marriage or sexuality into your rant, and shower profanities?

Do you stuff your fingers in your ears as they start to speak and run around the room going “La la la la la la la la”?

No.

You would probably try to rationalize in a calm voice. You would most likely say something like, “I guess you’re trying to say ABC, but hear me out because I’m saying XYZ.”

You would, if you were talking about something diametrically against their point of view, perhaps even go to the extent of saying, “You are looking at this from your perspective, but the way I see it…”

Maybe you’d count to 10. Think and rethink before you blurt out. Wonder if it’s belaboring a point and a waste of everyone’s time.

Maybe you’ll even put yourself in the other person’s shoes and decide to give them another chance.

What you wouldn’t do is call the person names or even obliquely try to drag any personal issues, theirs or yours, into that professional conversation.

There is something that holds you back from shouting like a two-year-old and having your voice heard. Something that tells you it’s inappropriate. Something that restrains you from being rude, uncivil, impolite, and crass.

It may be the fear of getting fired. Or being judged. Or just holding a high personal and professional standard. It might also be an ingrained part of your being that came from a good education.

You might disagree completely with a person, but you wouldn’t be uncivil.

In most cases, the same behavior transfers to personal relationships.

Maybe you fight a little harder, show your emotions more openly, point fingers, and sulk with your loved ones. But even then, you don’t intentionally, at least, disrespect them. You try not to generalize and either try to bring the argument to a resolution or agree amicably to disagree in favor of living under the same roof peacefully.

But when it comes to conversations on the Internet — be it instant messages, responses to “controversial” status updates or tweets, or even blog comments, that something that keeps us civil in other settings doesn’t seem to apply.

Don’t get me wrong — most people are as courteous in their written communication within the social media sphere as they are in real life, but there are a significant number that shock me with their smuttiness.

They hurl abuses. Get personal. And stray off-topic just to show a person down.

No restraints. No courtesy. No room for agreement.

No room for anything except their point of view.

And not all of them hide behind the cover of anonymity either. When they post something extremely offensive in response to an NPR report on Facebook or tweet a rude personal, albeit public, comment to a Washington Post reporter, their names and Twitter handles are visible to all. Yet, they somehow feel protected. For some reason the intertubes provide them with a notion of safety. Of being untouchable.

This is where they can give someone their piece of mind. Someone they don’t even know. Someone they’ve probably never met … and never will.

Maybe that is the crux of the issue…

The fact that this “someone” is “somewhere” in the ether — a real person but with no real significance.

Someone who they don’t have to interact with on a daily basis. Someone who they are never going to get close to. Someone who doesn’t really matter to them.

And if they don’t matter — heck, why care about them? Why bother with being civil? Why spend time being polite? Why not just dump all your angst on this person and move on … to your next target?

It’s easy.

And I guess that’s why people uninhibitedly curse on the road or flip off motorists. They don’t know ’em, so how does it matter?

But isn’t this behavior the most telling of one’s character? Doesn’t this devil-may-care attitude and crassness online reflect on who they are as a person more than anything else? The internet just brings out their true nature. This is the real them — callous, close-minded, narcissistic, stubborn men and women who refuse to acknowledge the existence of another perspective. They will argue to death with a stranger who “doesn’t matter,” so to speak, just to satisfy their egos.

And if you’re on the receiving end of such bashful commentary, what do you do? Do you also stoop to their level to show them who’s the man? Or do you take the high road?

It’s easy to get sucked into the rudeness spiral. But, just as in real life face-to-face confrontations, you control your actions online. Just as you wouldn’t flip off someone you know, just as you would tell someone being rude to you that it’s inappropriate and you don’t appreciate it — you ought to be the calm, rational, composed person online.

I’m not advocating taking crap from anyone, but don’t lose your decency.

You’re better than that.

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Also posted on Writers Rising.

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When reality takes a backseat….

Found this in my e-mail archives. I’d written this opinion piece nine years ago — while I was still in India — and it still rings true, especially because of the rise of social media and our need to be acknowledged online by a mix of real-life friends and complete strangers. We’re more involved than ever in each others’ online lives (that are, most times, reports of our not-so-remarkable real lives), but how many of us are taking that online connection further to truly form lasting friendships … the kinds where you meet face to face, share a cup of coffee, and give each other a hug?

————

It’s been 30 years now that e-mailing came into existence but it caught on only about 7 to 8 years ago in India. Now it has become a necessity. I am not getting into statistics, but most of us depend on this means of communication more than ever before. And for obvious reasons.

Another revolution that has swept across our country is chatting. People spend endless nights yakking about miscellaneous stuff with all and sundry on Yahoo, MSN, Rediff Bol, Indiatimes, ICQ and countless other messengers. And, of course, in the surreptitious chat rooms. Crossing territorial, regional and continental barriers was never easier. Since it’s such a fad, I tried being a part of the brigade that forms the statistical report for many surveys. I chatted last night.

I have Yahoo and MSN messengers and I use them to keep in touch with friends and family across the world. But entering a chat room and talking to complete strangers is, well, a different ball game altogether. Since all my married friends were attending a “couples only” party and there really was nothing worthwhile being aired on the idiot box, I decided to experiment. And boy, what a learning experience it was!

Wanna cyber?

The first rule I understood upon entering the chat room was never ever to use a girl’s name as your chat ID. Oh! Believe me that’s the worst thing you can do to yourself. If, on the other hand, it’s been male attention you have been craving for in real life, nothing could be better! Out of the 25 odd people in that particular chat room, 18 of them pounced upon me the moment I entered. Daunting as it was, I tried being decent, courteous and extremely gracious by providing them with my a/s/l. And when “a” equals 23, “s” stands for female and “l” is Delhi you are nothing less than a goddess! I don’t really know what I had expected out of those faceless strangers, but I do know that I received a lot of unanticipated and unwanted talk. The most common query of course, was “Wanna cyber?” I refused politely to the first few invitations but things got nasty after that. Never in my life have I heard such profanities being thrown left, right and centre.

When online life is more exciting

I am no prude, but I have never been so shocked. It’s amazing how people, who perhaps in real life would never use such abusive language, feel so uninhibited about such unabashed rudeness. You can’t even imagine what such a verbal assault can do to one’s psyche. And it’s not the language as much as it is the attitude! The good part, however, was that I could exercise my right to block such messages.

Not one to be cowed down so easily, I tried striking a conversation on the main platform. And what started on a flirtatious note caught the attention of some of the intellectual variety scouting around for companionship. It was indeed mentally invigorating to enter into a debate on arranged versus love marriages. And surprisingly enough I realised that my initial impressions were perhaps too biased against the entire populace that elects to air their views using this medium. Some people got bored and left the conversation in between, newcomers to the room chipped in with their opinions while the rest just served to increase the count of people on my ignore list. But it was four males who very coherently kept up the discussion till the wee hours of the morning.

Filling a void

And it made me wonder why these guys were whiling away their time with strangers over a wire when they could actually be spending it with real people! Why was it that they, and many others like them, were able to speak their hearts out on the Net but found it awkward to do so with existing friends? Where was the hitch? And all these questions made me think how detached we are becoming from our real lives … and from the real people surrounding us.

We don’t have time to exchange a decent conversation with our parents but we sit till 4 in the morning talking to people we’ll probably never meet. We don’t share our sentiments with friends we have known since school days, but we overflow with emotions in crowded chat rooms. We don’t have time to read or cultivate new skills but we have enough time and money to kill on spewing profanities on those we don’t even know! Why are we moving away from secure territory into unforeseen lands? Is it the attraction of the unknown? Is it the allure of promised happiness? Is it escapism? Or is it that our generation just does not believe in putting its time and effort in nourishing existing relationships?

Whether we blame our not-being-able-to-talk-to-our-parents on the convenient “generation gap”; or declare that our lives are too hectic to spare some time for get togethers with friends; or say that it is relaxing to be our uninhibited selves in the ignoramus chat dominion, I think there’s something missing in our lives. It is subjective for each individual in those chat rooms but that elusive “something” is what they all seem to be running after.

Taking stock of reality

My four hours of chatting experience in one night revealed a lot to me. I went there with a desire to know what it was all about, but for so many others out there it is a part of their daily regimen. They log in every day hoping to find that missing link. I realised that even in that crowded room each person was lonely. Everyone wanted someone to talk to.  There was such a crazy need to be noticed. To somehow attract attention. It was poignant to see strangers turning to each other for solace from the harsh realities of life. And as much as some of you might find the entire experience to be an exciting, fun thing to do, I was saddened. Ironically enough the room was called “Friends Forever”.

I agree that the daily grind is monotonous. I accept that making new friends helps us grow. But this entire episode made me understand one thing: A virtual relationship might provide the answer to your despairing needs but nothing can beat a real hug from a real friend.

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