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Monthly Archives: March 2013

THE CULTURE OF DISTRACTION: THERE IS TOO MUCH, TOO INTERESTING OUT THERE

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The short term, the temporary, the unsustained, the ephemeral and the fad define  the cultures of our times.

It is not our faults—it is the fault of our ages! Things are changing too fast and even 87 year old grandmothers have to learn to facebook. Keeping up with changing technology takes up too much time. Switching on the TV can be a relearning process every few months—unless you are a 5-year old—in that case you are born with a “reboot/update/relearn/” mental button.

To cope up with this, we as a species are responding with short attention spans.

Nothing can interest us for too long. We are no longer capable of reading a long passage. Listen to music or watch –short attention span—it is the immensity of the range of things that can distract us.

Never has the Now been so important as today. Is it surprising that tradition cultures are loosing their role in out lives? How much of our times everyday—10%, 5% or less do we spend on practices/ activities that we have inherited from our ancestors?

Is it surprising that YouTube with its new minutes of videos is the perfect cultural medium for us? Guess how many people have seen Charlie Bit My Finger on YouTube?

Or Psy’s Gangnam style—that supreme example of random popularity based on curiosity about how supremely bad/good is bad style + confidence that comes with total lack of self-evaluation.

I admit it is so bad that it is extremely good—just like Sarah Jessica Parker, that classic example of beauty that is extremely ugly and ugliness that is extremely beautiful.  These are categories all by themselves and a lesson.

A conclusion about the culture of our times:  We cannot handle the constant flow of brilliance, smartness, merit and genius. So, the best way to be really good is to be really bad.

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Resetting the Time Zones and Bio-Clocks: What it means to be Human today

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Once upon a time, people use to rise with the sun.  The night sky was for poets and astronomers. Everyone else would be in bed. Today, I might talk to my best friend who lives on the opposite side of the earth; or my job demands that I match my working hours with a country half way across. Or I could be between 14 years to 24 years if age. I just cannot sleep at night.

And yet I do not remember what the night sky looks like. Not only because all our electricity lights up the sky, but also because time zones have become blurred with the life that has shifted over from the physical to the virtual. Night is the time when I live, work, entertain, interact and socialize.

Larks are evolving into owls. And evolution being what it is, sometimes it slows down. In this case, it has taken is less than 25 years for this very fundamental change in our habits and cultural practices.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN TODAY: Passive Beings of Virtual Communities

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If the first element in our redefinition is that we are technological beings, then the next characteristic is that we have become virtual. We live not where we are physically, but on the internet.

The other day I received a question from Facebook, “Do you know Eshani Mongia?”  “Well, yes!” I wanted to retort, “I should. My daughter lives in the same home as me!”

I gave it some good thought and decided I should not publish my ignominy. Facebook’s faceless technology was telling me that I would no longer have friends and family if I was not on it.  Our community and the games we play are now on the web and not our unknown, unnamable neighbors. Our communities too are virtual.

We do not need to think, the web thinks for us.  It has all the answers, all that could possibly be thought of is already on the internet. The music we could have composed, the songs we could have sung, the paintings, the poetry all is done by someone or the other. Before you think of it, it is on Youtube. Gone are the days of lonely geniuses polishing their skills and occasionally dying undiscovered. Today, they are discovered before they become geniuses and most likely it is a 12-year old.  For here is another key quality of contemporary human beings:

Since 99% of us have become such passive receivers of anything and everything from the internet, we are reactors, not creators.  Except the 1% prodigies so driven that they have to create by the time they are 12, burning out by 17 and getting totally lost by 21.

The individual’s culture is of reception, not of creation; not of time-tested inheritance; but of imitation. Our cultural concerns of the day are now doodled on Google.  It is easy to notice Google’s topics: historical figures who are relevant today, scientists, rebels, thinkers—not saints, religious holidays or such traditional stuff.

All indications say that Culture has lost its root in religion, and by implication in the past. If Christmas is doodled, it is for having shifted to the supra-religious sphere where it merges with the global party that celebrates the coming of the new year.

In this new global culture we are developing, we are loosing not only a lot of deadwood—which is always a good thing—but also the rich nuances of localized culture.

The paradox of our virtual lives is that we are never more lonely nor more connected.