Think About It

A responsible meritocracy

Every story needs a hero, the one who stands up against injustice and wins. In the story of inequality, meritocracy has long been a hero. To be fair, it did quite a job, dislodging inequalities that had become systemic. But then again, to twist Ra’s al Ghul’s words “..if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely.

One entity that has been at the centre of the debate around meritocracy is Silicon Valley given its influence on the immediate environment and clones developing across the globe. A popular line of thought among those who have made it there is that they earned it all on their own and are not obliged to give anything back to society. (read) More

Ego message

I’ve been watching myself for a while now. I’ve not been really good at it, and my desire to move up to observing seems a laugh now, but it’s a work in progress. A recent experience gave me quite a lot of perspective on this. My words, humour and actions, as perceived by others, were far away from my intent. Words and humour. Somewhere in my passage through life, I picked up this armour, a defense mechanism so that I wouldn’t have to become invisible. In fact, the experience gave me a sense of deja vu, and made me think of self perception.

I recently read a fantastic post on Ribbonfarm titled ‘Ritual & the consciousness‘ that, among other things, explores the self and the ‘watcher at the gates of the mind’. Not quite along the lines in the post, but I think I have two watchers – one that represents others’ perception of me and another that represents self perception. The universe in a larger context might be indifferent, but in many environments, I realise, it is dangerous to ignore the first. I also realise that the second is, though difficult, where I can make a serious attempt to shake free.  More

For the last time

I think this idea first struck me when I was climbing up the steps of the return flight from Leh, 6 years ago. In fact, I remember pausing for just that extra moment before I made my way into the aircraft. For a change, the people behind me weren’t hustling, maybe they felt the mood too. I checked the post I’d written about the trip, and sure enough, there was a mention in the last paragraph.

The idea is that if you were seeing someone/something for the last time, would the way in which you interact with him/her/it change? Would you be nicer, kinder, more caring, more thoughtful? In the instance above, I realised I might be seeing Leh for the last time, and wanted to soak it in just a bit longer. More

Currencies of hope

In The Narratives of our lives, I had written about how, thanks to the advances of civilisation, many institutional narratives like religion, nation, culture etc have assumed increasing levels of importance in our lives, and how these (and our personal) narratives are probably our way of ensuring a sense of belonging. ‘The Age of Spiritual Machines‘, criticism on the concept of singularity notwithstanding, has convinced me on the cold, sanitised nature of evolution, so these days, I try to see what evolution’s play is, in these narratives.

Thanks to a wine-induced pop philosophy conversation, I got thinking about theism and atheism. The epiphany (for me) was that they are just two sides of the same coin, and the currency was hope. Simply put, the foundation of the theist’s hope is God, and that of the atheist’s is the ability to determine his own future. ‘Our beliefs create the world we live in’, but across belief systems, hope is a critical ingredient for man’s survival. I realised that as long as we are the dominant species, hope has to hang around, or vice versa. By virtue of providing a common imaginary friend to a sufficiently high mass, religion not only addresses our need to belong, it also gives us hope. What each of us hope for is a very subjective thing, but collectively, it makes religion a really dominant narrative in many lives. When I thought about it, I recognised an even bigger force – money. More

Immaterialism

I was in Kochi recently, and was quite happy to find Uber there! About four years ago, a similar experience led me to write about how malls create a kind of homogeneity across cities. This is probably an advanced version of that thought, because I felt as though these were baby steps towards living in the cloud. If the apps (services) I use become available across geographies, how long would it take before location became irrelevant?

“Of course geography is relevant. I have a home in Bangalore, what do I do with that?” leads me to the real point of this post – ownership. TC had a fantastic (guest) post sometime back (by Tom Goodwin) titled “The Battle is for the Customer Interface“. Quoting from the first paragraph – Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. The post, of course, moves on to the business impact of this, but I felt that it is absolutely applicable in a personal context. More

The Entrepreneur and the Professional

A fantastic article in The Atlantic titled ‘The Case Against Credentialism‘ traces the social-cultural and academic  roots of America’s current business dynamics. The part that interested me most was what the author calls the tension between the two cultures – the entrepreneurial and the professional. While both are cultures of achievement, the basic tenet of the latter is that he who goes further in school will go further in life.

It gave me an impetus to write about this in the Indian context. Nothing as exhaustive, but a little note based on my experiences thus far, with much generalisation. My skin in the game is that it affects me personally and professionally. More

Remember that we’ll be forgotten

To my pleasant surprise, an old school friend commented on my breadcrumbs and Black Swans post. I continue to be amazed by how much digital has allowed us to find and discuss shared interests. The post was around a couple of themes – whether the set of digital breadcrumbs we are leaving now (courtesy everyone being a publisher) will allow generations later to have a better sense of our history, and whether, therefore, our species will be more anti-fragile thanks to this data and the predictive analytics AI can build out of it.

My friend shared an article that talked of Vint Cerf’s warning about us being a ‘forgotten generation’. (I had read the Guardian version earlier) Essentially, his fear is that the lack of guarantee in backward compatibility of software means that documents stored many not be accessible at all. Both led me to Digital Vellum and Project Olive, which aims to establish a robust ecosystem for long-term preservation of software, games, and other executable content. More

Algorithms of wealth

Some strange quirk in the cosmic order of things led to Landmark shipping me Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First century’ instead of Rana Dasgupta’s Capital! I kept the book (yet to read it though) because economic disparity has been an interest area for a while now, I had touched upon it in the context of AI and job loss in Artificial Humanity. Reading The Black Swan has only accelerated this interest.

Taleb divides the world  into Mediocristan and Extremistan to point out the extent of predictability in the context. Mediocristan can safely use Gaussian distribution, (bell curve)  but in Extemistan, that’s dangerous. From what I understand, given that there’s no real limit upper limit of scale, individual wealth will increasingly behave in a more Extremistan way. To quote his own example, “You randomly sample two persons from the US population. You are told that they earn jointly a million dollars per annum. What is the most likely breakdown of their income? In Mediocristan, the most likely combination is half a million each. In Extremistan, it would be $50,000 and $950,000.” He states that almost all social matters are from Extremistan. More

Of Digital Breadcrumbs and Black Swans

I don’t remember where I first heard ‘Digital breadcrumbs’, but I thought it nailed this blog’s raison d’être. Pages from a human being’s existence on this planet, to be read by himself later in time, and if humanity does get desperate, maybe even by a sociologist later. :D I came across the phrase recently again in this superb post on Farnam Street blog titled  “Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture.”

To quote from it, (originally from the book Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture) “At its core, this big data revolution is about how humans create and preserve a historical record of their activities. Its consequences will transform how we look at ourselves. It will enable the creation of new scopes that make it possible for our society to more effectively probe its own nature.” Indeed, GMail, Facebook, Twitter all have ‘permanent’ records of our conversations and activities. More

An age when age doesn’t matter

While discussing a ’40 under 40′ list, I joked the other day to a colleague that my only chance of getting into one now was to reduce my weight by about 15 kg in a few years! It made me think of a strange yardstick I have employed in valuing others’ achievements – their age. To elaborate, if I came across a person who had attained a measure of success, I would be mollified if I figured that the person was at least as old as I was. If they were younger, mollified would be replaced by mortified. How dare they achieve something earlier in life?! Very strange, I know. I have quite a few theories on it – upbringing, a ‘paying your dues’ perspective, the way I have progressed in my career and what I’ve had to do, or perhaps just the result of being brought up in an age when folks worked hard all their life to attain things that we might consider a basic need now.

I gained freedom from it (or so I think) quite recently. The irony was that this realisation dawned  just after a meeting with someone whom I would say has been quite successful in his profession. As I made my way back home in a cab, I passed quite a few bus stops. It was late evening, and people were waiting for a bus to take them home.  Young people, middle aged people, and even a few old people, their faces echoing their toils. Perhaps they had a long bus ride ahead of them, perhaps they would have to stand all the way, perhaps they would have to get down midway and catch another bus. This was their life everyday, the cards they were dealt. Some might be unhappy, some would have made their peace, and some might even be happy. Their lot in life, or a bus they missed at some point in their life. Even as I had many, many things to be thankful for. So, what business did I have grudging someone because they worked hard and/or were lucky enough to make a mark early in life? More