Think About It

Dignity Gritty

Amongst stories of soaring e-commerce valuations, this Mint story on Indiaplaza, and how it ran out of cash, was quite a sobering read. But it wasn’t the business angle that stuck with me long after I finished reading it. I somehow felt that all Mr.Vaitheeswaran was seeking, was a little dignity. I have no idea of what really happened, so I cannot comment on whether that is deserved or not.

A few weekends ago, we were visited by someone who is a consultant for some work we needed done at home. She charged us Rs.2000 for a couple of hours, and after business was concluded, she spoke about how, a few years ago,  she had been a VP at a well known consultancy firm. Her current business, born out of her passion, was not doing well. She wanted to get back to work but was finding it extremely difficult to land a job. After she left, I wondered aloud to D, how she must feel, having to go to strangers’ houses on Sundays, and working for a compensation far below what she might have been earning. What would this experience be doing to her sense of dignity? More

Inequality & Technology

A few weeks ago, I’d written about inequality and the role of meritocracy in shaping its future. Another related force, whose influence has been rising rapidly, is technology. I had written about it earlier in a post – Algorithms of Wealth – and my thoughts ended in at least three directions! At least two are relevant here. In the post, I had mentioned the abundance that The Second Machine Age promises and whether the disparity we see now is an inevitable step towards that. But I had also wondered whether any notion of sustained reduced disparity is a lost cause and that as we advance further, the gaps will keep widening.

A recent HBR article titled The Great Decoupling, based on an interview with the authors of The Second Machine Age, indicates that the authors themselves now believe in the second path – while digital technologies will help economies grow faster, not everyone will benefit equally. In my earlier post I had also brought up how I had hoped that the internet would be the great leveller, and my disillusionment since then when I realised that it created its own hierarchies. (on a related note, read) More

The entitlement of the self

IMO, Season 4 of Mad Men really took it up a notch. I think it’s because the human condition started showing up much more than before. Episode 6 – Waldorf Stories – offers quite the example. <spoilers> To quickly give context to the non viewers, a flashback shows how Don Draper, the show’s lead character and a fur coat salesman then, was hired by an inebriated Roger Sterling (partner at an ad agency) years ago. Don rises right to the top, becoming a partner at the new agency that Sterling, and others form. When the agency wins its first award, Roger feels entitled to an acknowledgement from Don. When he doesn’t get it, he asks for it. Later, in the same episode, Peggy, whom Don ‘raises’ from secretary to copywriter, also feels entitled to Don’s  acknowledgment of her contribution to the award winning ad. In the first instance, Don is gracious and acknowledges Roger’s hand in making him what he is, but in the second, he is furious at Peggy.

It made me think of entitlement. I have read many an article about the millennial generation’s sense of entitlement, but maybe it’s not a generational thing at all. Maybe, it’s just that this generation expresses it more than others, and this is being documented much more courtesy the web. A point of difference is probably what is being asked for – opportunity (millennials) and acknowledgment. (earlier generations) More

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