Think About It

Cult of impersonality

Koramangala rarely disappoints. This time, it was the Uber ride, and the thoughts it sparked. From Whitefield to Koramangala, I repeatedly watched the driver refusing to learn from his mistakes. e.g. sticking to the right lane and getting stuck behind cars waiting to take a U turn, when we had to go straight. Advice was futile. This (the behaviour, not the driving!) took me in a couple of directions.

First, our species’ (generalising, of course) refusal to rethink belief systems even when new data presents other possibilities. In the last few weeks, I have seen two levels of this. One is at a (public) personality level – from Modi to Tata. While I have little reason to doubt the Prime Minister’s intent in the entire demonetisation exercise, I see the absolute lack of empathy (no, crying and listing one’s sacrifices doesn’t count) and the failure to course correct as arrogant and cruel. When multiple sources indicate that Ratan Tata’s governance wasn’t really spotless, shouldn’t he be attempting a better route than allowing the spat to be drawn into something as silly as Twitter hashtag wars, especially when the claim is that the organisation’s legacy (and not his own) is paramount for him. In both cases, ego could be the barrier. More

Dealing with the revolution

At the end of last week’s post “Understanding the revolution“, one of the points I wanted to emphasise was our individual role in dealing with it. I had mentioned two factors that I believe have led us to this point – rising inequality, and intersubjective realities. An attempt to fix also needs to begin here.

When demonetisation first hit us, I tweeted this


Understanding the revolution

No, I don’t think I am exaggerating when I call it a revolution. Relatively, it’s not a bloody one yet, but we’ve only begun. As individuals who are part of it, it is difficult for us to acknowledge, let alone grasp its consequences now. (read for perspective)

To deal with something, I first need to make an attempt to understand it, and this post is just that. To begin with, I have noticed at least two parallel forces that have worked to get us to this point. The first is privilege and increasing inequalities in society, on which I have written quite a few posts. The second is a subject on which I’ve only written a couple of posts – intersubjective reality, but its influence is equally important. Let me elaborate.

“But that’s the truth!”, I often hear, and for a while now, my response has been “Whose truth?”  For an absolutely mind bending perspective on it, read The Case Against Reality. (thanks Gautam) To massively paraphrase, we build “realities” based on the stories we tell ourselves, and this is completely shaped by our perceptions and biases. Everything we perceive is a mental representation and there is nothing objective about it. The closest we get to reality is by experiencing something ourselves, and that is inherently subjective. As Scott Adams brutally but succinctly put it, “Humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough.More

Prisons of happiness

I read a few articles recently debating whether the purpose of life is happiness or usefulness/leading a worthwhile life. The Aztecs as well as contemporary thinkers favour the latter. I am not convinced though. For starters, I think ‘purpose’s is something our consciousness insists on. The world will go on without us, it is for us to derive a sense of meaning for ourselves. And since it is subjective, I’d optimise for happiness/avoiding discomfort (I’m bunching it together for now) simply because my usefulness/being worthwhile to others around increases when I am happy.

This is a topic I have been circling for a while now – There is no middle path? was a take on happiness vs avoiding discomfort, for instance. A favorite line of thought from “And the Mountains Echoed” has been coming back to me in various forms from various people in the last fortnight. “..but most people have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.” That is essentially avoiding discomfort. More

Interfaces : body and beyond

About a year and a half ago, in An Ambient Future, I had written on how our interactions with the internet will move from switching it on (on specific devices) to an always on ambient version powered by objects beyond mobile devices (IoT) and inputs beyond touch. In the last few months, I have seen more indications of this movement.

Shipments of mobile phones are trending downwards (via) Has the potential of paradigm shifting upgradations on the mobile device peaked? It does seem so. The value, as Neil Perkin says, is shifting towards service, powered largely by AI. A word on wearables – nah! (at least not in its current form) I think it will most definitely have excellent application in sports/health/fitness, but I find it difficult to see it as a mainstream UI successor to the mobile device in terms of scale. On the other hand, Google Home and Amazon Echo (and Dash) are significant advances on alternate interfaces.

Building Slack

(no, not the product!)

Towards the end of Life Menus, I had mentioned how I have quite a ‘scarcity mindset’ when it comes to money and time. I don’t think there will be enough, and many of my thoughts and actions are influenced by this. As explained very well in Scarcity, (highly recommended book, and thanks @shefaly) this is related to tunnelling, and my ‘inability’ at a certain point in time to see the larger picture and the broader consequences of my immediate actions.

One of the ways I have tried to beat it (and the book also has a term for it) is to create what’s called slack. [Remember the space between stimulus and response quote I keep using?] The reason I’m very interested in slack is because it can not just help me maintain equilibrium within myself, but also enable some sort of control in my relationship with others.  More

Growth, Prosperity & Infinite Games

One of the things that struck me in Douglas Rushkoff’s “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus” was how much the line of thought on growth resembled the “infinite game” philosophy of James P Carse. In the former, the author explains how, as money becomes an end to itself as opposed to a means, a system built on a central currency gets into a growth trap. i.e. growth for the sake of growth. To frame it in the second book’s context, this tends to be a zero-sum game for all involved. There is a clear winner, and that winner takes all. i.e. a finite game.

Rushkoff explains how at this point in time, platform monopolies, (e.g. Amazon, Uber, AirBnB) and businesses in general, are playing finite games. And that is how growth has become the enemy of prosperity. In the second half of the book, he calls for more sustainable (and inclusive) ways of growth. This has much in common with Carse’ definition of an Infinite game, whose only purpose is the continuation of play, and sometimes, bringing more players into the game.  More

There is no middle path?

Will Durant is a pleasure to read, and it has largely to do with the succinct way in which he expresses complex thoughts, be it in history or philosophy. In The Lessons of History (by him and Ariel Durant) I found this idea particularly thought provoking –


Very intuitively, I have always thought the ideas of freedom and equality as ends which are allied. But a bit more thought, and helped by the Durants’ arguments, and it is quite evident that they aren’t. This reminded me of something I’d written about five years ago on happiness vs peace of mind. (read the very interesting comments by Surekha on it) More


A few unrelated incidents in the last month or so made me think about privacy, or rather, the lack of it. The first was news coverage on Bangalore Mirror where they skipped the standard blurring of the face of the accused/victim. I tweeted about it then.

A couple of weeks later, I read the agonising story of the woman whose picture was all over social media during the Brussels bombing. It wasn’t just her harrowing experience that bothered me, but the fact that this was an exposure she didn’t want. She had no say in the matter from the time the first photo was clicked.  More

Micro Singularity & Ethics

The Guardian long read on “How algorithms rule our working lives” was a fantastic though distressing read, about employers using algorithms to filter out candidates based on reasons ranging from mental health to race to neighbourhoods to income. This in itself has massive implications on creating and expanding class divides and closing access to folks based on biases that are arguably unfair and lacking nuance.

If we zoom out beyond work and jobs, it’s fairly easy to see that algorithms are having an increasing impact on our consumption and life in general. The biggest services in play – Facebook, (M, newsfeed items) Google, (search results, Google Now) Amazon, (Echo, recommended products) Apple (Siri) – all heavily have algorithms in play. And that brings us to biases in algorithms. Factor Daily had a couple of posts on teaching bots ‘good values‘. Slate had a great read on the subject too – on how Amazon’s computerized decision-making can also deliver a strong dose of discrimination. Both offer perspectives on how biases, both intentional and unintentional, creep into the algorithms, and the Slate article also brings out some excellent nuances on the expectation from algorithms, and how offline retail chains (selection of store locations, for instance) and human decisions compare to algorithms.  More