Going Antisocial with an Unsmart Phone

(Note: This is the edited version of my recent Facebook rant)

It’s more than a month since I went antisocial with my phone! Yes, I decided to break free from the social pressures caused by the phone and this decision was primarily triggered by the misuse of an old smartphone recently provided to my now-teen-son who obviously tried to emulate his parents in terms of the best practices of using a smartphone!

In a sudden attempt to set the right example to him (and prove to the immediate world around as well) I, the self proclaimed role model of my son, uninstalled WhatsApp and Twitter apps in quick succession and then removed Facebook & Google Plus accounts from the phone. This was followed by disabling notifications from all apps except email and text messaging which are like bare necessities for the time being. The phone is now used for basic telephony, text messaging and voluntary reading of news via some apps alone! Of course, there is occasional use of maps, camera, portfolio apps, fitness assistants and web browser – all at will – and hence it’s not competely an Unsmart phone yet.

After the initial phase of violent withdrawal symptoms, I must say that the life is coming back to normalcy and very peaceful right now with no urge to stare at the phone all the time or keep swiping on the screen without any particular intent. However, there is both good and bad attached to drastic decisions such as quitting social apps, under-utilizing the phone and turning the clock back by a few years.

The following are some of the positives that I already see by getting rid of social apps and unwanted alerts on my phone.

(+) Suddenly, I am no more hiding from the co-passengers in the lift with the help of the big smartie and even better – I am able to establish eye contacts with them and even smile at them. Wow! I am still social in real life too.

(+) No more weird movement of my index finger along the imaginary unlock pattern of the phone which used to happen earlier even when the phone was not in hand. This symptom was more like those cricket addicted kids doing an imaginary Rahul Dravid style front foot defense with the full-face blade, at an imaginary ball delivered at them. If the phone was in hand, the indication was primarily a sequence of unlocking the phone, swiping the home screens / launching any app, and then locking the phone.


while (awake) {
/* for no particular reason */

(+) Better interaction with the family while at home or away in an eatery, event or outing. The focus changes back to enjoying the moment than capturing and sharing the moment immediately to get likes from the ones who matter less.

(+) There is no more grinning at the phone or romancing with it which used to happen earlier in public places or even while driving. Now, you are more alert without a smart phone!

(+) Not much contribution to those crowd-sourced apps that make money by fooling you into them – Not as many posts, reviews or comments while on the move and such actions, if at all necessary, happens only on the desktop or laptop.

(+) Your Internet bandwidth usage is reduced drastically with some meaningless media/videos (rated ones too) getting out of the way.

(+) Better judgement and ability to distinguish between necessity and nice-to-have things in life. Now, usage of the social media is back in the desktop world alone and hence there’s a fixed time for doing that. Further, no insomnia caused by the connected phone!

(+) Suddenly, the three year old phone seems to perform like a server! Wow, now I don’t need to support China’s economy every three years (every few months for many?) or live with their plastic dumping terrorism.

(+) No more selfies. I was never a selfie fan but I must confess that I might have taken about half a dozen in my whole life. With no immediate sharing possibility, there is no urge to capture even those rare selfies. This may also result in huge savings in the future as there’s no need to procure those Sergei  Bubka like selfie accessories.

Having said all those, I realize that there are some drawbacks as well when you suddenly decide to go against the social flow…

(-) Firstly, you are a friend or relative to someone only as long as you are connected to them socially on these apps. To be frank, I didn’t receive any wish from anybody during this Onam – via call, text message or in person – because I am no more connected and the Onam was celebrated primarily on WhatsApp. Of course, there were many Facebook wishes similar to radio broadcasts which I reciprocated with my ‘likes’. Being antisocial by choice, I coped with it in no time.

(-) You may miss some focused groups that stood for a specific, meaningful purpose. As a matter of fact, two or three WhatsApp groups out of a dozen that I had, before calling it quits, were really useful.

(-) Your decision to reduce mobile usage is effective only if your dear ones and your connected circle take similar actions. It’s sad to see a driver, typically a husband, toiling through the Bangalore traffic while the insensitive ones – typically a wife, teenage kids or colleagues in a pool – in the car contributing heavily to WhatsApp and Facebook traffic through out the journey.

(-) You are perceived uncool and outdated! Your teenager kid might even try to educate you on topics like ‘what is a mobile app?’ or ‘what is meant by software?’. And at times, it is virtually impossible to convince an adventurous youngster friend that some of us – the Software Industry veterans – had actually worked on the first generation mobile applications at a time when many of them were still in their diapers…

and finally…

(-) You don’t get to play an Arnab Goswamy by breaking a news on your favorite WhatsApp group! Now, that’s a tragedy as you lose the chance to play a hero fighting against all injustice in this world. Well, perhaps one can compensate that with some more detailed analysis on desktop social media…

– Yours Truly ‘Antisocial’

(PS: My sincere apologies to those who weren’t informed about quitting my past cool life)

Social Sites in India and the Censorship Row

Much has been talked about the recent move by Mr. Kapil Sibal, the Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology, to screen the content on the Social media sites. The ministry has asked Google and Facebook to screen their content and remove any objectionable content. This move has already irked bloggers and social media addicts (especially youngsters) and like any sensitive issue the news channels are celebrating the moment by instilling spite and going after Mr. Sibal’s blood.

social media censorship

Well, I am not a big fan of Social Media blanket censorship or blind scrutinizing. Nor am I a blind supporter of the current union Government of India or its leaders. As an unbiased onlooker (plus a social media enthusiast and blogger), I personally believe that social media giants and content aggregators could take a lot more stringent steps to curb objectionable content on the web.

The plight of the current government

I do not know what type of content Mr. Sibal has asked Google and Facebook to screen and perhaps it is even possible that his censorship list mostly contain those anti-government campaigns or pages. But one thing I can clearly affirm is that, this is the first government that had to go through so much of online bashing because it’s during their tenure (first and second term, that is) that the social media boom took place and Facebook, Twitter etc came to existence. That’s pretty much the case with other governments worldwide as well. So it’s not that we are having a worst government in the history of India but the online media and new age television channels make things very obvious and sensitive. Going forward, you can expect even worse reaction and criticism on anything – even if the subsequent governments are good – because of the very viral nature of the social media content, especially the sensitive and spiteful content. And over-celebrating undesirable content is another characteristic of the social media – Example: a minister getting slapped by an individual, a public profile thrown a shoe at him, a parliament member dancing in her own party’s meet etc gets more spicier and viral on the social media sites.

That’s where the role of censorship or screening (choose the right word) comes into picture and I firmly believe that Mr. Kapil Sibal’s move comes at the right time. However, one has to form rules and regulations on media screening for long term regardless of which government is in charge. Hopefully we can arrive at such a set of rules without harming the freedom of speech (a buzz word very cleverly used by many for airing any bullshit)

Freedom of Speech and objectionable content

A lot of Indians believe that United States is the epitome of freedom of speech and less of regulations. Many people blindly adopt whatever norms any US companies come up with while taking on its own government on their policies. I would like to ask such hypocrites a few questions.

  • USA recently banned Wikileaks for its objectionable content mainly taking on the US’s double standards itself. What do you think about it?
  • Your own country’s map is flawed (without Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) in all maps published by Google and other international establishments? Why didn’t you ditch Google for that?
  • You share your personal data with Facebook. Don’t you think a US company with the intention of building the personal data collection of all the people on earth could misuse the same for other purposes?
  • Forget the USA. Do you know that Scotland Yard had banned several hundred facebook pages of anti-government protestors in UK earlier this year?

The crux is that, as a sovereign government, we could ask any foreign operator to be careful with what kind of sensitive data that they spread within the cyber space and I do not doubt the government’s intention at that. If you want to know about the kind of censorship rules that USA has please read this article on Internet censorship in the United States. Unfortunately, our legislation is yet to form good enough rules (and enforce the same) when it comes to cyber stalking. Well, we have a few guidelines and articles from the constitution but nothing yet against the kind of things that are happening now. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to screen content, to begin with, if not total monitoring and censoring which is not 100% possible.

What type of content should be screened?

Regardless of Mr. Sibal’s list, in my view, the following are the kind of content that has to be screened for in India.

Character assassination and obscenity is something that people have been exercising without any limits on social media. This includes attack on public personalities, their personal life and even doctored pictures of their family members.

Content that hurt people’s religious or regional sentiments: I get to see a lot of these things on Facebook. I sometimes do not understand why people are so insensitive to people from other religions and their sentiments.

Plagiarism: Unfortunately, blogging has become more of a business than writing itself and we get to see a lot of plagiarism in the blogosphere and content generation space. It would be great if companies like Google can do a lot more about arresting plagiarism than just tapping into the opportunity of creating more indexed content and boast about those numbers.

Software and media piracy: Pirated content spread faster on social media sites – thanks to its viral nature. Don’t we need to stop this?

Child access to bad content: How many of you parents have been successful in restricting kids’ access to adult and obscene content? Have you ever invested in a good parental lock software? Do you know if your under-13 child is accessing Facebook that he or she’s not supposed to?

Anti-government campaigns: Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am NOT a Indian National Congress member nor do I blindly vote for that flag. And in the democratic system we have the RIGHT to protest when things don’t go the right way. However, it is my belief that a democratically elected government must be allowed to operate instead of using the viral media to driving spiteful campaigns against them. By anti-government campaigns, I didn’t mean some valid scenarios like the Jan Lokpal campaign but I am talking about those campaign that take on the government for each and everything that they are trying to do. Unfortunately, the current opposition as well as the smaller allies within the government itself seems to be always on a blackmailing mode. It is a very bad precedence and need to be taken very seriously in the context of what’s spreading in a viral fashion across news channels and social media. Basically, we are defaming our own democracy at times. As I said, it’s absolutely fine to protest but not with the kind of foul language nor taking on the politicians family members or even their private parts (believe me, I have seen real nasty comments!)

Objectionable activities: On top of screening the content, there are number of activities that happen over the Internet which is banned by law in India. One example, I can think of is earning foreign currency via online activities and never paying taxes for the money earned. The other activities include online forex trading, gambling etc which is banned by law. There are quite a number of people who are doing such illegal activities that need to be curbed. There are even more dangerous online activities such as fake viral marketing and money chain schemes.

Well, that was my view on what the government should be doing in terms of screening the online social activities. Nobody is talking about a complete social media censorship like what China is doing but some amount of restrictions are good for all, I believe! By the way, it is not only the social media that needs to be controlled but some of our sensational news channels as well. All of you may recall how our sensitive live television coverage on the Mumbai terrorist attack actually helped the terrorist to kill more people and fight longer.

Have a good and safe social life! And trust me, if your thoughts are good, you don’t need to be monitored by anybody. Finally, don’t misinterpret the Freedom of Speech!

Facebook disadvantages

facebook-icon-logoWith social networks (SocNets) and online life taking precedence over real life (offline) face to face meetings, there are a number of changes that all of us are going through without us even realizing it. The convenience of getting connected to people without physically moving anywhere is probably a good thing to have, so is the power to get updates and happenings around your near and dear ones’ lives. SocNets also help people find jobs, promote their products and services etc. I am not really overlooking all those good aspects. However, there are so many disadvantages that probably will make the facebookers altogether different human beings who might be losing certain good things and experiences in life.

Negative impacts of facebook (and SocNets in general)

I am not sure if everyone feels bad about the negative aspects of SocNets, but I personally feel nervous at times at the very thought of exposing and risking everything online. The following are some of the disadvantages of social networking.

Lack of privacy

Even with the best privacy settings available, you are still airing your private information to the web. And sometimes your friends’ friend is not exactly the nicest person around. For example, I do have a lot of people from the blogging world connecting to me, but my real life friends may not like me sharing their information with these strangers, right? In a way, everybody out there on a SocNet is letting each other dig into others private life.

Facebook is selling you

An extension to the privacy problem is the way in which facebook is collecting your data and selling it to external applications and organizations. This include, facebook games, apps, and agencies who are interested in the demographic data of millions of people. We even share our photographs online via facebook on which they have the full rights to share with others.

It’s a relationship spoiler

With all these SocNets coming in, people have stopped connecting with each other via visiting them. People even hesitate to pick the phone and talk to their dear ones. Please note that humans are originally programmed to communicate with each other via our five senses and not via keyboard and mouse.

If things go at this pace, it may be even possible that husband and wife and their kids will sit in their respective rooms under the same roof and communicate via facebook.

The other problem is that, even though, it’s easier to be in touch with your facebook friends initially, as the list grows you have to either find more time to track everyone, or neglect many of them. And many times, your priority friends or relatives get missed out.

Reduced soft and communication skills

Many people who are addicted to facebook are either already introverts or they are becoming one. They are losing their communication and presentation skills further by only typing in stuff.

Wasting human resource

Mobile phones and social networks are two major challenges that many employers are facing at the moment as their employees’ productive time at work is rapidly reducing with all these distractions. In countries like India, the social networks and mobile phones are even used for the wrong purposes. Some people use social networks like IMs (Instant messengers) just like the SMS misuse in India. And when the mobile phones are enabled with facebook, it’s a double whammy! Basically, even while on the move, people are distracted.

Cyber stalking

With people connecting with real strangers, the number of cyber stalking and related crime rates are growing at an alarming pace. Many times it’s the teenagers who get cheated when they actually meet the real face behind facebook. There’s been cases of murder, cheating and blackmailing, after people got too close with their facebook lovers. Of course, there are cases with happy endings as well.

In most cases the teens’ parents don’t even know with whom they are communicating and what all activities are they doing online. Inability to monitor kids completely is a big issue. I mean, they expose themselves to the whole world but their parents.

Lighter side of facebook

If used in moderation, facebook or any SocNets can be fun provided that you are using it at a predetermined time and duration without really getting addicted to it. The following are some of the standard behaviors of facebook addicts.

  • Standard comments on photos (especially in India): ‘Very nice family photo, all of you look great 🙂
  • Some people join facebook only to keep ‘like’ing others updates and photos as if their puters don’t have keyboard. Some others don’t even ‘like’ people they just created a facebook account to watch what others are up to
  • Good looking women – hoping that they have posted their original photo – generally get a lot of friend requests – surprisingly even from married middle-aged men
  • Some people use FB only to redirect their tweets (from Twitter) and spam links to facebook
  • Things that girl and boy wouldn’t talk directly face to face is done via facebook. In other words, many facebook super heroes are super zeroes in real life
  • …add yours here…

Over to you

Could you share what have been your facebook experience so far? Do you think, social networks are causing some social problems along with the advantages that they offer? Are you addicted to facebook?

Happy networking!