Postcard from West Bengal

Shot this in West Bengal’s Purulia district. The colours come from the setting sun, the depth from the water, the swag from the boys who reveled in front of the camera, which by the way was a phone called Google Pixel.

Edited in Snapseed. Yet it’s amazing to see how good the phones have become at clicking photos.

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Some thoughts on Fake News

Fake news is trending. Like literally. It is trending because people love it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and god knows where. It is also trending because people are talking about it, what it is and what needs to be fixed to fix it. This is a thorny problem. And people are giving it all the attention it deserves, within the regular, traditional, newsrooms and inside the companies like Google and Facebook that call themselves platform (it’s another matter that they are media companies).

Recently I was part of a discussion on Fake News. Just a casual chat among some people from the news industry. A lot was talked about but I think there was one point that no one brought up. The problem of the fake news is also the problem of diminishing authority of journalists and their vanishing role as gatekeepers.

Never before in the history of news, the news has been defined by readers. It may sound rather elitist, but the truth is that what is news and what is not has always been defined by journalists who have played the role of gatekeeper. That is until now. Now, due to multiple factors, primary of which is the role of platforms like Google and Facebook that treat all information equally whether it is fake or real, whether it is significant or trivial, whether it is half truth or a detailed analysis, whether it is nuanced or sensationalist, the news no longer has a gatekeeper.

Instead of gatekeepers, now we have the guiding lights in the newsroom and one of the these lights that shine the brightest is the page views.

So earlier, journalists used to chase stories or report something with the hope of changing the world. Now they do something particular because that will be read. And what gets read may not be the real news, or the important news. People, the masses in all their collective wisdom rarely care about what you will call “important news”. Instead they care about the news they can use, or something that will entertain them.

This is also the reason why Facebook’s new tool to report fake news is doomed to fail. This tool gives people an option to flag off a news item they believe is fake. Essentially, it hopes to give people an ability to play the role of an editor, who will fact check and ensure that a news story matches some quality guidelines. Unfortunately, readers can’t do it. Not en masse.

As unfortunate as it may sound — or elitist — readers can’t be editors. They just aren’t cut out for it. Not only most of them can’t distinguish fake news from real, for variety of reasons, they also can’t be expected to vote right on a story.

I don’t really know what can solve this issue of fake news. I do have some ideas but whether they are feasible or not, I don’t know. What I know for certainty is that this issue can’t be solved by masses. News is not a program where you can say that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow…”. News is not software. News is not algorithm. News is something very different, very complex. Newspapers or a website is not something that masses can run because if they do, or when they do, you are always going to end up running into this problem of fake news.

Some thoughts on Fake News

J M Coetzee at his raw best

From Waiting For The Barbarians.

My torturers were not interested in degrees of pain. They were interested only in demonstrating to me what it meant to live in a body, as a body, a body which can entertain notions of justice only as long as it is whole and well, which very soon forgets them when its head is gripped and a pipe is pushed down its gullet and pints of salt water are poured into it… They came to my cell to show me the meaning of humanity, and in the space of an hour they showed me a great deal

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Over-rated Sapiens

Everyone in Silicon Valley seemingly loves Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind, a book by Yuval Noah Harari. Not only they love it, they recommend it. All the time. It’s one of the rare books that find mention on the recommended list of both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

I picked it recently, seeing all those recommendations popping up all over the web. Interesting book with some brilliantly funny lines. Also it is fairly accessible, except in the middle where it sags. But in the big ideas it is somewhat lacking. No, it’s not a bad book. Please go read it, because occasionally it is really good. When it talks of the role of language in the human evolution or how humans benefit from creating things out of thin air, such as gods and money, this is compelling read. But overall little over-rated.

Over-rated Sapiens

The age of ignorance

Why don’t people read any more?

Or watch something? Something with dragons in it? Or maybe clips of just a couple of dogs rolling around in dirty. Or an old men rolling sushi. Isn’t that beautiful? Or why don’t people listen to something? Something nice. Or just something raucous. Some noise that has been deliberately made. Or may be a catchy tune that someone strung together with love. Or with passion.

People don’t read books. Or essays. Or even the product descriptions on the bottles of shampoo. It’s not that they have to always read and re-read Lolita. Or War And Peace. Not everyone wants to follow Ahab as he hunts his nemesis. Or want to catch the kids running through the fields of rye. Understandable. But you must read something, somewhere, anything that will not be appear as the objective type questions in an MBA entrance exam. Or someone somewhere must listen to the sounds as the old lady builds the stairs to the heaven. Or the must listen to the babble made by guards all along the watchtower.

But no one does.

People don’t read.

They don’t watch.

They don’t listen to anything.

Not even pop culture finds any takers.

Know they do not why someone talks this way. Or that.

Get know they do not what goes on in the galaxy far far away.

How in the world, where everything that has been conjured by humans is just one click away, does it work? It was never easier to read, watch, listen. Yet, no one does it anymore.

The age of ignorance