Online Dating and Ghosting

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I already have written a lot around technology and how it permeates our lifestyles as they are today. So, by accepting the new ways in which we communicate, I want to get to the heart of the matter, no pun intended. Digital channels of communications have evolved a great deal. Having started with email, then AOL/MSN, Skype, Blackberry messenger, now we look to apps like WhatsApp, and now Facebook messenger. Over time these chat platforms have advanced with regards to the functionality they provide. Concurrently, with the rise in online dating, email-style communications have morphed into chat-style dating. Location services on our phones are used on an app-based environment to leverage our complex lives, lack of leisure time and shortening attention spans into making way for potentially successful attempts at a dating life.

Yes, I know, technology is meant to help us out. It’s why Tindr, Okcupid or Grindr for that matter have been great platforms for people to interact with each other on, especially if one has moved to a new city. The world is a lot smaller now. But friendship is not all what people are seeking on there now, is it? When seeking a partner or a relationship,  how does using a bunch of filtered photos and ‘barely-there’ profile descriptions culminate into a true representation of oneself? Yes, it’s already a gamble trying to put yourself out there in the digital dating world. You never know if whatever you come cross is truly honest. There are mixed agendas and expectations at play too. Despite hearing about some success stories of couples having met on an app, most find their first-date experience anything between alarming to disappointing. Wait, I skipped a step – the courting. Is that even a thing these days? The moment you sign on, there is already a competition for attention with hundreds of other profiles within the app.

You got a message from someone you swiped right on? Congratulations! Short-lived though. For there is no way to know what exactly about your pictures or profile got them interested in you. Should there be any initiation of a chat, a milestone on its own, you may just a ‘pass-time’ profile to talk to only to be ghosted later. They never replied to your last message in a lively chat for over a week? Yeah… you’re toast. With a reducing span of attention, appreciation only for the superficial and competition playing spoilt sport, even if one manages to score date # 1, it only serves as a platform for both parties involved to then live up to each other’s expectations in person. Those that are built on perceptions from a digital profile! If you don’t match how they imagined you to behave, sound, talk and move like, it’s all downhill from there. One is expected to put on an entertaining show of the most colorful sides to their personality – be funny, intelligent and engaging all at once – never mind the awkwardness of meeting a stranger for the first time on a date! That is some pressure to perform!?

I believe the online dating experience varies widely for different people. I’ve been called photogenic on innumerable first-dates. You hear a compliment, I hear a critique. Because what they really mean is – you look nothing like your photos! Personality won’t even be given a fair chance at that point! After all, date option #12 is blowing up their phone as they think of an exit strategy. The same applies to those who don’t have a great experience because they look better in person than in photos online leaving them ignored on apps. Those people fare better in organic settings like a party or a social mixer/gathering. Online dating doesn’t yield the best results for them. Between these two extremes, there’s a whole bunch of superficial factors one is judged on before being swept to the left side of a screen – forget about actual interaction.

Every person is reduced to a digital avatar and we treat each other as such – a disposable digital waste. As though there is no real person on the other side with actual feelings. This desensitization of emotion in interactions through a screen as an interface also is reflected in the quality of conversations one experiences during dates. Most rely on the time lag ‘texting’ allows you to have a ‘personality’, through perfectly crafted responses. Those are the ones who come up short in skills to converse in person. The more digital our lives become, interpersonal skills and social cues are on a accelerated decline, especially when looking at the younger lot. If one manages to progress beyond these hurdles and are actively seeing someone – we’re talking date # 5 & beyond as a phase when real layers of personality and backgrounds are being discovered – should any qualities seem undesirable, don’t expect a conversation about it.

Do, however, expect a seemingly adult human being to completely drop off from the planet… Because it is way better to “ghost” the one you are seeing with radio silence. As being direct about one’s thoughts is so daunting and anxiety inducing, you’d rather make it about not being able to deal with having a conversation and just jump out of the window – figuratively speaking – gone! With no accountability factored in whatsoever, the sense of closure one might seek with simple words like “Hey, it was nice getting to know you and you are a solid person. But I don’t think we’ll work out beyond friendship or at the very least we can stay connected as acquaintances” – never comes. You can be left to figure it out all on your own. What kind of a person isn’t mature enough to have that chat? All the while, claiming to be LTR oriented (a.k.a long term relationships) – where communication is the only key to sustain the dynamic between two interested parties! To those folks I say – think again about how you present yourself. Mean what you say, say what you mean – that’s juts basic integrity.

In this digital age, I’d rather give up apps on phones, trade it in for hanging out at a bar with friends, or meeting people out and about at house parties or find clubs that host activities that are an area of passion  – so that it allows for a connection with others over a shared interest to bond over. Meeting new people in one’s unaffected natural state of being versus a clinical, dismissive and sterile way of going about dating. Not to say there aren’t exceptions out there, but there are only so many frogs one should be willing to kiss, before finding their prince.

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What kind of a world are we passing on to our children?

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Preface: It’s been a while since I wrote on the blog – I’m sorry but a lot is happening with the world and I needed to introspect on a deeper level and present my reflections cohesively. So here goes…

Why was I brought into this world? Why did I want to grow up so fast? Wasn’t innocent ignorance such a childhood bliss? Growing up and learning facts about history feels like an adults’ prison and watching the world as it currently strands lends itself to a perpetual helpless feeling. With the Paris agreement in shambles, and Qatar being scapegoated as a poster child for Terrorism by the Saudis, a completely corrupt imbecile is posing as the leader of the free world and questionable motives of the Russians unravelling to a world being divided on differences and perpetuated hate, the question that arises in my mind is – How did we get here?

Just like in a corporation, when external factors change much faster than internal systems can handle, change management is needed with the help of a true leader who can commandeer teams in the right direction. The world order has been needing a systemic change for a quite some time. But most governments are not being able to their job to their full potential, stifled by greedy and self-serving officials permeating through every level of the hierarchy all across international borders. Makes one wonder why that is and always has been? Why doesn’t it change? What will it take for a real change to come?

Since the earliest known civilizations known to mankind, one thing has become very clear – the initial drive for survival in man seems to always later progress to wanting more resources like land, wealth and capital. The Mesopotamian and Harappan civilizations were also eventually invaded because of their sheer prosperity. Through time we have seen kings, emperors and authoritarians repeat this cycle over and over – waging wars for more of those resources in the name of securing the future for their subjects or worse still, due to petty issues like ego and jealousy. Today, we seem to think of ourselves as civilized, yet so much is still wrong with world. If we really take a moment to take a few steps back and see the bigger picture, we will realize that we’re now instead at the mercy of those who abuse the power of their position. Which is not unlike notorious authoritarian rulers seen in the Arab World or even through the British colonial experience that still has visible and tangible effects impacting those regions. The common theme is flawed leaders who are unable to handle their responsibility, their minds corrupted by the drug-like high from their position of control, rendering them impotent in causing real beneficial change for the ones they swear to protect. The model of kings running kingdoms may have gone away, yet it still exists in the form of influential figures running the show behind the scenes.

In the ‘so-called’ modern world we find ourselves to be a part of system that, although initially built for better governance of larger clusters of land that we today call cities, states or countries, are now in the hands of those who abuse their influence to advance their own wants at the expense of the general public’s needs. All the while corporations profit by puppeteering such politicians by sponsoring and funding their campaign activities – of course, all of which comes with the proverbial ‘strings attached’.  It’s not a surprise today when words like collusion and espionage are thrown around like candy in the news, thanks to all the ‘leaks’ that happen on the most revolutionary medium of communication that exists in our time – the Internet. I don’t know whether or not to thank Snowden or Assange to having started the trend of ‘truth sharing’ – not unlike the storyline explored in the critically acclaimed show Mr. Robot. How could these malicious intentions prevail despite all the laws that are supposed to stifle such behavior? The Anonymous group exists to throw light on exactly these issues – to make the world snap out of its cycle of illusion and see the real story that plays out right in front of us.

Recently, having watched the Planet Earth series of documentaries, I have had to reflect even further and draw from the teachings of the ancient Vedas from Hindu mythology – books that were written 5000+ Yrs ago (way back in the B.C.’s). The lesson learnt from there is that Good and Evil are two sides to the same coin, just like the fine line that draws the difference between use and abuse of power. It is also believed in Hinduism that man isn’t inherently evil, that it is rather perpetuated by the corrupting nature of being in the role of a leader and capacity to influence that comes with it. Surprisingly, this theme was explored in the recently released movie, Wonder Woman.

Think about it – humans are just one of hundreds and thousands of other species on this magnificent planet. How did we get so egoistic, that we leveraged our brain’s capacity to think, create and speak languages into all kinds of conveniences for mankind to thrive at the expense of other beings? Mass production and all its related problems exist only due to human over-population. It’s a vicious cycle that feeds into itself. There is a belief out there that instead of living longer, we humans are actually dying longer – and I agree with this. We are too many and living longer than originally meant to.

We keep reproducing more of ourselves due to social conditioning. We continue to poison our natural resources that later manifest as cancer or heart & lung diseases in our very bodies. We keep extending our life expectancy through medicine and science – not unlike how viruses grow resistant to anti-biotics. We continue to destroy the natural habitat for all the other co-habiting creatures. Don’t even get me started on greenhouse gases that come from sheer beef production (which exceeds the emissions from the auto-industry – just FYI), that we claim we ‘need’ to feed our planet. Finally, Netflix is ‘sort-of’ addressing this issue with its Korean movie Okja. We need more self-awareness around how each of our individual choices affects the world.

Our very real impact in the present moment and our simultaneous complete insignificance with respect to the timeline of earth’s existence as a planet, are important thoughts to carry together in our conscious awareness going forward. I might have to agree with Republicans when they say humans don’t have the capacity to bring about the ice age again. It’s true! The Earth won’t get destroyed by our actions directly. The earth will heat and cool and everything in between just like it has over millennia. It will continue to exist, we might not though. Because it’s not climate change itself, but its effects that will bring about our downfall as a species. The only living species that can take us out are microbes. Reportedly, ice caps carrying dormant diseases frozen deep within are slowly thawing with rising world temperatures, making the threat of a bio-hazard by re-awakened bacteria very real. And medicine won’t always be able to outpace their mutation capability. We are doing such a fantastic job of making sure we wipe ourselves out! Is this the world we want to bring new babies into? The ones considering really need to ponder over this reality.

So, what will it take for us to stop being the cancer that we are to this huge, magnificent and beautiful organism of a planet that we were blessed with? What will stop us from ending up in scenarios shown in movies like the Hunger Games and 2012 – where only the top 1% get to live with all the safety, security and luxury? To put it in extremes, only a foreign threat like an alien attack seems like something that could unite humanity into one cause. But, if hypotheticals are to be excluded, the only solution I see is to adhere to basic human empathy and compassion for other beings and creating systems that help shift the balance of power to an even plane, along with efforts in reducing the impact humans have had on multiple ecosystems through selfish behavior. We have to get over our obsession over ‘things’ and care about acheiving positive impact goals for living beings the world. Else, it might be too late to realise that there are species, like bacteria and viruses that are far more resilient and essential to the world, which will still be around for another 100 million years, long after we are gone and with it our sense of supremacy over other living beings.

What’s the purpose of our lives?

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Why are we here on this planet? What are we even doing here? Is there any purpose for our lives? I’m confident that most readers have tried to answer these questions at various points in time as we all grow older. I have been trying to answer these too. At the age of 28, coming from an Indian background, with all the teachings and wisdom of ancient scriptures seeped into me, through Hindu mythology early on and eastern Zen philosophy later as an adult, I can conclude that the answer may be a simple one. And yet not. However, I shall attempt to explain the process that lead me to it.

We all seek happiness for ourselves and our loved ones – in health, wealth and relationships. We spend our lives working hard to make sure that we achieve those goals. We work long hours and try to time-manage our way through life – week after week. To what end though? Life doesn’t seem to get any easier, bad things don’t stop happening to good people, the pain and suffering doesn’t seem to wane away. We can’t seem to escape things that bring us down. Take the feeling of terror that washes over us with every news notification our phones alert us to as an example. So why should we continue doing what we do?

The answer lies in a simple concept derived from the Vedas. Pain and suffering are just as much a part of life as happiness and joy. They are opposite, yet two sides of the same coin. When I dug deep to understand the full meaning of this, it occurred to me that life is a summation of all our experiences. The hurdles that one faces in their pursuit for happiness are also part of the process. Once we accept this reality, we can have a better attitude towards life. For happiness would cease to exist without sorrow. We cannot value one without the other. Extremes will always exist – the “haves” and the “have not’s”, the rich and the poor, joy and pain.

We may want a lot of things. And the search of those things may even bring a lot of anxiety and frustration. But the flip side to that is: What have we given? See, for it is only when we find this balance will we lead richer lives. But, how do we go about achieving this balance? There is a reason why Yoga and meditation are fast becoming tools to deconstruct and understand the art of living. It’s because they provide us with the tools to center ourselves – to find a balance, a level headedness, a clarity over our needs versus desires.

Similarly, trying to restore the balance between all the good and evil we see today is the inherent key to answer the big question posed in the title of this very article. When there is excess of any one thing, even if it seems good, by default it will turn into evil. Think of money, power, and influence. All these could benefit someone with no resources. Provide more of the same to those who already have it, and watch evil take birth in the form of greed for more. The gluttony of burgeoning corporate interests on one end against the backdrop of starving children being trafficked on the other paints a polarizing and devastating picture of where humanity stands today.

We all may feel that we need more and that we deserve more. Do we really though? This disillusioned cycle of perpetually growing needs and wants is what has brought about the imbalance we see in the world today. For if we all could just work towards channeling all our excesses or surpluses (whether its time, effort or monetary contributions) towards the deficits of those who have no voice or the resources to change their helplessness – the balance of the world could be restored.

Idealistic, as that sounds, it is the only way. Movies like The Matrix (The Blue Pill/Red Pill Choice) and shows like The OA (all the afterlife scenes) dive into this topic in a very subtle way. They all refer to the wisdom derived from ancient philosophies described in Hindu Vedic books. It’s all about choice. Whether we choose to live in the illusion of material things OR we choose to attempt restoring the imbalance in the world – as the purpose of our lives. I ended my previous post (Jan 2017) with a call-to-action to effect change. As an example of walking the walk, and not just talking the talk, I wanted to give you all a recent example of this.

In Feb 2017, I met a couple who had been mulling-over the idea of hosting a fund raiser for Syrian refugees and those of other nationalities. They felt the need to do something in the wake of Trump’s executive orders around immigration. Instead of feeding into the feeling of helplessness, we got together to eventually feed 30 guests with a Syrian feast to raise funds meant for resettlement of refugees. We chose action over inaction and did our part to spread the message of attempting to restore balance in this world. In simple similar ways, we all can band together as a people of the world and find causes to channel resources into.

We need to try shifting the balance of power away from greedy and evil corporate heads through individual effort for the bigger picture. If we don’t, our greed for material things will consume us to the point of no return – an imminent destruction of the world as we know it. If it is humanity we seek, it must be humanity we need to offer. What will you choose to do? What will drive your purpose in life?

In retrospect: 2016 – A year of Realisation

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This second “In retrospect” piece might read out a lot like the first one summarizing the year 2015. The preceding disclaimer aside, I’d like to draw every reader’s attention to what 2016 really stood for. Yes, too many have claimed 2016 as the worst year for them.. Guess what? So was 2015 for a lot of us! In my opinion 2015 was a bundle of challenges thrown at us testing our resilience. This past year though, took things to another level – with major shifts in world politics, terrorist activities, carnage in war-torn regions and acts of hatred against those marginalized and treated as less than.

We spend most of our time expressing our frustrations in various ways. It takes shape of verbal vomit on twitter or a filtered profile picture on Facebook. This year made us realize that expressing solidarity for those needing support shouldn’t stop at social media platforms. The differences that divide us run far too deep for a simple social media outburst to do the trick. I’ve met friends who have shed tears over not knowing what to do to help out over key issues that plagued our minds this year like – Trump getting elected, recent attacks on the people of Syria, the shootings in Florida and Istanbul, and many other areas of concern. It seemed to most of us that the world couldn’t be more of a darker place. But what we forget is that sometimes the sky needs to get really dark before the clouds of our misperceptions on reality can clear out to make way for the light of shining stars. This year has been a major wake up call. We have had to come to terms with harsh realities of what kind of a world we are living in. Those of us that live in privilege, have had our bubble burst and how! In these times, when we search for answers and a source of light, we need to find refuge within our own drive to affect change. One good thing that has come through though is a collective rise in sensitivity towards others problems. For once, everyone seems to be alert and aware of pain that exists outside of the periphery of their own life. A bright light has been shed upon the bigger picture and what truly matters.

Key realization: Just dealing with our own individual problems and voicing opinions from the comfort of our couches is not going to cut it, a lot more needs to be done! My mother taught me that when you don’t have the key to any of the locked doors that confront you, look for windows and should you not find those either, dig your way out from underneath if that what it takes. Settling for what is unfair should not ever be the norm. We shouldn’t take no for answer. And as such, we need to look at our collective selves as the key to the solution. Together we can unite as groups of communities and give back to the world. For once, we can agree to look outside of self-interest and come together to volunteer our time, effort or contributions to local organizations that fight the good fight. It is these sources of light we need to turn our attention to and help raise awareness for those still in lost the dark. In order to do that we need to apply a simple exercise to our daily living – the 3A’s:-

Acceptance – of the reality that we face

Adapting – to the volatility that life throws our way

Action – on plans that lead to solutions that have measureable results

By simply applying these 3A’s to ourselves and as a collective society, we can affect more change than those that wield power over us – whether it’s a dysfunctional government or greedy corporations. I think we all have passed the first two stages fighting our feelings in each round. But I want to focus on action. Real and tangible action. What are you going to do to make this world a better place? Not tomorrow, not in three months… What can you do today? Look for issues that ignite your passions and frustrations, find groups and non-profits that tackle those issues and join in! A few hours a week of your time will make a difference, and you will be successful in affecting change… I can guarantee!

I’d like to end with a quote that I recently came across, it should help break the very metrics that define success in today’s times and focus on this altruistic definition – “Success is the magnitude of the beneficial footprint one leaves on society”.

I request all readers to think about that going forward in 2017.

 

Solution: An Exchange of Culture through Language

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Many American citizens along with the rest of the world are still reeling from the aftermath of November’s election results. A lot has already been said and written about it across various platforms – social media, TV, blogs and articles. It has taken me a good part of that month to process the implications for an Indian immigrant like myself, who is now living in the US. But we can’t forever feel like this. We need to ask the question: How do we not let something like this ever happen again?

Instead of dwelling on the issues and harping on about them, it is important to look at the situation from a holistic and long-term perspective. History is evidence of how a country might take a step forward in the right direction and then take two steps backwards. When that happens, as it has in the case of the US, it should make for a conscious attempt towards steering back to the direction of a progressive future. But how do we do that? What is the long term solutionIt took me a while but the solution occurred to me almost like an epiphany, although it was not my own doing. To give credit where it’s due, someone who has quickly become very dear to me asked: “How many languages can you speak, by the way?” In order to reply, I actually had to recite them as I counted on my fingers. An open palm with my right hand and a raised finger with my left, my answer was – “Six”. I must admit I was kind of surprised at realizing this about myself. To which, pat came the wise response: “Wow! You must have such a diverse perspective on so many things. I really think this country (USA) needs to make it mandatory, on a federal level, for students to choose a foreign language or two during school years. That would allow for a huge improvement on our broken education system”. This was it, the long term solution I’d been thinking so hard for all of November – Language. After all, it is the first thing that gives us a window into another culture or even a country!

I’m happy to say that I’m gradually picking up on Spanish and strongly hoping this would be language no. 7 in my repertoire. It’s given me a true window into the lives of the people I work with now and what their struggles have all been about. Implicitly, instead of raising our children to be Indian, American or from any one country, there is an urgent need to turn them into global citizens first! Coming from a nation that was ruled by the British for over 200 years (India), I found that some of the Americans I’ve encountered in my short time in the US were quite surprised and impressed with my proficiency in the English language. And it is this very proficiency that had allowed me to assimilate into my life here smoothly. In the same vein, for Americans (mainly ones from the Mid-West or central belt) to be fearless in truly being able to understand another culture, it would take a similar level of proficiency with another language. In light of the current challenges we face, simply travelling to another country for a few days’ vacation won’t cut it. Even though admittedly, that alone is a great effort in my book!

As shown in the recently released incredibly thought-provoking movie ‘Arrival’, we are truly blessed to have the ability to communicate with such a wonderfully complex tool – language. It holds within itself the key to understanding fellow human beings living across the world. Even animals don’t have that capability and they seem to getting along fine, at least within their own respective species. So how is it that with such a powerful tool at our disposal, we as humans manage to miscommunicate, misinterpret and form biases? Instead of focusing on what divides us, there is a strong need to pay attention to what makes us similar! Only when we are truly willing to put ourselves in another’s shoes in that way, will we realize that we aren’t that different from each other at all. We have the same fears, the same love for our families, loyalty for our friends, a yearning for peaceful co-existence and opportunities to thrive.

In my last post I wrote about social media and how we are abusing it as a platform. A direct illustration of this is the disruptive and distractive use of Twitter by the current President-elect that brought journalism and media outlets to their knees. He has repeatedly abused his platform to manipulate news cycles to focus away from core issues, and more towards his tantrums. Previously, I’ve also hinted at similar hateful trolling and bashing. It is key to realize that, just like an empty tube of toothpaste cannot be refilled manually, words that once leave our lips cannot be taken back. We must choose and pick our words wisely. It is utterly dangerous not to apply this kind of ‘think before you speak’ approach. Eloquence is a highly undervalued virtue. Some of the best world leaders have been exceptional speakers, President Obama included. We can all agree that Trump is far away from that persona.

However, at the same time, I’ve seen positive examples on social media as well! I’ve come across multiple YouTube channels run by people of Middle Eastern, Russian, American backgrounds – posting their reactions to Indian music videos, movie trailers and reviews for Indian films they have recently watched. Many of those videos included surveys in foreign countries about Indian personalities, where the local people had no context for who they were being asked about aided with photos, descriptive yet short bios and infographics. After watching many of these videos out of personal curiosity, I can say that 95% of the time these videos have been reactions full of positivity, appreciation, curiosity, wonder and in many cases a sense of walking away more informed, if not educated. I was amazed at the initiative and effort being made to understand and appreciate my country and its culture through the language of cinematic art. Some of these YouTube personalities had even picked up Hindi by actually watching Indian movies!

Now imagine this: If we all could take it upon ourselves to go through similar exercises in our own personal time, maybe not on a recorded video over YouTube, it could provide for a great opportunity to enable an exchange of culture and ideologies. Instead of character assassination by way of trolling on social media pages, which is the easiest and impulsive thing to do, we must choose the more invested approach of getting to know as well as understand the other side. Only then can we come together on things that we can agree on, as a nation and as a people of this world. And the onus of that effort is not on any one leader, corporation or NGO, it’s on each one of us – to take a more active role in our respective communities and local level of government to be able to represent ourselves in the best light possible on the global stage. Let’s empower our future generations to benefit from the gift of a better worldly education and instill in them not a fear for what they don’t understand but rather a spirit of curiosity, open-mindedness and inclusivity.

 

The Lost Art of Communication

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Remember the movie series “Back to the Future” from the 80’s? Even if you haven’t watched the movies, I’m sure for most readers their social media feeds must have been bombarded with memes about it this time last year. Most of these memes compared the technological advancements predicted by the sci-fi trilogy for the year 2015 versus what we have actually managed to turn into reality so far. As it turns out, we have either actually invented a majority of what the movie-series envisioned or have applied those technologies to our lives already. Except for the hover boards – there’s more work being done there.

Honestly, I could not be more in awe of what we have achieved. Virtual Reality is the buzzword nowadays – Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR are all examples of how we are looking to monetize this new advancement in consumer electronics. Our obsession for artificial intelligence has led to the creation of digital personal assistants on our very phones – take Siri for example. Combining this technology with robotics, it should only be a matter of time when robots will walk the planet among us. Movies like the Oscar nominated ‘Her’ and TV shows like HBO’s new ‘WestWorld‘ depict this very well. While you may not have watched these or don’t own any of those gadgets just yet, our virtual world has already become a huge part of our lives. Thinking that only geeks and nerds are all about making avatars on virtual reality games like ‘World of Warcraft’ is a rather limited and perhaps biased view of what is actually transpiring.

We can all agree that maintaining and keeping up with social media can be anxiety inducing and even overwhelming sometimes. In our eager attempt to share everything we are up to, we forget that posting selfies, vacation photos and funny quotes/videos show only a certain aspect to our personality. Seriously, when was the last time someone posted a picture in the middle of an argument or when crying? Clearly, all couples aren’t perpetually happy as their Facebook timeline might suggest, are they? We spend so much time projecting a vastly different perception about ourselves online all the time – just like an avatar. The only difference is that it is not a fantasy like in the gaming world. We are playing ourselves or rather a version of ourselves. It may have started with a fun and harmless feature like a ‘poke‘ or emojis but I’m worried that we are headed in a direction where all physical interactions will be replaced by digital substitutions in the future.

While we have strong opinions on things online and troll on the comments section of YouTube and Twitter posts, we have lost the art of being able to hold an engaging conversation on a simple first date! Yes, technology and the internet has made the world smaller. But at what cost? Not wanting to strike a conversation with a friend or a stranger sitting right next to you on the bus or train ride is weird. Recording an entire concert while viewing it through your phones’ camera is weird. Being in a bar or a club and not interacting with anyone else while giving undivided attention to your iPhone is very weird. We are social beings. There is a reason why solitary confinement is the most intense form of punishments for those that are incarcerated! I’m really scared for the future generation. They only seem to be on a binge of receiving and soaking information thrown at them via the screens in front of them. What about people skills? Personality development? Social etiquette? We might end up with a future not unlike the one shown in the Oscar nominated ‘Wall-E’ (as seen below). Though, I sincerely hope not!

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Have you ever found yourself in a gathering with friends or family where almost each person around the table is glued to their phone? I’ve had a group dinner where we jokingly had to put our phones away and agree to punish anyone who picks up their phone mid-meal (except when its Mom calling) by having them pay for the table at the end of the dinner. Isn’t it sad that this was the solution for dissuading my friends from engaging with their virtual world and rather be present in physical reality? Parents resort to sticking a screen in front of their child, keeping them distracted and involved enough to avoid dealing with potential tantrums in a public setting like a restaurant. Try prying it from the little one and watch all hell break loose. I dare you. These are the kids we are raising today – my feisty 4 year old niece and 7 month old nephew included. If you aren’t perturbed yet, do note that we already have digital detox retreats. Can you imagine having to send your child to a digital-rehab for being over-connected to the digital world? It may very well become a reality in the near future!

Everybody likes to have some down time, especially with the fast pace of our current lifestyles which, in my opinion, will only get crazier. With every bit of efficiency gained with computers, we have simultaneously tried to cram more tasks in our day than ever before – all in the name of productivity. I bet even if we had 36 hours in a day, we’d find a way to fill it all up with more tasks to do! Having said that, watching a little bit of Netflix before bed is harmless. But when we begin to realize that technology is ruling our lives and is taking away from the very essence of what it means to be human, it should call for a change in the way we are using, or might I say abusing, technology. Let’s learn to carefully pick and select the time when we are available to our digital worlds. For the first time in human history, we have more ways to communicate with one another than ever before and yet it can be a struggle to actually connect with one another in person. Let’s change that by going back to the basics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ignorance might be bliss, imperfect knowledge could be dangerous… But only complete knowledge is power

 

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“Don’t Know… Don’t Care”. This phrase sums up the attitude of most people nowadays. And also of the beloved comic strip character – Garfield. Go on… Google it. You will find images of T-shirts with that exact phrase printed around Garfield’s face. On the one hand, one might agree that it’s probably better to be oblivious to whatever happens around them. More so now than ever before, media has a way to focus on negative news topics and sensationalize stories that cover horrific events occurring around us the world over. Can’t blame you to switch off from all that negativity and find bliss in your own bubble. Why should what happen elsewhere matter to you, right? Why should that ruin your night’s sleep?

Empathy is a quality that is hard to come by these days. Has the over-coverage of violent attacks on innocent lives become so common place that it almost seems normal? The answer here, regretfully, might be – YES. With small screens taking up most of our time in our daily lives, where we find ways for self-gratification through number of likes a recent selfie could get us, why bother thinking beyond ourselves? But there is a need to remind ourselves that we ARE our surroundings. We live in a world so connected that the failure of the financial sector of one country can send ripples of economic downturns across continents – one of the cons of globalization.

But there is a beauty to be seen in the grand scheme of things when we begin to realise the inherent large web of interdependence that exists between us. We are a social species. There is a reason why those apps on our phones are categorized under ‘social media’. We thrive on interaction – with other humans and with animals too. No matter how independent we think we may have become OR how likes may have begun to replace a hug, but it is this very basic human need to interact that keeps us connected. It is important to remember that what happens in one part of the world, can happen right in your neighborhood too. It is ignorant to think that ‘It will never happen to me’. Because the reality and truth of the matter is – it very well can! But why should it only be THEN when we feel empathy or seek support?

Take the Orlando shooting for instance. Now, I know a lot has been written about it as a form of reactive journalism. The media cycles with new investigation pieces around the event have also begun to fade. Political agendas have come to the fore as well. When we take a moment to analyze the whole incident, it would be immature to slot it under the broad sweeping title – “An act of terrorism”. It is now clear that it was actually much more nuanced than that. Don’t let your political leanings guide basic human logic. Now, I won’t make a case for the shooter here, but consider this – Having an influential Afghan political figure as a father, a history of physical abuse and a failed marriage at such a young age while struggling with a constant inner conflict between the natural desire to act on his sexual orientation and the teachings of a religion – the values of which had been radicalized in a frustrated mind. That is a lot of push and pull to go through all alone. All the more so, coming from a culture where going to a ‘therapist’ to ‘talk’ your issues through is a non-existent concept, let alone dealing with the assumption where it might be viewed as a weak option to pursue by his community. This tells us that what happened was a result of just as nuanced or multi-layered reasoning, as it was horrible. Branding it as just one thing, when there so much more at its core that caused it all, shows us how media and politicians can paint or rather taint any event with a color of their choice. What remains true though is that it could have been prevented from happening! There were enough loopholes in the law for allowing a person going through such inner turmoil, along with proof of his access to extreme concepts of dealing with his internalized homophobia, get their hands on an assault rifle. We have seen videos or at least heard about how those groups have thrown homosexual men off of towers and even stoning them to death upon surviving the fall! How could one grow to accept themselves for who they are when such imagery being projected at them? All that inner conflict and internalised rage – it’s no wonder that Omar Mateen eventually snapped one day. I repeat, I’m not making a case for him, it is only an attempt to understand his mindset. It was more of a hate crime, probably resulting from self-hate that made him reach his breaking point, than an act of terror!

Allowing yourself to be in another person’s shoes as a tool to view things from a different perspective is KEY. The only way to do that is to continue learning and engaging with a larger environment than what we find ourselves in. When we put ourselves at the disposal of what information is fed to us and stop thinking for ourselves, it makes for dangerous territory. Seeing through the power that media cycles have over us and how that can manipulate our thinking process is very important. When we don’t know something, it provides grounds for breeding fear too.

Knowledge is Power – This is the motto of the High School I graduated from – that too in a middle-eastern city. I’m all too familiar with how messages can get lost in translation and how inner conflicts manifest in people’s behavioral patterns as observed through my own personal experience. So what should we do to empower ourselves with more information? Take up a language class. Read up on history of a region you find yourself totally unfamiliar with. Interact with people from cultures other than your own. Have an open mind. Revel in the diversity that surrounds you. Take that as an opportunity to expand your boundaries. Don’t let the fear of what you don’t know turn into unnecessary hatred.

I urge my readers to see the problem for what it really is. Don’t let what happened in Orlando, Sandy Hook, UCLA or even Norway become the norm. Be the change and lead by example. It’s this little effort we all can make individually, that will make for a change greater than the sum of all the parts we play.