We share our innermost thoughts on our blogs, our most personal of rants on Twitter, our most private of thoughts to a friend we’ve never met half way across the world. We are totally connected and yet completely disconnected. The person’s desk across from you - we may not even know their full name or where they stay but we know about celebrities across the world, people who we’ve never met and people we may never meet. The world has grown so much smaller but people have grown so much further apart.
Today, I was busy in conversation with a friend who confessed that in the midst of her very busy schedule and her husband’s equally stressful week - she barely got an hour with him, if that at all, every day! Sometimes their schedules were so tough, that they didn’t meet for days on end. She worried that when they eventually retired and she brought him a cup of coffee, he’d tell her he’d quit coffee 20 years ago and she wouldn’t have even realised! We laughed about how that would make a hilarious play (I have a show this weekend so everything translates into a script for me!) but it suddenly occurred to me that this is indeed a possibility! In our eagerness to share our opinions and thoughts with the world at large; maybe sometimes we forget our own, very small, personal world of a few select people who actually care. Sure some of our Facebook friends might mean well ad some of our twitter pals might even offer great advice and we should take all of it but not forget that there are people who live with you, who work across you, who meet you every day who care about you and can listen, help and make a connection.It appears that Khairy Jamaluddin had lied about the UMNO Youth Facebook page. Khairy had even lodged a police report, claiming that the person who put up the poster with the controversial remarks was “unauthorised” to do so and that the page was not the youth wing’s official Facebook page.
Technology has made human interaction so much easier in so many ways but lets not forget what it was there for- to HELP humans interact not replace the human by your side.
The day will come, very soon, when your phone will hear the sound of a crying baby and an ad for diapers will appear. Or it picks up on an argument you've had with your spouse and delivers ads for divorce lawyers, along with a dating site or two.
Sound far-fetched? Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's former director of engineering, told Technology Review that the company was exploring ways to personalize ads based on audio recognized by a smartphone's sensors, as well as location information. If Facebook "recognized music playing or even a person humming a tune, for example, it could suggest relevant online content or media purchases," wrote the Technology Review, paraphrasing Bosworth.
Facebook isn't just trying to make the world a "more open and connected place," in the words of its founder, but is pushing to make our wallets more open and connected. It is racing against countless companies trying to wield the web, as well as the information we consciously and unconsciously share with it, to do the same.
From photo-sharing apps and gaming systems to hardware makers and location-based social networks, tech firms increasingly seem to have one thing on their mind: controlling the "buy" centers in our brains.
The websites and gadgets we use have become sophisticated drivers of desire, enabling brands to hit us with a powerful double whammy: We can be pitched constantly -- and in deeply personal ways -- and we can shop constantly. The iPod put a thousand songs in your pocket, but the iPhone has thrown in the entire mall.
In 1899, sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen coined the term "conspicuous consumption" to describe splurging in order to show off. A century later, technology has introduced new forces that are reshaping the sphere of consumption. We've entered what I call the age of "continuous consumption": spending because we can -- and are encouraged to -- any time, any place.
So what happens to our inclinations if advertisers have sophisticated ways both to suggest what we're missing and to provide an immediate way to fill that lack? Whose interests will innovation serve, ours or the advertisers'?
The shift to an 'always being pitched, always purchasing' online existence is particularly glaring in the case of social outlets. The original model for social media was one in which innovation followed connection, but social media 2.0 is embracing a new model in which innovation follows consumption. "How do we more effectively connect people with each other?" has become, "How do we innovate to more effectively connect peoples' cash with companies?"
Foursquare recently announced that its restaurant recommendations will include "Promoted Updates," also known as ads, with dining suggestions from the company's sponsors. Facebook, which pitches us on Pepsi and Visa through the smiling faces of our friends, is adding more ads to the site and building a payment platform to "simplify the purchase experience," that is, to help you shop more on the site. Services such as Fancyand Svpply eliminate the life updates to focus purely on consumer fantasies: Users don't share engagement news or baby photos, just the products they'd like to buy.
Not only is advertising more intimate -- mediated by our friends, shaped by our clicks and, via phones, omnipresent -- but shopping has never been more streamlined. We can splurge without a second thought -- buy shoes from your smartphone the second you spot them on the street -- and shopping online has been sanitized of all references to real money. Downloading a free app from Apple's App Store requires the same steps as purchasing a paid one. The only way to know what I spend on iTunes is to scour my credit card bill at the end of the month. And research suggests the less contact we have with cash, the more we spend.
People aren't just opting for small ticket items when buying on-the-go: On One King's Lane, a home furnishings site, the average value of orders placed on iPhones is actually higher than those placed through its desktop site. One customer bought an $18,000 item from a smartphone.
Linking brands to the desire nerve-center of our brains and putting a mall in our hands at all times is creating unprecedented market efficiencies, which more quickly move our money into companies' coffers and feed Silicon Valley's data-industrial complex.
We've created the "perfect market," said Rashi Glazer, co-director of the Center for Marketing and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley. "We're seeing the fulfillment of the idea of frictionless transactions, where markets are totally fluid and efficient."
But what about the people on the receiving end of the pitches that get thumbs twitching toward the "buy" button? The technological progress that from one perspective looks like an important economic stimulus could, from another, inflate a consumer spending bubble built on lack of willpower and vulnerability to persuasive personal pitches. Companies promise our data will help them "reward" us for good behavior. But the behavior for which a company like Coca-Cola or Denny's wants to "reward" me may be not match my own idea of what's "good" for me. Will the incentive to save up beat whatever incentive Barney's gives me to splurge?
"We'll end up in a situation where we live paycheck to paycheck," predicted Martin Lindstrom, a brand consultant and author of "Brandwashed." "We've become kind of like gamblers, where we get hooked on the moment, which could end up in situation where we're in debt."
While the world frets over the Internet-enabled information overload it confronts, little attention has been paid to the psychological and behavioral consequences of being transformed into continuous consumers.
According to Lindstrom, we're likely to adapt to the deluge of marketing messages by tuning them out -- and each other, just as personal emails are lost amid spam and daily deals, or squeezed out on a small smartphone screen. Already, an alert on my smartphone from a company, like Foursquare suggesting a restaurant, claims as much real estate as a text message from my mother.
Marketing expert John Gerzema counters that facial recognition, location data and other Silicon Valley inventions will actually make shopping experiences more humanized.
"It returns an intimacy that we used to have before shopping malls and megastores, just like the local soda shop that knew your favorite flavor," said Gerzema. "We will be able to walk into any store and be recognized by our phone."
But where our relationship with the man behind the counter at the soda shop was personal, and depended on volunteering new information to him at each new visit, the pitches aimed at us by our smartphones are unsolicited and generated by information we may not even be aware that we're sharing. Is that intimate -- or insidious?
That sort of specific service is exactly what has many worried. Privacy advocates and even Madison Ave. ad gurus see a danger in a world where the offers and opportunities we receive are predicated on algorithms' assumptions about who we are. Companies will speak differently to different customers based on the data that's been collected about them, correct or not. Someone who comes from a more disadvantaged background and has sought out bargains online might only see ads for low-paying jobs or discount dentists, whereas a web user who frequents Saks.com and is traced to Manhattan's Upper East Side will see better positions and superior physicians. Sure, companies have always offered rewards for VIP customers. But in the future, better treatment will apply to a great many more experiences -- your wait time at the supermarket, or the price of shampoo -- and could be based on something as seemingly irrelevant as an SAT score or the number of incoming emails you receive. And while a discount at a local restaurant might seem like a nice perk, and relevant ads preferable to random ones, do customers know the price they're paying with their privacy? Probably not. Since it launched in 2004, Gmail has delivered targeted ads based on keywords in users' email messages. Yet a 2010 study of Gmail users found that less than half of users knew the email service was using personal messages to generate ads, the majority assuming that private correspondence was, well, private. Sixteen percent thought such ads would be illegal, 13 percent said an email service would never do such a thing because of the consumer backlash that would result, and Stanford University fellow Aleecia McDonald recalls that 4 percent "wrote in to yell at me because they thought the idea was so outrageous."
The idea of Facebook or another site listening in on your conversations might seem outrageous, too. But if continuous consumption continues as the driver of so much of what happens on the web, then the Internet will embrace its new personality and continue behaving in ways designed to meet that goal.
Getting a bank account is another major hassle. You need people who can vouch for you. You need specific documents (like bank statement from a nationalized bank) for address proof. And no, rent agreement as proof of residence doesn’t work. How then does one give a proof of residence when the electricity and water bills are generated in the name of the landlord, and the ID cards of private firms, bills of private telecom providers and even stamped post cards bearing the name and address of a person are not considered as proof of residence? And talking about a bank statement of a nationalized bank carrying a person’s address as a proof of residence, how can a person open a savings bank account in a nationalized bank in the first place, when all these banks have a similar requirement of furnishing proof of residence?
Christopher Soghoian is a well-respected digital security researcher, with particular focus on privacy and surveillance in the digital age. Currently, he is touring India. This is one of the first observations he made on his Twitter account after arriving in India early this month.
"It’s a police state here in Delhi. Just finding a place with public Wi-Fi is a serious effort, and then they copy my passport."
Yes, indeed it is a police state.
This blog is all about technology and, I usually stick to my domain in public discourse. But I do have a strong opinion on the way the Indian government and the Indian society demonize an individual, making even something as basic as accessing the web a Herculean task for the common man. Let me illustrate it with a few examples.
Across the world, different countries face different challenges. Especially, when it comes to terrorism, countries do all they can to mitigate the risk. The US is one example. But no nation does it at the cost of its own citizens. No free country harasses, and humiliates, its own citizens. Civilized nations make sensible laws that deal with the root of the problem and do not enforce mindless diktats.
In India, however, taking a problem seriously and working towards a solution is something that interests no one, least of all politicians and cops. Instead, all we get are stupid cyber café, photocopy and courier rules. These rules don’t deter terrorists or fraudsters. The country still suffers terrorist attacks and the number of crooks is arguably the highest in India. But these rules do make living life in the capital of India a hell.Accessing web in Delhi
Look beyond the offices and the homes. If you don’t have the internet at home or at the office, you are going to access it through a cyber café and that is going to be major hassle.
First you require an ID card. This is a police requirement that is supposed to track terrorists. Unfortunately, we are yet to see a case where this requirement has managed to stop a terror attack in India. But it sure leads to a lot of harassment of genuine customers. Why? Because every café owner has his own idea of an ID.
Some want only a government-issued ID. Some insist upon an ID with a photograph. And there are some who have a fascination for your passport or driving licence – nothing else will do. I mean, just to check a mail, which will take 5 minutes, you have to fill in a form (particulars in a register) and submit a copy of a “proper” ID.
Getting a prepaid number
Once again, this is a security measure. And I feel it is quite appropriate. But most free countries, even countries that suffer due to terror, don’t require documentation from their own citizens. Tourists may be required to provide passport or visa copies. And I am sure there are better ways to it. After all, in India we even need to file an FIR and submit a copy of it to get a new SIM if the earlier one had been stolen. Totally ridiculous!
In Delhi, it is almost impossible to get a colour photocopy of a document. Apparently, photocopy shopowners have been asked, from what I am told, by the police not to give out a colour photocopy of ID cards and marksheets, etc. This is aimed at discouraging fraudsters. But, obviously, it turns out to be a major hassle for the common man.
Not only are the rules retarded, there is an ambiguity about them, so no one really knows what the rules are and in most cases is at the mercy of the shopkeepers. In one case I was even refused printouts of my bank statement and salary slip. The files were in my pen drive and the shopkeeper said that because people could modify these files, he would not give the printouts.
Can’t courier half of the items
Recently, I tried sending a packet (around 9kg) to some acquaintances in Hardwar. First of all, courier companies in India open any package you are sending. This is a security requirement. But it is also a privacy issue. If security is so paramount why can’t these companies put x-ray scanners, the way they do in other countries? Maybe because in India neither police nor governments give a damn to privacy.
Cut to the chase, I went to a DHL courier in Connaught Place. The courier guys opened the packet and then grandly declared that I couldn’t send dry fruits (around 1.5kg), a tiny bottle of perfume (around 10ml) and Sevai (around 2kg) through a courier service. All of these items are non-perishable and I could not fathom the logic of the DHL guys – why wouldn’t they send them. The courier guy first mumbled about some company policy and then told me it is a security requirement – apparently, these items were a security risk! Incredible India! I am beginning to believe in this slogan.
In contrast, BlueDart, a group company of DHL, had no problem with the items. But it wanted me to fill a few forms for ‘security’ reasons. It also took a copy of my ID card.
Can’t get a hotel room in Delhi
Apparently, hotels in Delhi, except the major ones like the Oberois and the Mauryas, were directed not to rent out room to people who live in Delhi. This again was a ‘security’ measure! When a national daily reported it on its front page, Delhi Police disowned the directive and said it would ask hotel owners to allow locals to stay in hotels.
Yes, there are some more examples:
-- Half of the Delhi shuts down on I-Day, R-Day or whenever one of our high and mighty politicians wants to take a tour of the city
-- Cops now feel that India Gate area, used by families poor and rich for their weekend picnics, is too open. They don’t want too many people around it.
-- Tenant verification: This is another security measure that I feel is required but implementation can be a lot more better. For example, my colleague Krishna Mangalam tells me the odds he faced when he rented a flat in north Delhi. He was called for verification to the local police station and when he told cops that he didn’t have a permanent address — his family belongs to Andhra Pradesh and his father neither claimed his ancestral property nor built a house of his own — he was berated, “To aap kya sadak par rahte hain” (So, do you stay on the streets). Needless to say, his form was rejected as incomplete and he is in breach of the law as he has not completed the formality of the mandatory police verification for tenants. Is this how the State harasses and humiliates a citizen who does not have the means to buy a property? I am sure that Mr Mangalam is not the only person in Delhi without a permanent address.