Sunday, February 23, 2014

Twitter’s Empty Parlor Games

Twitter’s Empty Parlor Games
February 23, 2014

THERE was a time, only a few years ago now, when I prided myself as a host of social media parties — hashtag games, as some participants called them. Before one such gathering, I was asked: “Are you having another cashtag this week?” Rather than correct my follower’s French, I simply furnished the time, and the usual address: followed by my handle.

This was to be a Sunday hashtag game, for a new movie name from Bollywood. Around 30 participants appeared, a miscellany of writers, social media gurus, jounalists, punners and tag-along followers-of-players. As the afternoon wore on, though, I felt a creeping sense of unease. I noticed a middle-aged influencer offer a young model a pro bono “publicity tweet,” and she didn't reply. A moment later, she accepted his offer, the trade of Retweet for DM pics implicit.

A web site designer boasted to a tumblr curator of having designed the homepage of one of our pre-eminent online personalities. Since I happened to personally know this personality, I knew that the designer had been summarily fired from the job, on account of the heroic scale of his unprofessionalism, including a penchant for sending prospective clients links to the website's beta version without either the owner’s knowledge or permission. But the tumblr curator only listened, entranced by the designer. The two agreed to chat on DM to discuss a work proposal, a proposition that made me very nervous. Who had I just unleashed on the innocent curator?

Presently, a twitterer — someone I don't follow — was co-tagged to me as a “lifestyle expert.” I caught her tweeting screenshots of some of my earlier tweets, which I held beloved and private. “You could be anywhere!” the lifestyle expert DM'd, as if this was a compliment. “You know, the count of your Twitter followers makes me feel like I’m back in Orkut!” I suppose she could not see the junk accounts which follow all of us — 70 percent of Twitter are trolls or dummy accounts — online smog. Indeed, her Instagram filter made my good, the bad and the ugly follower count merge and look like an impressionist painting: From a distance, my Twitter page was awfully pretty.

At various points during the afternoon, people had expressed moral outrage against the various scams afflicting modern Twitter, the scale of which ran like a parallel social network. This lot of average and above-average follower count classes railed against our contest conducting classes and their corruption. As a cozy counterpoint, there was fiery talk about following @ArvindKejriwal, an anti-corruption activist.
But such computer-room rage and social media moralizing registered in me with great suspicion. Our Indian twitter crowd — originally pegged, in 2007, at 55 million strong, but recently revised to reflect reality down to around 20 million — and especially our elite were probably guilty of the same kind of dodgy brokering that they publicly reviled. The wheeling, the dealing, the fooling, the fabricating — it was all on at my hashtag game, but at a modest farmers’-market scale, and veiled in new Twitter's urbane cool.

So why was this lot shocked, even surprised, by our epic scams? In a sense, the influencers who extorted big bribes to participate in contests, or the sleazy nephew-blamers who accidentally linked their facebook page to porn sites, were only their peers, but with one key difference: Their trade magnificently dwarfed the minor-league operators within my followers.

Still, I nursed no moral superiority. This hashtag game, and others like them, had happened in my own timeline, after all, both in the small, contained sense of my follower list, and the larger, expansive sense of the Trending Topics I lived in. What I indicted, indicted me.

Recently, a popular politician had tweeted out the name of a rape victim. The outrage in this case has been spurred by the perception that she had tried to cover her tracks: by claiming that her nephew did it. But her strategy was dubious; she had already apologized about the tweet. Still, she continues proclaiming her innocence. Her defiance made me believe the bug of duplicity I’d encountered in my timeline was actually a widespread and deep-rooted malaise in the Twitterverse.

After the Sunday, I’d DM'd my sister to express helplessness about the company I’d begun to keep. I was bored with Twitter, worn out by people reading my follower list, disillusioned by unfollowers thanks to an institutionalized fraudulence that, quite frankly, everyone at my hashtag game that day was guilty of, and no one knew quite how to repair.

For the moment, I decided, I just had to quit Twitter. Perhaps the follower with the bad French had been right all along, I thought during my signup process at Weibo. I had been hosting a cashgag: a money influenced game for the way things were.

This is an attempted parody of the NY Times article titled Mumbai's Empty Parlor Games, adapted basis the reaction from the social media about the article.
A few words and sentences here and there have been modified leaving the rest of the article's words and structure unchanged. There is no malicious intention to steal, make money, kill, angerify or annoy anyone with this article.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Same Data. Different Stories

The image shows how you can use the same economic indicators data to make an argument either in favour of the UPA or in favour of the NDA.

Embedding the image within the blog page is making it look wonky. So swalpa adjust madi and click below

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Winning An Argument - Part 2

Has the fear of humiliation or failure stopped you from entering into an argument on the Internet or in real life? Fear not! This guide will give you five free 100%-success-guaranteed tools.

A. The WONWNT Method
This works best when the future-argument-loser is outraging about something you don't want them to outrage about. Find a suitable example from the past and argue "Why Only Now? Why Not Then" and silence them.
Practice this at home as follows:
Mom: Beta, why are you watching this raunchy Mallika Sherawat song?
You: Why didn't you say anything when I was watching raunchy Katrina last week? Why this selective outrage?
Mom: *vanishes*

B. Fake Statistics Are Your Friend
Make up wild stats and draw a conclusion from it. If they challenge the stats, ask them if they are challenging your conclusion and make them defensive.
You: Hitler was a very bad man. He killed around 1 billion people personally with his own hands.
Arguer: Oh come on. That's impossible.
You: Are you saying Hitler is a not a bad man? *cough* nat zee *cough*
Arguer: *vanishes*

C. The EverybodyKnows Slamdunk
The key to executing this is the right choice of the reference group. If well chosen, the arguer is silenced immediately.
You: Times of India has the most honest movie reviews.
Arguer: What rubbish!
You: Oh come on, everyone knows this.
Arguer: Nonsense.
You: If only you got out of your AC rooms and cars once in a while. Ask any movie buff in the crowded theatres and you'll know.
Arguer: *guilt*

D. The Wrong Grammar Trap
They say that when someone doesn't have anything to offer as an argument, he resorts to correcting your grammar. Use this to your advantage.
Tweeter: Corrupt governments should be overthrown. Exercise your vote.
You: Your wrong. Not voting is better since only politicians contest in elections.
Tweeter: *you're
You: Did you not find any better arguement than to correct my grammar. It obviously means I am right in what I said.
Tweeter: *argument

E. Insult by Association
This one is the most fun. Choose a famous bad guy. Find a link from your arguer to the bad guy and deliver the winner.
You: Photography is so much better than painting. So much more natural beauty.
Arguer: Painting is awesome too. A larger canvas for your creativity.
You: Do you know who else liked painting? Hannibal Lecter. Are you a homicidal psychopath?
Arguer: *walks away*

Bonus: The War And Peace Approach from Part 1

Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Redder Ring

Dheeraj looked around the dimly lit room. The soldier's eyes quickly assessed the surroundings - one leader, two men and one more like himself. He was made to sit next to the one like himself. He looked at the floor - quickly realizing he shouldn't have. Body parts everywhere. Men before him had come and gone. Many men, it looked like.

They tied him to a chair with a large piece of dirty cloth. One of the men held his body firm and the other pulled out a few devices. One of the devices had multiple pointed edges - at least a dozen edges. Before he realized it, a splash of liquid across his face. He lost his vision temporarily. He could only hear the sound of the other device. Sounded like a chopping device - a very sharp one. Dheeraj closed his eyes and waited for it to get over.

The two men were emotionless. Hardened individuals with a job to do. They carefully chose what to chop off and efficiently removed them from Dheeraj's body. Slowly. He clenched his teeth, waiting. The leader watched on from the corner.

When it was over, they took him to a corner of the room. He glanced at the other sitting one - he lay there motionless and his face fully yellow. They made Dheeraj sit down, bend his neck and face the ceiling. He noticed the bucket of some liquid nearby. "Am I gonna be waterboarded?", he asked himself. The liquid began pouring from above him - water. It stopped after a few seconds. A gooey liquid was put on him next. They repeated the water procedure for another minute. When it stopped, he thought to himself - "Either I have gotten used to this already, or these guys are bad at waterboarding."

"That's enough", screamed the leader. Dheeraj was taken to the leader and the two men walked away. As he walked across the room, he had stepped on all those parts on the floor.

A boy entered the room. The leader bellowed at him for being late. The boy ignored him and began sweeping the floor. Dheeraj stared at the boy as he swept away his own remains. It felt weird.

He heard the leader say "Haircut and shampoo. 110 rupees". Dheeraj paid him quickly and left.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

India's Watergate - A 3572 Lakh Crore scam

Conversation from the Corruption Assessment Group (CAG) meeting held this month:

"How much is this mineral water bottle?"

"12 rupees I guess. Why?"

"How much do we pay for 'Corporation water'?"

"Around 6 rupees for 1000 litres"

"OH MY GOD. What a huge loss for the exchequer!"

"Huh. What?"

"People are ready to pay 12 rupees for a litre of water. So by giving out water at 0.006 rupees a litre, the exchequer is losing money. Big money"

"Oh correct. The water should have been auctioned to people. They would have been ready to pay 12 bucks a litre instead of this atrocious Rs.0.006. Wait, let me grab my calculator"

Their rage against the ruling party was visible in their eyes as they screamed in anguish at how public money had been wasted.

After an hour of research, they had this on paper:
Per capita consumption per day = 85 litres
Population of India = 1.2 billion
Loss per litre of water = 12 minus 0.006 = Rs.11.994
Loss per year = 85 X 1,20,00,00,000 X 11.994 X 365 = 44,65,36,62,00,00,000 = 446 Lakh Crores
UPA Rule = 8 years
Loss during UPA rule = 3572 Lakh Crores

"OH DAMNIT. Many thousand times worse than the 2G scam or the Coal-gate scam. Our country has been looted by this government"

He threw the calculator down in rage and began typing the report.

"Release this report right away. This is India's Watergate - a 3500 Lakh Crore Scam"

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Call it A Taj Mahal

When reading @thecomicproject 's post about why the TIME 100 Poll does not matter, I was reminded of one such over-hyped poll from 2006-07.

Remember that online poll to select the new 7 world wonders? I'm sure you too got enough SMS and email forwards to guilt trip you into sending in your vote for Taj Mahal, which was languishing in 20th place at the time.

Remember how the hype around it was built? Here's a sample article on CNN IBN -

The 4-step vote inducing process went like this:

Step 1: Bait with a anger-inducing headline/email subject

Step 2: Go OMG OMG OMG!!!!!

Step 3: Announce that Taj Mahal is only 20th. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT - ONLY 20th!!!!1111!!!!!

Step 4: Now that their patriotism has been questioned, watch people swarm in hordes and press vote buttons like their lives depended on it.

The key step in this process was Step 3. That's the step that made you angry and made you want to vote. I mean, how can the Taj Mahal be below some house in Australia or some statue in America. 20th place Goddammit! India should be 1st, not just in the top 7 and definitely not 20th!

Here's the full list of the 21 contenders that comes later in the article:

Read the list again. Now, do you see why all the hype-masters thought that Taj Mahal was in the 20th place?

Instead of trying to garner a few million votes, the easiest way to bring it back to 1st Place in the polls would have been to rename it "A Taj Mahal"

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Scrawny Man

Steve was blindfolded at the meeting point. The "Contact" put him in a car. An hour later, they both entered an elevator. Steve asked "I'm paying you 80000 bucks for this. Why am I being blindfolded?” The Contact did not reply.

The elevator stopped and a short walk later, the blindfold was removed. He realized he was at one corner of a parking lot. A huge asbestos sheet was leaning against the wall. They stepped behind it and Steve was soon face-down, peering into the small hole on the floor. There he was - the man he had come to see.

The naked man was lying curled up in a room below. It had no doors, no windows, just a toilet-like hole in one corner and an assortment of random stuff strewn everywhere. The place was a mess. The only light source was a small gap in one corner of the ceiling. A tree's branch was sticking in through that hole - a few leaves lay below on the floor.

The man looked like he was from a malnutrition documentary – thin feeble hands and hair all over the body.

“There are people who will try to "save" him. Many a man wants to play hero nowadays" said the Contact explaining the blindfolding.

“What’s his story? How did he get here?"

"See that small gap on the left end of that roof? He fell through it when he was 2 years old. His mom dropped him in and ran away. Something like that."

"He looks like a twenty year old. What has he been doing all these years?"

"Nothing. He's lived inside that room all his life. No human contact ever."

"How did he survive?"

"He eats the oranges from that tree that keep falling in. The human body - it learns, it adapts."

The Contact narrated the story so far. Scrawny Man had survived on oranges for a few years till this Contact “Joe” had spotted him. The place had stunk of feces then. Joe had removed a tile from the floor below when Scrawny Man was asleep and fitted in a hole-shaped toilet. He rolled down fruits and edible stuff through the tree gap all these years. It had taken the man a few months to realize that the hole was a toilet. Joe told Steve how he still eats oranges unpeeled, gets scared of mosquitoes, plays with cockroaches and eats tree leaves.

Steve looked at Scrawny Man's attire. A glove on one hand and a chain around his neck – someone must have slipped these down the gap. Joe said "Your 80 grand fetches you 3 hours. No touching, no talking. You can do whatever "experiment" you want from here. Send in anything you want from that hole - fruits, balls, etc etc."

Steve wondered if Scrawny Man knew a world existed outside this little box he was in. Does he know he earns this Joe character 80 grand just by being an exhibit? A dozen other thoughts entered his mind.

Just then a rat popped out of the toilet. It sniffed around and landed at the sleeping man's feet. Scrawny Man woke up with a start. With unbelievable swiftness, he picked up a twig lying 6 feet away and stabbed the rat in one swipe. He threw the pierced dead animal to one corner of the room and went back to sleep.

Steve began his experiments. He rolled in a few marbles, which were ignored. Then he sent down a paper and a pen. Scrawny Man tried to understand what they were for, before giving up. Next, he threw in an mp3 player that played some loud rock music. This startled the man as he tracked back quickly and curled up against the wall. He let out loud shrieks. The songs played for a few minutes before he finally fiddled with it and then thrashed it on the ground, breaking it in three pieces.

“What sort of a man are you? How can you sell this man’s freedom like this?” Steve bellowed at Joe.

“Don’t lecture me man. As long as people like you pay big money, we’ll continue. If there are no buyers, the seller stops too.”

Steve didn’t know what pissed him off more – the fact that this was happening right in the heart of the city or that he too felt guilty in this human exhibition.

Steve finished his experiments in 2 hours and was blindfolded to be led back. He reached into his pocket and checked-in to Foursquare.

On the way back, he remembered his “Forbidden Safari” in an island last year. He had paid 250000 for it. The safari was not your usual “tribal dance” and bonfire for honeymooning couples. This was for the ultra-rich and curious – the gang who wanted to do something different at any price. You are introduced to some tribals to interact with them, try out whatever you want with them and learn from how they react. It was an experimentation centre. The exhibits were referred to as “tourist virgins” – people who haven’t met other tourists before. The guy paying the 250000 was their first contact from the “civilized” world.

Steve had experimented with the two tribals by reaching out with his hand, talking, showing them stuff from his bag and giving them food. They responded differently to each item. The eight hours with them had given him enough fodder for the bestselling book he wrote later that year. The meeting had ended when one of them pointed at Steve's chain and asked for it. Steve smiled and said no, but the man became angry and thumped the ground with his feet. Steve panicked, handed over his chain and left quickly.

Steve was in deep thought when the blindfold opened. “Don’t play hero and try to save these people. Let them lead their lives. Just write your books and make money.” Joe told him as they bade goodbye.

Steve quickly returned behind the asbestos sheet, this time without Joe (thanks to Foursquare and GPS). He watched Scrawny Man intently, this time with only one purpose. Just as he saw what he was looking for, one of the tiles on the floor moved. Scrawny Man walked up to it and helped pull in a man. They shook hands and exchanged some money and chatted away. It was Joe. Joe was handing over Steve’s money to Scrawny Man.

Steve quickly rushed two floors below and caught Joe and Scrawny Man as they jumped down from that hole. Steve was livid but speechless.

The naked Scrawny Man spoke first – “We’ll give your 80 grand back. And you forget this ever happened.”

Steve replied – “Not 80 grand. I want even my 250 grand back. And my chain too”

Scrawny Man narrowed his eyes and quickly understood. “We shut that business down. The real tribals in that area caught us. This is safer.” he explained.

Steve mumbled out a “Why do you guys do this?”

Joe repeated – “As long as there are buyers like you, sellers like us will exist.”

Steve tried to come up with a retort when Scrawny Man spoke again “We cannot live with the risk that you will squeak someday. Sorry, but don’t take this personally”. With the same speed at which he killed the rat, a nearby iron rod went straight through Steve.

Business was back to normal the next day. A new client threw a mirror down the gap. Scrawny Man acted all confused and broke the mirror into pieces. The client giggled.