Time for some cell phone etiquette

There is no question that cell phones have had dramatic positive effects on people’s lives in India. The ability to get access to anyone and everyone and having access to all the information on the planet on your phone is surely an unparalleled example of people empowerment.

Unfortunately, like everything else in life, cell phone usage has a bad side – the sheer annoyance factor is one, the safety issue is another, the constant distraction being a third, among a long list of negatives. When communication was hard in the past, phones were used very selectively. For example, if you were going to meet some friends for dinner at a restaurant, there would be a land line call or two to firm up the plan. Today, it’s an entirely different story. Recently, when I was going out to dinner with a bunch of youngsters (in their 20s), I noticed that they called each other back and forth to give a literal commentary on the way to the restaurant: “I am this junction, there is too much traffic. Not sure how long it will take.” Then the friend has an idea and calls back. “Hey, why don’t you take this road instead? You might get there sooner.” A few minutes later, the friend calls back, “Hey, the traffic is better now. I should be there soon.” In short, at least a handful of calls and maybe a bunch of text messages had been exchanged for the most inane reasons.

Next, the issue of safety on roads. It’s good to see that, in many cities, the police are pretty strict with the use of cell phones while driving. Nevertheless, cell phone usage is rampant in cars and even two wheelers, and an increasing cause of accidents. Among the negatives, this is easily the most dangerous and needs to be dealt with urgently.

As for the annoyance factor, there is no end to the number of examples one can think of. There are everyday occurrences that stare at you in the face at almost every instant during the day (or maybe, I am just too sensitive to this!). I was at once at the office of large retail chain. There was a common waiting area and then a long stretch of cubicles and conference rooms. Youngsters, mostly in their twenties, frequently stepped aside from their cubicles to the common waiting area to answer personal cell phone calls. Many rushed down the elevator when the calls were “very private” in nature. The common waiting area was hence always crowded with youngsters chattering away on their cell phones during regular office hours. Interestingly, some even carried multiple cell phones!

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) strikes a chord

Ever since the Aam Aadmi party was formed, its national convener, Arvind Kejriwal, has spoken repeatedly about changing the politics of this country. While many have pooh-poohed this as the talk of just another newly minted politician, the AAP has shown that it is attempting something new and fundamentally different. The AAP has spoken extensvely about Swaraj and decentralization. They have highlighted the need for better governance. They strived for the Lokpal since their pre-political avatar. They dared to expose the powerful and connected. They have strived for transparency by publicizing all donations made to the party and refusing donations from people who wished to remain anonymous. Now, they have embarked on a civil disobedience movement of the kind not seen since independence.

Shortly after its formation, the AAP embarked on a series of exposes. The media took immediate notice because the exposes dared to take on the high and mighty across party lines. Interestingly, sections of the media privately praised the AAP party for its efforts, admitting that they had all this information all along but simply did not have the “guts” to lay it bare before the public — a classic example of the failure of our fourth estate. Unfortunately, despite the documentary evidence garnered from the public domain and from RTI filings, the government ignored the exposes. The media, meanwhile, was summarily threatened by large industrial houses from covering these exposes. The most recent of these exposes involved the Sheila Dikshit government of Delhi, and its hand in the inflated electricity and water bills of the residents of Delhi.

Sections of the media and several talking heads on TV have derided the AAP as a product of “OB Van” politics. They predicted boldly that they would vanish into insignificance once the OB Vans stopped covering them. The ongoing fast by Arvind Kejriwal has completely debunked this theory. This fast is labeled as an attempt to inspire people to overcome their fears and join the civil disobedience movement, one that involves refusing to pay the inflated electricity bills. Instead of creating a media spectacle, Arvind Kejriwal chose to fast in a nondescript slum in Sundar Nagari, far from the media’s sought-after areas. The AAP insisted that crowds not gather at the venue of the fast. Instead, volunteers and well-wishers were encouraged to participate in a well thought out “ground game” of signing up supporters for the civil disobedience movement. The result was that over eight lakh people signed up in a matter of a few days, and this list is growing by the day.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

A partial digital detox

When I was sick recently and lying in bed checking my email on my cell phone, it dawned on me that a large number of emails that I was receiving everyday included daily newsletters, updates, discussion group updates, etc., many of which I don’t even recall ever signing up for! Besides, I realized that I hardly read most of them. So I decided that this was a good time to clean up the clutter in my Inbox. While many emails give you a simple unsubscribe link at the bottom, there were many with an “update your preferences” link and when you click on it, the link takes you to a login/password screen! In other words, I have to login and then unsubscribe. I don’t even recall ever having registered at many of these sites, let alone remember the password. Every time you register at any website, you are unknowingly signed up to receive one or more email updates, newsletters, and the like. It’s easy to register at these sites and be bombarded for life, but it’s hard to stop the flood when you want to. In any case, lying sick in bed has the advantage of time, so I went on a rampage, and unsubscribed from all and sundry. I logged into LinkedIn and turned off “all” notifications. Now I am no longer notified if X endorsed Y for a skill, or if A changed jobs, or XYZ posted an article, or ABC liked another article.

These changes to my digital life happened shortly after I moved to a Google Nexus phone. While I am not a great fan of the user interface on Android phones, the Google Nexus is the best when it comes to limited number of apps. Unlike other phones, it does not come pre-installed with hordes of apps. You have a minimal number of apps that are sufficient to get you going. It was such a refreshing change. My previous phone, an HTC Android, would not let me uninstall the Facebook app! Talking of Facebook, another drastic step I took in the process of this partial digital detox is that I decided not to access Facebook for as long as possible. I don’t have the app installed on my phone either, so it was a complete break from Facebook. It’s close to three weeks now and I am managing to survive just fine.

I can’t describe what a wonderful difference I have observed in a matter of few days. I have started to receive only relevant emails. The task of cleaning up my Inbox has become so much more simpler and less time consuming. I feel like I have more time on my hands to be productive. My head seems that much less cluttered. I have even started to remember friends’ birthdays. I seem so much more efficient with my to-do list among other things.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times