Friday, July 29, 2011

India in the grip of 3G: What an idea?!!

The Idea 3G advertisement sums up the way technology has gripped the Indian middle class. People to people contact is a thing of the past and the coming together of phone, mobile, internet and wireless technology is seen as the power of the finger. So much that technology is seen as the answer to problems that plague society in India. But 2G or 3G, can this be true?

Many people in India know 2G because of the Raja spectrum scam and the 1.76 lakh crore apparently being lost in the haphazard sale of the spectrum space during the 2G spectrum space allotment to companies. On the other hand the 3G sale brought in huge amounts of money to the government. As 4G waits to come in, companies are trying their best to sell 3G in big volumes to make up the amount they have invested in this technology. As part of this, 3G is being made into the common human’s core accessory without which nothing is possible. The integration of internet into our lives is fast and furious.

Idea mobile has become famous for its advertisements which are seen to evoke serious thoughts of nature conservation and public good. The latest in a series of advertisements is the “Ab biwi se 3G” (Now, from wife to 3G) advertisement doing the rounds in a variety of TV channels. The plot involves Abhishek Bachchan (a Bollywood actor and son of Amitabh Bachchan) and a friend, watching city life and wondering why we have such a large population in India. Their conclusion is that when electricity fails, couples get into the act of child making! As a solution to this, the actor offers Idea 3G. Now whenever electricity fails, the wife and husband in each house can still watch TV through the 3G enabled mobile which gives strong video streaming for uninterrupted watching of cricket matches and serials, chatting with parents and playing games. This in his opinion will solve the problem of population explosion in India. It is shown with the image of a dusty closed down vasectomy clinic.

As in many previous Idea ads this one is also naïve in its presentation of facts in a different way. The other day I heard two groups debating whether technology could do away with physical classrooms and buildings and make online learning stronger. The same argument of how technology would save resources came up. But the resources needed to keep technology up and going is relegated to the background. The same takes place in the Idea ad which seems to suggest that when electricity fails, technology will save the day. But 3G obviously does not run on solar or wind power. This means that more electricity is drained to keep the show running!

The Idea ad can be debated in the church while we rue the fact of lesser people to people contact, lesser numbers in church, lack of interest in public programmes and such. It also leads us to think how technology is changing and will change us further in the future. The culture of fun and frolic will replace serious discussions which should take place in church and society. TV viewing which was a family ritual in itself will be replaced by individual bed viewing which will challenge our ability to think and act in a responsible and sane manner. We will place technology between relationships and facebook each other instead of sitting and talking over the table. Technology and companies that make use of it will be seen as the new saviour in our lives and in the future of our country. Guess this is where the church can help by formulating a policy on technology and the church and how people should use technology in their lives.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Willful blindness: The lies of the empire

Empires are built on the lives of an unsuspecting public. People are spied on, privacy is intruded upon and reputations are battered. Every once in a while, however rare that may be, the empire gets to taste its own concoction. It will taste so bitter that the very empire that manufactured it will wonder at the ruthless content of the mixture. Rupert Murdoch and his media empire are facing the heat. The hacking of phones and the subsequent investigations has led to the closing down of one of U.K.’s oldest newspapers, the News of the World. On July 19 in a rigorous exercise by the Parliamentary Committee in the House of Commons in the U.K., the father and son duo were made to answer some hard questions. One interesting thing which came out of the much publicized affair was the term “willful blindness.” As through the entire questioning, the media baron sought to hide behind the term itself.

Margaret Heffernan in her upcoming book “Why we ignore the obvious at our peril” tries to explore this term. She explains “examining examples of willful blindness in the Catholic Church, the SEC, Nazi Germany, Bernard Madoff's investors, BP's safety record, the military in Afghanistan and the dog-eat-dog world of subprime mortgage lenders” how we fail to see and admit certain things. In an article on Rupert Murdoch himself she identifies some characteristics of willful blindness which come out of the News of the World episode. They include “ideology, obedience, conformity, money, power and affirmation”.

Rupert Murdoch’s net worth is $7.6 billion. Yet with all this money he still had to undergo the unsettling questions of the parliamentary committee in the U.K. For the first time the media baron was made to answer questions which he looked like evading most of the time. The event, broadcast live even in India brought out his importance and the fact that other media houses for once could get back at the person who threatened to take away readers and viewers from them. In India it also brought forward a debate on whether it would be possible to bring powerful media owners to task in this country and have a parliamentary committee asking them uncomfortable questions. The predominant argument that came out was that this would not be possible as Indian politicians are themselves so corrupt that they cannot question the corrupt practices of the media here.

What this debate has done is to bring out the importance of the usage willful blindness. This is an important point of discussion for the church as the church may also fall into the same wrong of willful blindness saying that ‘ we did not know.’ But the question of ‘did we not seek to know or want to know’ is also pertinent. Whenever the church is faced with allegations of wrong doing it could be that the church leaders may feign ignorance and say we were blind to the happenings. Wrong doing could include not only the now popular topic of corruption but also the centuries old wrong doing of gender and caste related atrocities and wrongs. Discussing this more openly could bring more responsibility, accountability and the addressing of wrong doing in the church and society at large.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Religion and mobile number portability (MNP)

India introduced the mobile number portability (MNP) option for mobile phone consumers in January, 2011. Ever since, 8.54 million customers have made use of this service till April, 2011. The convenience of changing one's network provider with an SMS and continuing with one's existing number is the attraction of MNP.

Till now many people have opted out of changing their network provider because they didn't want to change their numbers as that would mean informing their numerous contacts of the change and maybe even losing friends and associates in the process. Faced with a highly competitive environment, the government has still managed to bring about this landmark change in policy with the recommendations of TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India).

Even as several service providers are sulking against the move, it has led to better services and an effort to please the consumer and prevent her/him from shifting loyalties.

One has to wonder whether religions can do the same? Many don't shift loyalties because they fear they could lose what they have and this includes family and friends. But if they could indeed shift, it could lead to a change in the percentage divisions of religions in India. This would maybe also bring about more sincerity, service and transperancy in the administration of various religions leading to satisfied followers.

A drastic change in society has seen technology leading to more egalitarian perspectives, whereas religion is leading to more authoritarian perspectives. It would thus help for us to think and practise that a religious conviction is based on the strong foundation of freedom and the freedom to choose.