Add Friend: Mom

I came online today to write about this important topic – Parents on Facebook. And I see that someone actually beat me to it and it has even been picked as the top posts of the day.

I guess that just shows how weirder it is getting to have your parents on Facebook and other such sites. My mom isn’t one for internet and such things and definitely would not waste time on Facebook. She actually remembers to call people now and then and ‘keep in touch’. But recently, a friend’s mother added me on Facebook. Followed by her dad. And I my mouse hovered in between ‘confirm’ and ‘not now’ while I wondered about the repercussions of adding the parents.

It isn’t only bosses that you have to be aware of now. Parents are worse. Because if you block your boss from seeing all your feeds, he probably won’t ask you why. But parents ask you why they can’t see anything about you when you spend hours in front of that site. Which means, now every single photo, status message and link needs to be vetted, along with the comments.

Of course, it is a little worse with Indian parents. Even though many of them would rarely use their accounts, they hound their adult children to add them. And then they say “it is okay if you have girls/guys as friends and their photos. We are very open-minded” and the bizarreness of this statement never even occurs to them. They do not even realize that it isn’t ‘open-minded’ but is quite normal to have such friends.

Indian parents like to keep tabs on their kids long after they have stepped into adulthood. And with sites like Facebook, they sometimes get more than what they can chew.

And I definitely wouldn’t want any family member snooping around my account… even if it is as banal as I’m at some club. Of course, the chances are that I would’ve ditched some family thing and was at the club.

But how exactly does one react to these friend requests?

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Social Networking Killed The Mystery

Remember those times when you met someone at a party, got only their first name and maybe where they worked and then you went around asking all you friends at the party about who that person was and slowly trying to find out more about them, their phone numbers and then try to stage a meet somewhere, if you realllllly liked the person?

Do you miss it?

I do.

Why?

The mystery, man, the mystery. Curiosity is what really drives man… we like to take things apart, poke at things and really ‘find’ out about things. So the process of actually finding out something about someone would make them more enchanting. Or a little ‘non’. Depending on the information and all that. And every time you found a piece of information about the person, it was like a ‘eureka’ moment.

So when you finally got to meet the person, it would be nice. Like you’d really worked for it and this was a reward.

And then came Zuckerberg and Facebook. He got the idea right – everyone wants to know if you are single or not and they all want to find out more about you.

So now you meet someone at a party, come home, log on to Facebook, key in the name and the workplace and boom! you’ve access to the person. If the person is extremely privacy conscious, then you might have to do a google search. If you’ve had more than a minute’s conversation at the party, you send them a friend request and they actually let you into their lives!!!!

And in less than a day, you know where they work, what music they like, what movies they like, their hobbies, common friends, workplaces and maybe even their party crowd or set or whatever. You decide in a matter of a few minutes if you really want to pursue this further or not.

No mystery. It is like… choosing fast food at KFC instead of a beautifully cooked meal in a nice restaurant.

I do like the convenience of Facebook, particularly for business networking. It is easy to keep track of people and keep them updated. But every now and then, I get a message from someone who I barely met at a party. I wouldn’t know their name or anything else and they find me on Facebook and go “hey remember me? let’s be friends and totally open our lives up to random strangers.”

And here I am thinking if I should really do that. It takes months and years for us to get close to people in real life and yet here is someone sharing a slice of my life on an everyday basis just through a network. I’m not going to be pricey but I think you do need to work to know me, oui? That is the fun part… Maybe because of all the time shortages, we do need a quick entry… but the romance… the mystery… the drama… the sense of accomplishment *sigh*

Here’s the other bad part – your personality becomes restricted to just what is online. There is so much more to a person but we begin interacting on those lines, and sooner or later, begin to believe just that?

Social networks – murderer. Of mystery, of romance.

(Face it… getting a ‘cute’ online heart aint the same as a bunch of flowers waiting on your doorstep)

Piracy

You know those ‘FBI warnings’ that appear before a movie starts on a DVD stating that ‘piracy is bad’. I did like the concept… the way it goes ‘would you steal a purse, a car’ and stuff. But the overall warning – I found it a little funny, particularly when it would be running on a pirated DVD in the first place. Whoever rips those, ripped the entire movie onto the CD.

Piracy exists. And a lot of us even are a part of that. True story.

In the world of online property, there is a constant fight between those who produce the stuff and those who just want to own it. Nothing is sacred – movies, music, art, photos and now even books.

The thing is – how many of us really think of the fact that we are doing something wrong, much less breaking a law, when we download something? There are plenty of torrent sites… if one shuts down, the other is born almost instantly. There are always ways of going around the walls… and there are people who sit and devise these ways constantly.

The question is – where do you draw the line? A friend of mine who recently moved to the US was completely put off downloading when his roommate received a notice from Netflix stating he had illegally downloaded something. In the US,where such things are monitored, it is easier to track piracy. But in places like China, Russia and even India that have a complete lack of enforcement (if not the laws) of such things – what does one do?

People don’t draw the lines themselves. Everyone loves free stuff… so people would download free music, even if it isn’t to their taste sometimes.

DVDs in India continue to be above the reach of most people, even with the rise in earnings. Movies and music are mostly ‘luxuries’ and for those who really intend to delve deep into these worlds, they need to go hunting and pay more for such commodities. iTunes, which is perhaps the best way of accessing music, has locked down much of its contents, not to mention the last time I checked (which was a while ago) they said I couldn’t download music in India, even if I did pay for it.

I was annoyed. Here I am, willing to pay for the content and they tell me I’m not allowed simply because I live in India, even if I have a proper means of paying for it?

There are other factors that filter in… delays in movies releasing here, the outrageous prices of tickets (300 bucks or more for ONE movie per head? Seriously?)

These aren’t excuses for piracy… but they do make it easier to go the other way. But most people do not think twice about shelling out 50 or 100 bucks for a DVD, which has the same quality of one in the local store, that costs nearly thrice the amount. International movies cost more. Music CDs are almost a thing of the past… I love music but the only device that even plays these things is my computer.

But looking at piracy from an artist’s perspective –

I’ve had one artist friend tell me that he doesn’t care who downloads his music as long as people listen and appreciate. He puts up a lot of his music for free anyway. “Art isn’t mine once it leaves me,” he said.

I’ve another friend who hates the thought of someone ‘stealing’ his hard work.

I agree with both… I enjoy the process of creation and if someone really liked something I did and asked me, I would probably just give it to them. But sometimes, when a lot of money has gone into it and you don’t really have much left in your pocket to buy a cup of tea, you wish someone would pay for whatever you have done too. And that comes with the additional ego boost that someone loved it enough to really ‘own’ it.

JunkYard Groove posted this note on Facebook, talking about piracy that suddenly made me remember how much money goes into making an album. Particularly in the starting stages.

But since the beginning of Napster, a revolution has begun. The music world will never be the same again and the industry needs to find another way to make people pay for the music. Movies – yes, people would perhaps shell out for the DVDs. But music – that is an art which most enjoy and can be easily downloaded and shared. Even after one downloads the music, it is shared with others, sync’d and listened to on various devices. Considering the number of gadgets we carry with us, it is really annoying not to be able to transfer it on my own devices. One of the joys of music is, after all, in listening to it with others.

The same problem applies to online books. One of the joys of reading is sharing it with others. But here I am, paying almost $10 for a book (why the high costs when it doesn’t involve printing or storage or transportation) and I love/hate it but I cannot share it with a friend unless I lend my entire ‘library’. Of course, there is an easier way for this… tag the file such that only one copy of it exists. So if you email it, your copy is gone till that person returns it to you.

But that goes against the online concept where everything is always accessible.

The solution?

I really cannot think of one. I enjoy listening to music and there will always be pirated music floating around. When I buy music and share it with friends, I do not think of it as piracy. It is more of spreading the love. Do we stop people from sharing? Or do we just celebrate the greater cause of art?

(Edit: There was a huge controversy recently about a copyright on a photograph. Digital photos have flimsier protection than music. And now, to add to the mix, someone states that famous paintings and monuments should also have copyrights to the extent even photographing them and sharing it would be a violation. Where do you draw the line?!)

Facebook Mail

That was the next obvious step in the world of social networking. We all knew this was coming at some stage.

The question, however, is – will we really use it like Gmail? Facebook and its founders are brilliant, so I’m sure this will be quite a competitor to Gmail in terms of its offerings. But the thing that is between the lines – Privacy.

Google never caused us as much worry as Facebook has in the past few months. Mark Zuckerberg has gone from being this cool… a little nerdy but cool… genius to a guy who just wants to grab as much money as possible, damn the consequences.

Facebook knows more about me than anyone on earth. They have what we call “comprehensive data.” A particular group of friends might get to see some links, some photos, know some incidents about me. But Facebook has all of that. Including status messages about incidents that I do not even remember. (Yes, we all do get personal sometimes on public platforms. We all like to be heard bitching.)

Facebook also knows what I like to read, which sites I visit, what photos I like etc. Now – Email.

Going back a little bit before moving ahead –

There were murmurs and some concern about 3 years ago when Gmail started putting up ads which were very relevant to the content in your emails. If you were writing about renting a house, voila! there were ads about houses for rent and such. People wondered if Google was reading their email. Then Google came out and said “Well, it is only machines that are reading your email. And they aren’t really reading it. They scan it for certain words and pull out ads related to that.”

And somehow that turned to “Oh it is only machines! That is fine then!”

Did anyone wonder if these machines also transmitted some content to anywhere else? Or store these little nuggets of information in their vast memories? The question has been haunting me for the past few days because I’ve been getting a loooot of “Find Your Life Partner” mails that are not marked as spam. Google has a fairly decent spam filter so I wonder why these mails are getting routed to my inbox, despite repeatedly marking them as spam.

While in conversation with a friend, I remembered this nugget of privacy issues from 2007 and I figured since there is a lot of talk about weddings in my mails, given half the people I know are getting hitched etc. I wondered how that would translate to other things though.

Now it turns out Google accidentally (oops) has been collecting personal information from people who weren’t wise or savvy enough to password protect their wi-fi data. (And people wonder why our generation has trust issues!)

So if the most trusted internet giant has begun to leak like this, what would Facebook – who has blatantly stated that privacy is an evolving thing and we should all open our doors to the entire world – do with access to my mail?

Hey! Sure they might be really conscious with the email and all. But at this point, I wouldn’t put it past Zuckerberg to say “hey fellas, if you didn’t want us to read and share it, you shouldn’t have simply called the person and not emailed it.”

Facebook has done a lot of damage control since March. But certain things linger in our memories… Of course, most of us signed up for an email the minute they were announced. What we do with it is a different thing though.

The best thing about Gmail is the integration of everything… it is a one-stop sign in for search engines, emails, chat and more. Facebook, however, is blocked in several offices where Gmail is tolerated. How would that work? Facebook is still considered a social thing, a fun thing.

And right now the question is – how much do you want Facebook to know?

Side note: A series of investigations on the Wall Street Journal pointed out that various nuggets of seemingly innocent information was being sold to various marketing firms. To the uninitiated, it might seem like this long string of numbers couldn’t possibly reveal the most personal data – name, address/email. But anyone with sufficient skills could perhaps say that it isn’t that hard to trace out the numbers to a particular source. We are all numbered fugitives on the internet and privacy is an illusion we all hide behind.

While we can’t do much about those e-traces we leaves behind (particularly if you are living outside the US, where cookies are just accepted), we would definitely like to control certain things what we can.

The iPhone and I

Or perhaps this should be titled “One day with my iPhone”

So I finally gave in and got an iPhone.

And I started hating it pretty much from the moment I got it.

Why? *Deep breath*
no multitasking, crap battery, no speed dialling, msgs in little bubbles like it is a chat, all restricted apps, everything done through itunes, no customization of ringtones, or message tones, or alarm tones, no way to set different profiles like “silent” “for work where only messages can blare but the phone ring is a gentle beep” or “i’m partying so hard that I’d need drumrolls to get through to me profile,” and you cannot send any of those photos taken at the party via bluetooth to your friends or to your computer.

And did I mention the crap battery? And how about now all my friends have the same ring tones. But that doesn’t matter anyway because when it is silent or blaring, and at work i’m usually on silent, it so doesn’t matter what on earth you have as the ring tone.

So I managed to convince myself that I still love it and there are over “1 lakh apps” for this. Unfortunately, the most useful apps are for jailbroken phones (which I can’t do because I’ll lose my warranty otherwise). Does Apple really design this phone minus the most important features so people have to download these apps, some of which you have to pay for? Isn’t it enough that I am shelling out 35 grand for a phone to start with?

What’s more… if you want a warranty, your phone is locked in with one particular service provider, even though you pay the entire price unlike in the US, where you at least get a subsidy over a two year contract. After that they don’t care who you use the phone with.

So my friend asked me – why did you want to buy the iPhone?

And all I could think of was “it was so pretty.” If I could’ve pushed myself off the tallest building at that point, I swear I would have.

Of course, even now the interfaces are quite seductive. I mean… I am looking at the Xperia, which I must admit is far superior… a better camera, better battery, multitasking and no need to load itunes to do every little thing… and then i think “iPhone” and go all gooey again. Yuck! Even now, when I managed to return the phone, I want it back… despite knowing the million issues.

I know I will want to update my phone soon. Oh there are so many gadgets… which to pick? which to pick?

Is it really worth buying an iPhone to say “its so cool”

Photo of the day: ON STRIKE. I’M JUST SUPER ANNOYED. I CUD’VE GOTTEN A SEXY LENS INSTEAD!!!

Edit: A friend of mine points out that all the things I mentioned here are very “banal” and not really important. Perhaps it isn’t important to have customizable ringtones and message tones, perhaps it isn’t important to have different profiles.

But the battery and bluetooth? Those are important! Extremely important. And if the only way I can conserve battery is to turn off wi-fi, 3G and everything else this phone is known for, what is the point? Okay, this is an issue with most smart phones. I am tempted to buy the iphone… there are ways to fix most of the problems I mentioned I know… I am lured by the thoughts of Shazam and Hippstomatic (or whatever that photo app is) and google voice and online chat and all of that. But I guess I’ll hold out another year or so and wait for Steve Jobs to completely realise what other little things “banal” people like me want.

Some Ranting

The iPhone

Yes we had several discussions about why the iPhone 4 is no better than the EVO or whatever else. But that doesn’t make me want to any less. However, when people in the US are paying about 10 grand for the phone on a 2-year contract, in India – the supposedly poorer country – we pay 35 grand or more for the phone.

The reason – there is no “contract” here for the phone. Now I don’t know why exactly but I read somewhere that this is mainly because the providers – Airtel and Vodafone – believe that the contract system is not really honored in India and that there are shops that can “break” the phone in every alley in India. Well, that is true. We are notoriously unscrupulous at times and look for loopholes just for the sake of it.

But it does annoy the hell out of me that I have to pay the full price simply because… I live here?

And that I have to go without an iPhone because I cannot afford to pay 40 grand. Does anyone know if there are special corporate schemes or something?

A part of me laughs at it saying we bought this upon ourselves. A while ago, when I still lived abroad, there was a rush of Indians who came back to India after buying Nokia N79s on contract. They would upgrade their phone to the latest scheme or whatever and then just come back, without even bothering to cancel the connection. The service provider, after several futile attempts to collect the bill had to just give up. They did the same with credit cards too… get about 6… swipe them like crazy before you return home and then… hey!

Of course, this caused a problem for us because by the time we got there, the government was just catching on and Indians historically had been assigned a horrible credit rating. So even to open an account for electricity – and yes, you needed an account – it was sheer drama.

Immigration

A friend of mine forwarded a mail about potential changes in the Australian Immigration Policy. It is based on what Australia has been saying for a while – they would choose to give residency for people who have the skills that they need. There has been a rant against this issue for a while, mostly from students who were studying there and hoping to get PR based on that.

According to this article, however, the minister can veto any possible application and the applicant has no powers to appeal. Okay, I admit that is harsh. And perhaps a little short sighted as well…

But the article went on an Australia-bashing session, talking about how the government took money from international students during the recession and now is tossing out all their hopes of PR into the ocean.

How many people went there with the sole purpose of getting a visa? So if they paid more for their education, was it equivalent to buying their residency?

For once, the logic of both sides fails me. Why would anyone go and do a hairdressers course in a new country? Or cookery? Why were these professions even on the “skilled list”. The government should’ve pruned the list a long time ago. And doing so now in an abrupt manner and tossing all those people who have made their lives in Australia and are contributing to the society is just plain… mean. Or a “I really don’t know what to do” mechanism.

Further applicants can be stopped. People who have just applied or come into the country can be asked not to apply unless they really qualify.

But I wonder – was this a reaction to the racial allegations that arose earlier this year? All the furore from India about the alleged racial attacks and deaths? Is that when Australia woke up and realised they had enough people to sustain a good economy? Or that their smooth mechanism was breaking down?

Photo of the day: Today’s photo is my own. I took this about… 4 years ago on an expedition. I’ll tell the story some other time, but I’ve long lost contact with the woman in the photo. If someone knows her, please do let me know.

 


iPhone or noPhone

I walked into an Apple store to buy an iPod. And then I thought – wait… I could buy an entire phone and so save myself the trouble of carrying a phone and a music device, so maybe i should buy an iphone. But then… all those reasons why I didn’t grab one the first time around came to mind and I’m quite confused. Help me decide.

Image source: Baltimoresun.com

Glass Half Full:

1. It looks seriously cool – Frown all you want and roll your eyes and say “shallooow” but it does look seriously cool and if it weren’t for that important factor, there are a million other phones I could consider

2. It is loaded with apps, particularly Skype – Yes there are a million other phones I could use with Skype but the fact is, coupled with (1) it does make a good point. Though not as useful in India yet, it is a good idea.

3. It does have all those features like GPS etc etc which I would never use but would be good to have nevertheless.

4. There are a lot of high-tech phones for much cheaper but I somehow believe having the iPhone is like having a super cool laptop with you, from which you can even hack things (Yes I’ve been watching way too many bad spy movies. I did finish that Millennium series recently) I don’t care if I can actually do it but it is kind of cool to have that.

5. It has a decent camera.

Glass Half Empty

1. No Flash (I know that there are replacements to it but to me, that is like saying no Google. What on earth are you supposed to do but settle for the second-best. Which leads me to my next point…)

2. I don’t really like Apple’s “we restrict the world” policy. For all you know, tomorrow they might actually decide to do away with google on their phones. Or… something worse.

3. As a friend said, “it is way too expensive for what it really is – a piece of fashion technology.”
Now I know that my  Half-Full 4 goes against this but it is really a piece of fashion technology. There are phones on the market that can do the same thing and they are much cheaper, and some of them not half as unattractive.

4. Touchscreen keyboards – yes I hate them. The same thing that makes it look supercool, I hate it.

5. Not sure how the camera really is.

6. No inbuilt radio – apparently I have to download an app for it which I think it a little stupid.

7. I can’t use GPRS. I have to pay for a special “net pack” to use every fricking feature on that phone, which means my phone bills soar anyway.

This is what it boils down to -There are equal or better phones on the market for cheaper and many of them are even touchscreen too. But I do like the iPhone and if not for half-empty 1 and 2, I’d have probably bought it. And then the price… I can get a really good touchscreen phone, which is also a little lighter for something a lot lesser, loaded with the same apps and all that.

So every time I convince myself, I look at the price and realise there are other options and I sit back down to think.

Sigh.

On the good side, one of my photos finally got published in something called Schmap, which is an iphone app for maps. (karma?) Check it out.

Song of the day: Hit Me Baby One More Time – Britney Spears (I loved her in this one. Cringe all you want)