Ah, the great outdoors!

“Ah, the great outdoors” is a dialog that a Dryad (character in Warcraft III) says when the character is trained and ready to be controlled. It is perhaps one phrase out of the thousands I’ve heard from spending innumerable hours playing the game that I remember often.

As a self-proclaimed ambivert, my weekend plan is a constant mental conflict of whether I stay indoors reading, binge watching yet another TV series or head out and explore some new place.

Having moved to Sweden (Hej Sverige! 👋) recently for work, I find myself traveling about 90 minutes in the morning and another 90 minutes in the evening to and from my office. This has given me a window of time to catch up on some reading (Thanks sis for the Kindle!) and writing (this).

Also sitting at the window of my train seat, the countryside of Sweden at sunset in Fall is mesmerizing. Open fields, orange sky being gobbled up by the grayness of the impending nightfall and an abundance of nature is what you get to see. The houses that dot the fields frequently, look eerily similar to the houses that a child might draw – simple and lovely.

As this view made me nostalgic about India and its beauty, I began to realize that I was, by some glorious design of the universe, destined to be here and like the Dryad I just want to shout out to the nature that surrounds me – “Ah, the great outdoors!”

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The UN sexism Google search ads are wrong, technically

The truth is, we live in a male dominated society where men enjoy a privilege of exercising certain rights that do not extend to women. This culture has transcended generations and centuries. And it is going to take longer than that to clean up.

Why?

Why did things come to be as they are? Are we genetically so sexist? In the early days, the men used to hunt for meat while the women-folk would tend to the young ones and managed the caves. If perhaps, the root cause for sexism started there, it should have changed when civilizations evolved, correct? Nothing much changed during the times of the great kings and kingdoms. Further, during the industrial revolution, there was an explosion of many new jobs – engineers, architects, soldiers – most of them were reserved for men because either they needed an increased physical exertion or the necessary training for the required skill set was never extended to women. This was amplified by the fact that education was considered a “luxury”. Only the ones who would “use” the skills they learned at school, were educated. This is the reason why there were considerably lesser number of women scientists during the 18th century. Over the years, the patriarchal society got itself established as only men had “knowledge” of how the world “functioned”.

What changed?

Evolution in economies resulted in industries taking a background as the main money-making entities. People in industries were replaced by machines as a result of automation. Fields like science, technology, research, banking, took prominence. The jobs that are created for this generation of workforce are gender-neutral; they break the need for physical strength that the jobs during industrial revolution demanded.

So, now what?

Gradually, women began fending for themselves thus reducing their dependency upon men for basic needs. This “shift of power” was not welcomed by men and thus began the long struggle for women’s rights and freedom. This is yet an ongoing battle for equality not just limited to the under-developed or developing countries, but to the developed economies as well. Many organizations worldwide are doing a great job of making the world aware – like the UN.

UN Google search ads

un-ads-all

The entire premise of this post was the “powerful” advertisements by the UN which used the Google auto-complete (a feature that suggests popular search terms as you type your search query) to show the widespread prevalence of sexism in our society.

  • Is the problem real? Yes. Equality between the sexes is something that is truly necessary for a society!
  • Are ads like these necessary? Yes, very much.
  • Are they doing a good job of raising awareness? They are doing great!
  • Are they truthful? No.

Here’s what’s wrong

Google uses a certain algorithm nicknamed Google Instant to get popular keywords related to the terms that you are typing in, using data collected from earlier searches by many other people, and displays it, in the assumption that you may also be searching for something similar. By the way that it works, what Google suggests is in no way connected to what you would be actually looking for. For instance, when you search for “save water”, the suggestions shown are hardly practical, are they?

save-water
I haven’t heard of a single person giving up water and living on beer instead!

This article may help understand how the Google Instant suggestions work. Further, going by the Google Trends, the term “woman should” was searched for the most number of times just about after the UN ads were posted.

google-trends-women-should
The number 100 indicates that the point in the graph is the highest value ever.

Google suggestions can be easily misinterpreted

2013-10-19 12_32_45-Google
So, 25% of the people searching for “the world is” think that it is flat? If so, we may have bigger problems here.
This is interesting!
This is interesting. I’m more concerned about people thinking Oxygen is a compound!
I have many American friends, and this is hardly the truth!
I have many American friends, and this is hardly the truth!

My Take

Sexism is a real issue. Everyday there is news about how crimes against women have increased drastically, and how women are denied even basic rights by many Governments around the world. Yes, women are suffering and something needs to be done! By writing about the technicality behind the UN ads, I do not undermine the need for the awareness for this issue; I only felt that Google search suggestions are not indicators of how far-reaching sexism is.

 

Facebook – a black hole of time?

Facebook is a huge phenomenon, that took the world by storm. Just when everybody was getting tired of Orkut, and sharing was limited to IMs and Emails, Facebook emerged with a solution to it all. It has email – your Facebook username works as an email id (username@facebook.com). It has chat, with video calling too! It has ways of sharing your thoughts, ideas, and your day-to-day activities so much so that it has shrunk the general perception of people’s privacy.

In the early days of Facebook (the last days of MySpace), Google became aware of what was happening and tried remodeling Orkut… and failed miserably. Anything Google tried doing with Orkut seemed like it was trying to create a Facebook clone – a bad one at that. Orkut had never taken off outside of Brazil and India. With the advent of Facebook, began the decline of Orkut there too.

While all of this may sound like an excellent advertisement for Facebook, it is not. Facebook has affected productivity and many studies have shown that employers have seen a decline in productivity compared to time before Facebook. Facebook is a black hole of time – I cannot think of one useful thing that I do on Facebook! Facebook reminds me of my friends’ birthdays; so I don’t take that extra effort to remember. It has somehow become acceptable to wish someone on their birthday on their “Wall”, as opposed to a call – telecom companies suffer meanwhile.

If you haven’t noticed, the right sidebar of your Facebook page is now filled with advertisements. If you are a business owner, you would do well if you published your ad on Facebook. Why? Because Facebook knows when I bought my last motorcycle (from my status), it knows my computer, it knows I’m a tech freak (because I link to a lot of Tech websites). It knows what exactly to sell me – well, mostly. Individual ad targeting is what a company would want. I never see an ad about a lipstick or a mascara – why? Because Facebook knows that I’m less likely to click on an ad of Lakme or Maybelline! So, every hour you spend on Facebook, some body makes money – no points for realizing that it is not YOU!

Another very sad thing about what Facebook has done is, that it has generated a false sense of action. I have seen many requests to “support a cause” – “Save the Tiger”, “Help Earth”, “Feed the poor” – so on and so forth. While the intention is noble, I quote my good friend who runs an NGO called Vanamitra (meaning, Friend of the Forest), recently posted on Facebook (ironically) – “Facebook has sadly resulted in a prolific increase in Armchair Activists”. Clicking “Support Cause” on Facebook does very little to help, but people I think, are experiencing a false satisfaction having been led to believe that they have helped in some way – NO – clicking on a button on a website does not count as helping!

Here’s an idea for Facebook – Why not verify these causes and donate an amount towards that cause each time a person supports it? Then maybe clicking “Support” makes sense!

All said, will this stop me from using Facebook? Maybe not, but I hope to audit how much time I spend on it and cut down to bare minimum. Like I have said before, Facebook is definitely bringing the world closer and at the same time, distancing relationships further.

Save some for us

It is very unfortunate that the ever-increasing population is depleting our already diminishing natural resources. We make such a hue and cry about every special day that comes and goes. Be it the Children’s day, the Valentine’s Day, the Mother’s Day, and so on. We spend lavishly on our loved ones; all deserving – no qualms there. However, when it is the World Environment day, it just passes with not a single voice raised.

I remember when we were kids, we celebrated days like the Vanamahotsava, the Environment day with real enthusiasm. It was more of a moral responsibility for us at that time. I wonder where all that enthusiasm has gone. Have we grown so indifferent to celebrate those little things in life? Have we become so busy that we cannot take time off to thank Mother Earth?

I very recently completed reading a book – “The Grand Design” by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow – which talks about how the universe was created and how extremely conducive the Earth is to harbour life. The book says that if the orbital eccentricity of Earth’s revolution around the sun was off even as little as 1%, life would not have existed on earth. Further, if Earth was even a few thousand kilometres away from sun, the temperature difference would be so large that in summer all the water would evaporate and in winter it would all get frozen! Earth is such a carefully crafted jewel that bears life – so called intelligent life. We are in fact, lucky to exist let alone survive and thrive at this magnitude.

Every day, we see trees felled in the name of modernization; forests cleared out to satisfy the needs of the ever-growing population; fertile land consumed by large manufacturing units! And everybody is torn apart trying to choose between nature and technology. Is there really a need to choose between the two? Cannot preservation of nature and technological advancements happen hand-in-hand?

Technology should evolve to protect nature; not exploit it. It is up to us – the intelligent life forms – to innovate and invent not only user-friendly technology but also technology which is nature-friendly.

P.S.: The title “Save some for us” was a slogan for a model-making competition which I had taken part in my school days. The theme of the competition was preserving the natural habitat for the wild and endangered animals and stop over use and over exploitation by man.