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Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Rise and Fall of Television

There was a time in India when people did not have television sets in their homes because they could not afford one. However, in the recent past I have seen 3-4 families from well to do backgrounds not having television sets (on purpose) in their homes. The reason? Simple, they do not need one! I hope there are many more homes like these...

Television is a wonderful medium (rather was when it started out). It served an important purpose of providing people with information and also entertain them. Who wouldn't want to be informed as well as entertained - all sitting in the comforts of their homes?

However often things go a bit too far, and the same has happened in case of television. Commercialisation has taken things to ridiculous levels. We now have contests on what babies should be named in one of the serials. We have a whole television channel asking (rather exhorting) people to send SMSes identifying names of famous people (the photos are a direct give away). We have a contest for practically everything. News channels are increasingly becoming tabloids and seem to live on sensationalising news stories. Everyday there is a new sting operation, new inside account of a celebrity etc.

Mind you, all this survives because there are viewers who want this. The same set of people (my family included) who used to laugh at people watching the so-called 'Sas Bahu' soaps on Hindi channels, are today devout fans of soaps of same kind on their vernacular language channels.

For me, television has become a bit like the shopping malls that we are seeing crop up at every other city. Whenever I go into a shopping mall, the urge to spend is so tremendous, that I find it almost impossible to come out of it without having spent at least a few hundred rupees. So what do I do? I tried to act 'rationally' inside a shopping mall - just go and 'only' if there is something which I really need, buy it, else come out empty handed, but to no avail. So the solution for me is to avoid going to these places as much as I can.

Same is the case with televison. If I am in the house and there is electricity (both things happening together is some rare event nowadays!), then I am inevitably sitting (and eating and reading and sleeping!) in front of a television watching practically anything that is being dished out. I am unable to rationally decide what is it that I 'need' to watch (be it for enterntainment or information) and what not (reasonable to presume that there are a fair few like me). So I have just stopped watching television. In fact like some of the families mentioned out, when I branch out into my own home, I like these families don't intend to own a television set!

I need to point out that whatever criticisms pointed out above of television, is not really of the television channels. They just reflect (may not be exactly, but they are a fairly good approximation) of what the viewers want to see. And this is a depressing state of affairs. The extent of dumbing down of people (inflicted by themselves collectively upon them) is astonishing. And I don't intend to join that party - even if this means that I am taking a slightly extreme stand.

Further, this dumbing down is not merely restricted to television but extends to press also. Its fair to say that in India, there is only one type of press - confused press. Globally (at least in developed markets) we have press clearly segmented - serious press, tabloid press etc. But here we have the same newspapers talking about poverty reduction and and stock markets and celebrity gossip etc.

Internet is however a wonderful reason. Why? simply because it gives me choice and control over my choice. When I want information, I can choose what information I want and I can directly get that. When I want entertained I can choose the exact manner. Its nice to have such freedom.

Finally, I admire above mentioned families for thinking out of conventional wisdom. Its easy to get dragged into thinking like everyone else and mimicking broad societal behaviour. It takes some strength of mind to resist it and thinking on your own and I like it.

Thats it for today...

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Awakening

2005 has been a fairly eventful year for me. Its the year I received some academic recognition, its the year I got my first job and most importantly its the year I received some rude awakening.

I must admit here that I am not an avid book reader. But 4 books that I have read during the course of this year (4 is a huge number for me!) - Deep Simplicity by John Gribbin, Fooled by Randomness by Naseem Taleb, Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman and Innumeracy - Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences by John Paulos have had a significant lasting impact.

What it has made me realise is that although I have spent the better part of first quarter of my life studying, I haven't really learnt that much. Some of the more fundamental learnings that ought to have happened fairly early on in my learning period have not happened. I get swayed by emotion all too often, I get easily carried away by bouts of optimism and pessimism. I find it difficult to take a dispassionate view of things, do the numbers/arguments and come to a cold yet reasonably correct conclusion. I am now trying to learn things which I should have learnt (at least exposed to) long back. Its a very somber feeling to have. Alas...

However the 4 books above and my learnings from 2 very good professors whom I had the privilege to study under have changed me. I am increasingly becoming more and more a skeptical person. Increasingly find very little to read about in newspapers and television very boring.

However the one thing I am very much interested in and it continues to interest me is financial markets. I just love them. They are a huge fun and a great source of learning.

So as I go along, I plan to use this forum to take the contrarian view (or the non-majority view) of many a contemproray topics. Maybe dismiss some pretty idiotic beliefs or opinions that some people have.

To end, here's a nice quote to sum up:

"It is not worth an intelligent man's time to be in the majority. By definition, there are already enough people to do that" - G.H.Hardy

Thats it for today...