Thursday, August 12, 2004

Are Indians Insanely Optimistic? 

Time and again, Indians show a sense of optimism that borders on unreasonable. Especially so in sporting domains. For instance, the latest Redif survey (in the wake of a crackpot study by PWC [who at least get paid for their crackpot studies in general], which predicted a similar result for India) when asked will India win 10 medals at the Athens Olympics, a whooping 81% (currently) are saying yes! Now I know surveys are a crackpot device themselves, but still, I mean, even for fun how can someone click a yes ;-). And this isn't a one-off case either. The last World Cup final, similar numbers were sure India will win (including your truly ;-)).

Neither is this optimism a constant. There is a huge fluctuation in the face of first bad result -- like our hockey team losing to some sub-standard team. Then suddenly the polls go ulta. Optimism and pessimism are the two sides of the same coin, eh? so if not insane, are we at least a maniac-depressive society?

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Paradise Lost (and Found) 

Somehow Time Asia is the last place where I'd have expected to find anything sublime, but they proved me wrong. The July 26-Aug 2 Issue of Time Asia is an eminently readable one, for it captures diverse images of Asia. In one of the articles,All Is Not Lost, Jonathan Spence tells the story of Zhang Dai, a Seventeenth century Chinese historian/scholar, who lost almost everything in the Manchu invasion of 1644, and tried to reconstruct his lost paradise:
The initial impulse to recapture the past, Zhang Dai tells us, sprang from a trip he made to the celebrated West Lake in Hangzhou in the early 1650s, when the fighting had ended in Manchu victory and he traveled back to the city to see what had survived. He found the villas laid waste, the people scattered, the charm vanished. His first reaction was simple despair, followed by a grinding sense of loss. But those emotions were superseded by the realization that he had known in detail what had now vanished, and thus the images he could conjure up might serve to replace the loss and the waste. The reality that he retained was the reality that would survive, and thus the loss was lessened.
Howard Roark, the superhuman (or unreal, as most critics would say) hero in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead says: We live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form. Zhang Dai's story is an illustration of that precept. Incidentally, the theme of the Time Asia's said issue is search for paradise, and the inherent subjectivity of the very idea. So for a women in Laos (belonging to the Hmong tribe) the image of the Australian author's wife, relaxing on a rock alongside a beach is the mortal image of a paradise. For every paradise lost then, there is an opportunity for finding one, or even recreating one.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Empire Strikes Back 

When I wrote in a blog recently, that:
But then, for all we know, in a few years, the mainstream media might have adapted itself to the blogging world! We should just keep our fingers crossed.
I was not aware that the mainstream media - the gigantic empire that is supposed to make or brake fortunes of politicians and artists alike, is already taking a note, and gearing up into defense. Well, it's happening already, and somehow I've a feeling, this isn't a one-off phenomenon. We would see a lot of this in coming days and months. What am I talking about? Here is a NYT article (needs registration) about the bloggers being invited to cover the recent Democratic National Convention in the US.

Web Diarists Are Now Official Members of Convention Press Corps

As usual, NYT packs it's punch in the very subject line itself by clubbing all bloggers -- including freelance journalists -- into a condescending tag of web diarists. Well, etymologically blog is just a web journal or a diary, but surely there is more to life than etymology ;). What it does however is reduce the importance of the blogging phenomenon in the eyes of the yet neutral readers.

In Demeaning bloggers: the NYTimes is running scared (which probably repeats the NYT's folly of biasing the subjectline for effect) Danah Boyd observes correctly that:
The entire spin of the article focuses on how bloggers are like children in a candy store - naive, inexperienced and overwhelmed by what is now available to them. The article focuses on the minutia of blogging, emphasizing that bloggers won’t really cover the real issues, but provide the “low-brow” gossip.
Going back to the NYT article, the big-media game of crying objectivity-foul, and take a moral high-ground on the basis of definition:
"I think that bloggers have put the issue of professionalism under attack," said Thomas McPhail, professor of media studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who argues that journalists should be professionally credentialed. "They have no pretense to objectivity. They don't cover both sides."
Observe that the very notion of objectivity of the mainstream media (and the lack of it in bloggers) is introduced as a subjective opinion of a Professor (lending it an air of authority). However, I agree with the basic assumption that conventional journalism keeps objectivity as a noble aim (which is violated every other second, but we'll let that pass for now) whereas bloggers don't even pretend to be objective. Afterall, they are voicing their opinion. But the holy-cow of objectivity in reporting is just that -- a product of media's collective virtual reality kit. The coverage that India has got in the omniscient western press is enough to drive the point home.

Danah Boyd in her Salon.com article The new blogocracy offers defense for blogging:
Blogging is a relatively young phenomenon, and its growing pains and identity search are ever transparent. The tendency of bloggers to talk about blogging is often criticized, yet this practice of self-reflection is precisely what makes blogging a valuable contribution to public discourse. Bloggers are highly critical, questioning creatures. Whatever their subject, they document their observations and examine them inquisitively.
The article also talks about the objectivity/subjectivity issue that's very much at the centre of this war:
As a practice, journalism espouses an air of objectivity, purporting to cover all sides of a debate, equally and with emotional distance. While few believe that journalists are unbiased, it is considered a respectable aim of the profession and readers expect them to be as objective as possible. Bloggers, on the other hand, have no such cultural code and their readers rarely hold them accountable for objectivity. In fact, what makes blogging confusing for many is that the practices encompassed by that term are quite diverse.
In Lila: An Enquiry Into Morals, Robert M. Pirsig talks about the objectivity wall that's protecting the whole field of cultural anthropology. But objective cultural anthropology is like objective journalism -- good only in theory. You only see what you want to see! So NYT is really walking on a thin ice of objectivity. The Salon piece goes deeper into the issue:
There appear to be four primary conceptual paradigms that frame blogging: 1) journalism; 2) diarying or journaling; 3) note passing; 4) fieldbook note taking. Everyone is trying to make sense of blogging by stuffing it into one of these paradigms, but in fact, it is a new practice that transcends all four while drawing on aspects from all of them
Rajiv Malhotra, Sankran Sanu and others on Sulekha have argued precisely that the Western (and hence Indian) academics have always tried to fit in the Indic culture in western paradigms -- and with disastrous results. Instead of using such opportunities to enlarge or even replace paradigms, the power centers have this tendency of stuffing the data into paradigms, discarding alleged dichotomies, contradictions. This is because, when a model changes, power centers change, and who would let that happen? Certainly not those who are at the center.

Thankfully, the Salon article chooses to elaborate on the nuances of this interesting debate on the role of bloggers in the media order. A very insightful paragraph (emphasis mine)
Blogging will not replace traditional journalism, but it presents a threat to the normative press culture and an opportunity for radical reporting. Bloggers do place the issue of professionalism under attack, not by being unprofessional, but by exposing the ways in which the media operates. As blogging reaches the masses, people are introduced to information that was not reported because it did not suit the party line. Bloggers will happily document the power games that they witness in the press room and will expose future Jayson Blairs. Bloggers also capture information that the mainstream press does not yet realize is valuable ...
I feel that bloggers should not try and replace the mainstream journalism. Afterall, they are the new phenomenon. Let the mainstream media adapt. The alternative media should stick to their niche. The future is too complex to predict anyway. What is certain is that we're at interesting crossroads.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Quote of the Week 

You never read your own books. I don't know how anybody can. When you write a book it's a way of getting rid of something that you don't particularly want back. Like dain' a shite.
Irvine Welsh, interviewed in the weekend’s Observer (Thanks to the Maud Blog)

The GenNext: Will Bloggers Define Tomorrow's Journalism? 

In The Next Generation of Journalists Will Start as Bloggers, Ernest Miller writes (thanks to this Smart Mobs blog) :
Why don't we take a look at the future of journalism and blogging a few years down the road? Where will the next generation of journalists be learning their craft and filing their first stories? I think an awful lot of them will learn through the process of blogging. Often, the people who become journalists do so because they like to learn about new things, they like to find stories, and they like to write and pass those stories on. If journalism is in their blood at a young age, they're going to start blogging long before they set foot in a J-School. School newspapers are passé, school blogs are cool.
Indeed! The best thing about blogging is that you are your own boss. If you can convince yourself that something needs to be said, that's all it takes for a blog to come into existence (and of course, the writing part!). Thing is, the kind of instant feedback that you might get in blogs is much valuable, especially so in the formative years. However, too much of feedback might destroy (or significantly hamper) the natural growth of the writer -- the development of his/her unique style. So how soon is okay?

Besides, blogging is very different from journalism in the sense that journalism is this objective discipline (in theory at least!) where as blogs are inherently subjective. That is NOT bad per se, in fact that is the USP of blogs. But once one is used to that kind of editorial freedom how does one really adapt to the mainstream media? But then, for all we know, in a few years, the mainstream media might have adapted itself to the blogging world! We should just keep our fingers crossed.

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