Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Pitfalls of Modern Democracy

While penning this blog, I am frequently reminded of my school days, when in one of the chapters of my social science textbooks, I came across a description of the different forms of government in a country, which, quite succinctly referred to democracy as a form of governance, that is ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. That was almost three decades ago. A lot of things on the global socio-political landscape have transpired since then, making the above definition obsolete, by making it synonymous with a form of government that is only ‘of and by the people’, and definitely not ‘for the people’. In between, the world has witnessed the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, the Gujarat massacre of 2002, the Iraq War of 2003, the global financial meltdown of 2008-2009, the frequently happening Israel-Palestine face-offs and the recent social unrest in Libya and Syria. Even though, out of all the countries involved in these world transforming developments, only a few of them are pure democracies, still, the concerned incidents have been triggered by eminent policy and decision-makers occupying responsible positions as part of the new world order in these economies. This state of affairs persuades us to question the safety and appropriateness of democracy, or ‘peoples’ rule’ in countries where it prevails for the benefit of the society at large, The current blog tries arguing, why democracy may not be the most suitable form of government, by throwing light upon some of its deep-rooted ills and vices.   
One of the most self-damaging and inseparable features of modern day democracy is ‘populism’, which is derived from the Latin term ‘populus’, that means ‘people’. Hence, it is strongly connected to democracy which, as mentioned earlier is all about peoples’ rule. Though, present in all democratic systems worldwide, it wields its most profound influence on those political systems which undergo an institutional transition, with some of its anti-democratic and salient features being, “hostility to representative democracy, lack of core values, chameleonic tendencies, reactive rather than a proactive approach towards extreme crisis, and a self-limiting quality” (Populism – a threat 2009). The viciousness of this political ideology is visible as a “wavelike diffusion of political-regime contention across European and Latin American countries” (Weyland, 2013), where the populist leaders like Carlos Saul Menem, Alberto Fujimori and the late Venezualan President Hugo Chavez, smitten by the desire to win by establishing direct face-to-face contact with the public - a populist modus operandi of displaying “personalistic charismatic leadership that thrives on quasi-direct links to a loosely organized mass of heterogenous followers” (Weyland, 2013) often exerted state power through the propagation of “pluralism, open debate and fair competition” (Weyland 2013, 20), and in the process bypassed intermediate institutions like firmly organised parties. Consequently, their unsatiated political ambitions ended up weakening constitutional checks, while undermining the institutional protections against the misuse of power and led to political hegemony.
Another weakness of the contemporary democratic setup lies in its inability to combat the deep and inerasable racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic social divisions examined by Glazer (2010) in a comparative study of India, United States and Canada. These fractions take different forms in all these countries, with India jaundiced by grave levels of casteism, and communal frenzy rife with language differences, the United States often globally criticised for not being able to guarantee equal rights for Blacks and Whites, and Canada popular for its “Francophonic and Anglophonic divisions” (Glazer, 2010). The results of the investigation reveal that out of all the three nations only Canadian democracy has been mostly successful in dealing with its great social divide given an improved socio-economic equality attained by the French-speaking Quebec population and a decline in violence between the Francophines and Anglophones. On the other hand, despite being the world’s two largest democracies, both India and United States have failed miserably in attaining the desired democratic success. While the United States still bears the deep scars of the history’s biggest traumatic event it underwent in the form of a Civil War that, after a great deal of bloodshed could only achieve institutional and not economic equality for African-Americans, India, on the other hand, is still reeling under the age-old casteism, especially in remote rural areas, despite an official constitutional ban on it. Finally, the country continues struggling with low education, high unemployment and low income rates among Muslims, “along with a constantly looming  threat of mass assualt on their communities” (Glazer, 2010), as already proved in the recent past by the infamous Godhra riots of Gujarat in 2002.

The above discussion reveals the over-ambitious nature of man, and the havoc it can play when combined with unlimited power and authority, in the form of selfish behavior and actions purely driven by his fancies and whims. It also portrays how a democratic setup, though, initially conceptualised as a form of government to put the interests of people - the building blocks of any nation over everything else, can add fuel to the fire, if it falls into the wrong hands. Thus, putting a big question mark on the overall effectiveness of democracy as a form of government.              

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Deep down we are all MARKETERS!!

Wondering why? Well, before I feed you with an answer and the logic behind it, let us all try recalling the following incidents which made me think on these lines and ultimately move my fingers into writing this blog. Remember the first time we asked our parents for pocket money, or even a raise in the same; the first time we asked the most beautiful girl in our college out for a date and later on proposed her for marriage; the first time we participated in the case discussion and final interview selection round of our graduate school; and finally, our first job interview where we battled our way out to work in our dream company.

Apart from the fact that they depict the different phases of our lives, another common thread running through all these examples is that they make use of “persuasion”. Yes, you heard that right. And we all know that “persuasion” is not alien to the world of marketing. But still, how does that tie them up together? In fact, before we even answer that question, we need to know first of all what “marketing” means? My professor once gave me one of the simplest definitions of “marketing”. He said that when you make a horse terribly thirsty by making him run non-stop in a field for a very long time, that’s “marketing”, however, when you provide him with food and water that is “selling”. Confused? To make it more understandable, let’s look at it this way, “marketing” refers to the generation of needs for a product or service, and is different from “selling”, which refers to the satisfaction of those needs. It means the needs generated may either be non-existent, as in the case of the pocket money example, where the parents might not at all feel the need to raise the amount, not because they have carefully pondered over it and then decided no!, but because the thought never even crossed their mind, or they may be latent, as in the case of your prospective girlfriend who may be on a lookout for a suitable boyfriend who would not only flatter her but also take good care of her, both emotionally and physically (but she won’t announce it on a loudspeaker). Further, the needs may also be existent and clearly communicated too, as in the case of the hiring company which openly announces its need for fresh manpower through its recruitment advertisements or when political leaders during election campaigns, give long, emotionally-charged speeches, openly asking for votes. Moreover, every first party in these situations is trying to persuade the other party to empathize with them and fulfill their demands. The logic behind this process traces itself to the human psychological and physiological architecture which biologically wires man to put his best foot forward in whatever he/she does in order to form an exceedingly positive first impression, so as to avoid risking leaving any stone unturned in case of a half-baked effort which might leave the other party unimpressed, hence, lowering the probability of successfully convincing them (second party) to fulfill their (first party) demands.

This does not come easy, since the second party has an abundance of options to choose from. Hence, you might be the most handsome and stinking rich hunk around, but your prospective girlfriend has no dearth of boys to choose from. Similarly, even your immaculate demeanor doesn’t single you out as the most obvious and the only choice for the coveted job especially with the ever increasing global unemployment rates that have made other candidates knock the same office for the interview. Also, even your parents need a convincing answer to justify your pocket money raise as compared to your elder brother or sister (sorry, equal treatment as part of parental upbringing is just not acceptable, you need a more logical explanation…J).

To be heard across impact fully, in all these examples, we need to “market” ourselves successfully by cleverly trying to highlight our positives while underplaying the negatives. So, despite being younger to your sibling, you can cite examples of how much of a judicious spender are you in comparison to his/her prodigal acts. Similarly, apart from being opulent you can count on your social reputation (by the way it needs homework in advance) of not being a Casanova who keeps on changing girlfriends every two weeks, and in fact, not having even a single girlfriend throughout except her (your neighborhood verification proves it).   

Coming back to our analogy, we, upon close scrutiny, find that most marketing efforts, including advertising and other promotional techniques also function on the same dynamics of human behavior, aimed primarily to ignite your all sorts of covert, overt and even non-existent needs, and then persuade you to buy the advertised products and services with their own sets of uniquely distinctive and positive features, as a satisfactory solution. Thus, an advertisement about Coke or Pepsi may instantly target the youth in you, immediately triggering the need to look super cool by gulping down a bottle even if it contains caffeine which is bad for your health or a Volkswagen advertisement may instantly help you recall the previously existing need for safety of your family to be considered while going for the right vehicle, even if it means ending up paying a higher price for it. Moreover, their target audiences also have a variety of brands and products (read ‘options’) to choose from, thereby, making this analogy converge somewhere, hence, proving it to be true.

I am not trying to encourage you to be distrustful of what others say, but only suggesting you to read between the spoken lines and sniff the hidden marketing intention, the next time someone asks you for something.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Meet INVENTION - The World’s Only Beloved Illegitimate Child

Necessity is the mother of invention...........we all have grown up encountering this one liner as part of both our science lectures and normal conversations with teachers, parents and friends. But have you noticed that this phrase only mentions about the invention’s ‘mother’, cleverly omitting the ‘father’? Why? The immediately logical response would be that “because the line basically presents invention as a newborn child, therefore, it is imperative to have mention of the person responsible for its birth i.e. the mother”. Quite true, but drawing an analogy to biology and medicine, quickly reminds us that though a child is delivered from a woman’s womb, but its creation inside is the result of the procreative process outside in which both the mother and father are equally involved. So why make the mother only take credit for everything in this phrase, leaving the poor father behind?  Or is it that this poor child is fatherless? If yes, then he is an illegitimate or born out of wedlock. Logically speaking, then we all should be making him the target of our jibes and curses, acting in social conformity of boycotting fatherless children, like we always do. But surprisingly, this kid has a different story altogether. He is loved and protected more than a legitimate child, so much so that its creators queue up outside patent and copyright offices to seek its longevity of life, the moment it takes its first breath. Whatever the case, but one thing is for sure, an invention is a priceless child (reminds me of “Richie Rich - the multi-millionaire kid” in comic books). The level of possessiveness surrounding it cannot be emphasized more, given the recent spate of litigation war between Apple & Samsung, making the latter cough up a whopping $1.04 billion as penalty for trying to illegitimately clone the reproduction process and even the appearance of Jobs’ grandchildren (Apple’s kids - iPhone & iPad) in terms of their software and hardware designs. Anyways, that’s a different story (related though) we don’t need to touch upon, lest we digress from the issue.  
Every invention or innovation for that matter germinates with the conception of an idea, propelled by the need or desire to solve a problem and initially, it has no entity, and can change hands “in a heartbeat”. Flip pages from history and you would find almost all historical game-changing inventions; from the legendary steam engine to the revolutionary iPhone & iPad tread the same path. In that sense, we can definitely give all the credit for its birth to its mother, which is nothing but the very idea to challenge the status quo and do something offbeat, something different. However, we all know that bringing a life into this world just by “performing the act” is not enough. That life needs constant supervision, love and sustained efforts to help it thrive to its full potential like a newborn sapling which also requires the same attention to help grow into a strong shady tree. Here, along with the psychological and emotional care we are talking about the monetary concern that is just equally important to make the otherwise saleable idea morph into a path-breaking product or a business venture. Hence comes, the overbearing role of the father or in the business language, funding of the invention or idea. Even if your idea is conceptually sound and commercially viable, how many takers are there for it? Is anyone willing to fund it? Hotmail would have remained just a thought powered by Sabeer Bhatia’s need to solve the problem of staying in touch with his co-workers on account of frequent travels, given the fact, that mobile phones were still a far-fetched dream more than a decade back in India; had Microsoft not bought it from Mr. Bhatia for $400 million. So, merely dreaming and implementing an e-mail system was not enough, but selling it by using the brand name of Microsoft was equally important for ensuring its prolonged life and continual evolution. But, unfortunately, most of us, while talking about any product or invention or innovation, only recognize the person responsible for conceptualizing it, without even thinking about the entity that met its initial round of funding needs and, hence, played a crucial part in making it a household name.

It is for this reason I guess, the name of every invention’s father remains hidden behind its mother, making it an illegitimate child and hence the saying, Necessity is the mother of invention.            

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Fragile World of Digital Intellectual Property Rights: Thought Thieves’ Favorite Target

Intellectual Property Rights refer to the legal rights of an original creator or inventor of any
property that has commercial value attached to it. In the traditional physical world it is addressed
using familiar terms like patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade designs, industrial designs etc.,
all of which stem from the creative intellect and ideas of their creators, the fodder for which is
provided by their knowledge and innovative thinking, which from times immemorial has served
as a hallmark of success for each stage of human civilization. These IPRs are most commonly
used to distinguish one organization’s products and services from another, thereby, not only
informing the customers about their origin but also serving as a source of competitive advantage
for the organizations. However, the recent wave of digital technological advancements, that
started a few decades back with the emergence of the first bulky IBM computer, which gave
way to Information Technology and Internet later on; and in the contemporary times comprises
of high-end open-graph internet gadgets and cutting-edge technologies like smartphones,
tablet PCs, social media, online gaming and chatting, smart cameras, e-books and audio
books etc. have literally opened the previously closed “Pandora’s Knowledge Box” by giving
it universally instantaneous access. Today, just by the click of a mouse, someone living in
Bangalore and Bangkok can access wide variety of online content simultaneously. The issue has
swollen manifold with the availability of open-source software programs and P2P file sharing
networks like Bit Torrent, eDonkey etc., allowing one user to access an e-book or an online
game by illegally downloading and sharing it worldwide for free, thereby, depreciating both
its commercial and intellectual value big time by cutting its revenue generation stream and
discouraging future creative works by the original creators/inventors with lack of adequate
safeguard in the form of archaic and rigid IPR & Copyright Laws wearing a vintage look, often
both deemed incompetent by law enforcement authorities to effectively combat the new digital
age and scoffed at by the law violators, who often consider themselves above the law.

Call it the insufficient nature of the IPR laws to take on the very anti-IPR DNA of digital
information, or the lack of awareness and understanding or even misunderstanding amongst
people about their legal friends, but at the vortex of the entire chaos lies the creator (human behavior)
constantly at loggerheads with its creation (technology and law).

For more information, see my debut tech. publication below: