Tag: Future of Life

Issues with the Internet

woman in black blouse sitting in front of silver laptop
Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

As I write this, this seems to be the season for bad news. Most of the stuff that we come across on Digital media (and offline) seems to be doom and gloom. And that set me thinking – Is it really this bad? Or are we experiencing the negative aspects of our ‘always-on’ culture?

I freely admit that I am not very tech friendly, but I am not a technophobe either. I have been working in the Digital economy for two decades now, but friends still laugh when they find out that I frequently know less than them on some specific use cases of the Web. This is especially true when it comes to Mobile phones. While I have had smart phones for a while now, they were mostly work phones and as such, I was very careful not to use it for any personal use (as far as possible). That all changed in 2015, when I purchased my first smartphone for personal use.

I will not deny that there are some positives to come out of the ‘always-on’ culture that the smartphone, especially, has helped drive. For one, connecting with friends and family has become much easier. And that, I believe, is a very good thing. Commuting has become much easier, enabling greater discoverability of places and experiences. Beyond these two, however, there are very few other use cases where I can confidently say that things have changed significantly for the better. The only one that comes to mind is personal transportation. I believe the ride-sharing / on-demand cab services have been extremely helpful, especially if one is living in or traveling to a city with inadequate public transport.

But on the flip-side, these positives have also been accompanied by many negatives. As I started doing some online research on what could be some of the challenges and issues brought about by high levels of internet use, I could not find very many useful articles. Many of them were about the technical issues of connectivity and the Internet of Things. A few touched upon the possible impacts at an individual level. But I was looking at studies that considered the overall societal impact of the Internet.

I finally found what I was looking for on the EU website. Whatever be your opinion of the EU (mine is that it’s a very valuable body, but too bureaucratic), there is no doubt that they are doing some very valuable research on some important topics. One of them is a study on “How The Internet Can Harm Us, And What Can We Do About It?“, released about a year ago (February 2019).

There are two parts to this study. Part 1 looks at the harm caused by internet addiction, but I was more interested in Part 2 that covers the harmful effects on individuals and societies associated with internet use. I am still going through the detailed report (runs into 72 pages), but it has, very helpfully, put out a summary right at the beginning. And these are the eight harmful effects that the study has identified:

  • Internet addiction – ‘lack of control over one’s internet consumption that can lead to a decrease in physical and psychological wellbeing, with associated symptoms of distress, anger, loss of control, social withdrawal, familial conflicts, and others.’
  • Information overload – ‘having too much information to adequately understand an issue or make effective decisions… associated with loss of control, feelings of being
    overwhelmed, reduced intellectual performance, diminished job satisfaction, damaged personal relationships, and harms to health.
  • Harmful effects on knowledge and belief – ‘Misinformation can cause significant harms to the health and wellbeing of individuals and to the proper functioning of society, including the functioning of democratic institutions.’
  • Harm to public/private boundaries – ‘Harm is done by the way in which the internet and smartphones blur the distinction between private and public, and between the spheres of life, including work, home life, leisure and travel…Harm that can result from such permeations includes loss of quality of life, harm to privacy, decreased safety and security.
  • Harm to social relationships – ‘Extensive internet use, particular social media use, is correlated with loneliness and social isolation.’
  • Harm to communities – ‘Many offline communities are being harmed because of the partial migration of many human activities (shopping, commerce, socialising, leisure activities, professional interactions) to the internet… As replacements, they are often not adequate, since they often do not possess some of the valuable qualities of online communities, and do not possess some of the strongest qualities of offline communities, and may also suffer from impoverished communication, incivility, and lack of trust and commitment.
  • Harm to cognitive development – ‘there is evidence that children can be harmed in their cognitive development by prolonged internet use, including harm to the development of memory skills, attention span, abilities for critical reasoning, language acquisition, reading, and learning abilities.’
  • Harm to democracy and democratic citizenship – ‘Some online activities, however,
    appear harmful to democratic deliberation and decision-making. These include (1) the incivility of much online (political) discourse, (2) ideological and political polarisation that is correlated with internet use, (3) misinformation, particularly ‘fake news’, and (4) voter manipulation through profiling based on harvested social media information.

I am sure that many of us would broadly relate to and agree with the above. I was impressed by the breadth of the findings. I intend to spend more time understanding the study in greater detail.

The study has also suggested some policy options for preventing and mitigating these effects. Again, they seem very logical and comprehensive. But that will have to wait for another post!


Harmful internet use – Part II: Impact on culture and society
Study – January 2019

Monday Reads – 02/03

Laptop with image of food
Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

History, Future, Food and Apple – an eclectic mix in this week’s set.

How German cruiser ‘Emden’ struck terror in the heart of the British Empire, and became a Tamil word – Starting with History, a fascinating story from the time of World War II and the birth of a new word in the Tamil and Malayalam languages.

Steve Wozniak – Continuing with History, I just came across this fascinating interview with the co-founder of Apple. It seems like everyone knows everything about Steve Jobs, but this was an eye-opening interview about the engineer who set Apple on the path to future success.

Superintelligence – Speaking about the future, this is a thought-provoking article on what might be the biological impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on humans, and what the end state might look like. It also asks us to think about ‘Why is it that we exist as humans?’

What Noma did next: how the ‘New Nordic’ is reshaping the food world – And finally, a long, but very informative article from the word of Fine Dining. It is interesting to see how a restaurant (and now, movement) has been so successful in establishing a region that was not really know for its food culture on to the World Map of Fine Dining. It will be great to see something similar evolve for Indian (or South Asian) cuisine.

2019 Consumer Insights – Google

light smartphone macbook mockup
Photo by Caio Resende on Pexels.com

As I have mentioned a couple of times already, it’s that time of the year when literally anyone and everyone is busy preparing and sharing their lists of insights and trends.

I came across Google’s view recently. And I found it distinctly underwhelming.

It’s very surprising to hear Google say that this is the year (2019) when ‘consumer journeys became increasingly complex‘. As someone who has been in the field of Digital Marketing for over 15 years now, this is something that was obvious to me for at least the last five years. The seeds for this were sown, I would say, in 2007, when Apple launched the iPhone and the smartphone revolution took off. Consumers no longer had fixed times (and places) when they accessed the Internet and could do it whenever and wherever they fancied.

The second insight is that ‘New Media Channels are Emerging‘. Really, this is big news in December 2019? I looked at the various research conducted by Google and discovered that most of these date from 2018. The only pieces of research that are later than January 2019 relate to YouTube – a channel that has been around for more than 14 years now – and Voice Search. Now I agree that Voice is going to be the next big thing. It might have been more accurate if Google had said that ‘Voice is Emerging as the Next Big Media Channel‘.

Moving on – the next insight is about ‘satisfying immediacy‘. Yes, this did have more recent research, but I distinctly remembered a similar insight that Google had shared last year. So I did a Google Search (:-)) for 2018 trends and voila! Read on for ‘The most interesting 2018 consumer insights you should carry into 2019‘.

Having said that, I do find it interesting that users are being more location conscious in their online searching and browsing behaviour. This is definitely something that brands should look at leveraging, wherever possible.

The next insight is that ‘Traditional industries are transforming with digital‘. Again, most of the research that supports this insight date to 2018. And given that ‘Digital Transformation‘ has been a buzzword for at least a couple of years now, is this truly insightful?

The final insight is ‘Standards are being raised in privacy and digital wellbeing‘. And this is the one that I think Google got right. Users are increasingly becoming aware of their digital footprint and digital addiction. As their October 2019 survey revealed, ‘1 in 3 Americans have taken steps to improve their digital wellbeing in the past year, and more than 80% of them said this had a positive impact on their overall sense of wellbeing.

It does look like Google has put together a largely rehashed set of insights to capitalise on this ‘End of Year’ season for insights. I would give them a rating of 2/5 for this effort, very disappointing for a leading digital business with the depth of resources that they have.

Urban Livability in India

Image of an Indian city

So it turns out that Bangalore is considered as one of the most livable cities in India. This recent news article depressed me. I have been living in Bangalore for 8 years now in two phases and I am not particularly happy with the quality of living in this city. Horrendous traffic, lack of efficient public transport, poor urban planning, very few places to visit – what does it say about the state of cities in India if this one if considered as one of the most livable?

Unfortunately, the headline was definitely click-baity. The study only considered 6 cities in India; there are 40 other cities with a population of over 1 million. Maybe the quality if life in these ‘smaller’ cities is better than the larger urban agglomerations? I have been pleasantly surprised by visits to cities such as Bhopal, Nagpur, Thiruvananthapuram. They all felt more ‘livable’ than the bigger cities. But I have not lived in any of them for an extended period of time to form a more informed opinion.

So what ails big Indian cities? I am sure there are enough experts who have studied this in detail. This is my layman’s analysis:

  • Pace of Growth – Cities have grown too big too fast for the administrative bodies to manage.
  • Corruption – need I say more?
  • Capabilities – Many of the fastest growing cities lack, in my opinion, administrative expertise and know-how in understanding what makes a big city ‘tick’?

So what are the elements that help make big cities livable?

A quick search online throws up many websites that have listed the key factors that make a city a ‘world’ city. Here are my personal comments:

  • A powerful association that is easy to appreciate – London has the arts and history, Paris has architecture and food, New York has finance and action. Closer home, Mumbai has architecture and food, Delhi has power and history, Kolkata has heritage and Chennai has culture.
  • Willingness to engage with the wider world – These cities are open to people and inspiration from all over. Yes, the language you speak is important, but possibly less so than in other cities.
  • Public spaces – Areas where the diverse population can get together and enjoy the sights and sounds. Places where residents can enjoy a pleasant day out with friends or family.
  • Accessibility – easy to use, reliable (and cheap) modes of transport where people do not have to rely primarily on private means of transport.
  • Entertainment – Enough options to cater to a diverse range of tastes.

I am biased, but all things considered, I would rank Mumbai as the closest to a ‘world’ city that India has. If only there was a way to solve the dire housing problem in the city…

Image courtesy Yash Bharadwaj on Unsplash

Monday Morning Reads – 11/11

For this week, I have shortlisted a few articles across diverse topics.

  • Software Is Reorganizing the World – This is a six year old article, but just as relevant today as when it was written, if not more so. The author, Balaji Srinivasan, states that we humans are increasingly migrating to the ‘cloud’, leading to an “increasing divergence between our social and geographic neighbors”. He goes on to explore what the future of this trend might look like. Fascinating and thought-provoking.
  • The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising – In this detailed article, authors Jesse Frederik and Maurits Martijn question the effectiveness of digital advertising. At the core of their argument is the distinction between “selection effect (people see your ad, but were already going to click, buy, register, or download)” and “the advertising effect (people see your ad, and that’s why they start clicking, buying, registering, downloading).” They argue that online advertising is not meaningfully contributing to the ‘advertising effect’. It’s very interesting, because digital marketing continues to be sold on the key differentiating factor of measurability. True, we can now measure minute details of the campaigns, but do we know the larger picture of what the campaign truly delivered (incrementally) to our business?
  • Struggle Is What Gives Us Meaning And Makes Us Human – I think (for good or bad), there can be no denying that machines (powered by AI) are going to be a significant (and growing) part of our lives. This leads to the question – what does it mean to be human in this day and age? This is the topic that William Cho has addressed in this article. His answer to the question is ‘Struggle’. Many of us would initially find this counter-intuitive, conditioned as we are to think that the purpose of our lives is comfort, or the pursuit of happiness. However, start thinking deeper, and one might just agree that the author has a point.