the people, united, will never be defeated


But I probably should, for the practice.

140 characters is about all I manage these days.

On Monday my best friend Tanya called me from Switzerland to tell me something distressing: her mom no longer thinks she’s Indian. Tanya wants to get married in Delhi next September to her fiancé Aris, who is ethnically Indian but was adopted by Swiss parents when he was a baby. Her mom is now opposed to this plan, telling Tanya that since she is marrying a (to her) non-Indian, for love and has lived with him before marriage, she is no longer Indian and therefore not entitled to a wedding in Delhi. What Tanya was calling to ask me was: what does it mean to be Indian? Is she still Indian, and therefore entitled to an Indian wedding, or not?

This is the context in which I gravitated to the poem “Romantic” by Armand Garnet Ruffo. Though it deals with the question of “Indian-ness” in a completely different sense, the issues of performativeness versus authenticity are similar. Ruffo’s poem asks the question: is romanticization okay?

Continue reading ‘“Romantic” by Armand Garnet Ruffo’

“An antipathy, however mild, to foreignness is indispensable to the creed of localism, which seeks to make our economic worlds more intelligible by shrinking them”

~ Kelefa Sanneh “Fast bikes, slow food, and the workplace wars


(Cross-posted on The Mark)

Right now, technology is changing the game for traditional media in the same way that it is for governments and businesses – the internet has reshaped our expectations about convenience, immediacy, interactivity, responsiveness, “interestingness,” cost, etc. In some ways this is a problem (are our expectations unreasonable?) but in other ways, it’s potentially quite beneficial (we should have much higher expectations for our media – and our democracy – and we can collaborate together to realize those expectations in ways that weren’t possible before).

It’s not simply that the mail is being “replaced” by the internet – it’s that our understanding of communication is so different that mail doesn’t even make sense to many of us anymore. But it takes time for even the most savvy of online service providers to adjust to these shifts and capitalize on them.

Google took some strides to seize the potential of email with Gmail – which classifies email threads as “conversations,” moving away from the outdated metaphor of letters – but it will only be with the launch of Google Wave that we’ll really see email become a conversation by taking advantage of the potential for real-time interaction that the internet allows (complete with the ability to interrupt each other).

Adapting successfully to the new paradigm will require a great degree of abstract thinking, an ability to understand your business as fulfilling needs rather than creating a product, and a willingness to meet those needs in whatever way makes the most sense given the current state of technology and society. If media outlets had been more savvy, there never would have been a Google – newspapers would have realized more quickly that their role as arbiters and classifiers of information required them to be the earliest and best adopters of the internet. That wasn’t what happened, obviously.

But just because big institutions have always been terrible at this kind of innovation is no reason to assume they can’t pull it off. The good news for traditional media providers is that, if they can find a way to become more nimble, there are still lots of opportunities to get in on the shift while it’s still happening and to offer something new that capitalizes on these changes in a way nothing else has yet. For many consumers, online media is just like real-life media with the addition of flashing happy faces and dancing monkeys. There’s still plenty of opportunity to show these people that the online world has new, different, and desirable things to offer. But what?

Continue reading ‘Finding meaning online’

The Twitter storm around the riots following the Iranian elections is sure to be seen as Twitter’s real coming-out party. But – what the hell is Twitter, really? How does it work, and does it really matter?

This will be easier to understand if you’ve actually seen Twitter, so check out the stream of Twitter messages on Iran (often called a feed) on Twitter right now.

This is how Twitter mattered for those in Iran and outside – even if I’ve never met you, and I’m in Vancouver and you’re in Tehran, or we’re both in Tehran but a few kilometres apart, you can send me a 140 character message. How? By putting what’s called a hashtag (simply a few words with the pound sign in front of it) into your message (called a “tweet”) using Twitter on your cell phone. So, if I’m on Twitter I can watch every single message being sent using the #iranelection hashtag, and get some idea of what’s going on (if I’m good at filtering things – when I checked yesterday there were more than a thousand messages, some only tangentially related, every few minutes). Or I might want to send a message that says “Riot police approaching Tehran university. Stay away #iranelection” or “Riot police approaching Tehran university. Send reinforcements. #iranelection.”

There really is no other way to enable a vast number of people who don’t know each other (or even those who do) to communicate in this immediate fashion, simply based on a common concern.The potential this creates to organize is wholly new.

Twitter is also important because it’s mobile – because you can use it on your cell phone it’s more difficult for government to shut down or control.

Beyond the immediate benefits of the technology for people on the ground in Tehran, here’s how I see the use of Twitter having been important during this time:

Continue reading ‘What you need to understand about the riots in Iran and Twitter’