Category Archives: Technology

Is the government trying to create an Orwellian world?

Internet censorship in India

Remember Nineteen Eighty-Four? Not the anti-Sikh riots but the book written by George Orwell?

In that book the government controls and monitors your every action, your every thought, and every aspect of your life. Everywhere there are human and technological spies monitoring whatever you do.

The same thing seems to be happening with the latest effort of the government to monitor content on the Internet on the basis of what is “objectionable”, “defamatory”, or whatever label the so-called government is uncomfortable with.

To be frank, the Internet scares the shit out of them, especially after WikiLeaks, the unshackled conversations over Twitter and Facebook and social networking-supported civic unrests. And it’s not just the government; all the agencies, may it be bureaucracy, the conventional mainstream media and the old school businesses that thrive on people’s inability to communicate with each other, would like to throttle the free flow of information on the Internet. Precisely this is the reason why there is no hue and cry on TV channels on the government’s new censorship drive.

Wondering what’s the big deal?

According to the new Information Technology Guidelines notified by the government

  • Your Internet service provider must store your every online activity-related data that the government agencies can access any time without notification or without you ever knowing it
  • All your private conversations via e-mail and Skype (and communications via other platforms) will be accessible to the government agencies
  • All your private photographs and messages will be available to the babus
  • If your content on your blog or Facebook or anywhere else is found “objectionable” it has to be taken down within 36 hours
  • Anyone can say that your content is “defamatory” and get it removed from the World Wide Web
  • Your every tweet, every Facebook post, every video, every search on Google (and other search engines), everything is going to be monitored

The government has invested Rs. 450 crores (yes, your money) to track the undersea cables for encrypted data and more than 53 modules have already been established. It means, while I’m typing this blog post, this might already be monitored and I may have to take it down in case some nut case finds it objectionable.

This is not just an India specific problem. In the name of SOPA there are efforts also in the USA to censor the Internet and many of the Arabian countries have already convinced the rest of the world why the Internet is to be censored.

The Internet censorship is more nefarious compared to  the usual censorship because no media has impacted the world as the Internet. It is now cliched, but had Facebook been a country, it would have been the third most populated country in the world, so you can very well imagine why even the biggest governments feel sort of powerless in front of its reach. Another problem (from the control freak government’s point of view) is that you no longer have to depend on computers and laptops in order to access the Internet and social networking applications. You can interact on Twitter and Facebook even from cheapest mobile phones these days. You can even post blog posts from your smart phones. It hardly takes a few seconds for the news to spread across the country, whether you are in a train, in a bus, having lunch, having a poop, or whatever you are doing. Hence, the zeal to control it, to censor it, to severe its most important vein — freedom of expression.

Can you stop it?

You can only stop it with collective effort. Make it more damaging for the government to censor the Internet. In India it might be difficult because there is just a small portion of the population that is active on the Internet and it might not be a vote bank but were it so insignificant, why would the government try to choke it? It certainly feels threatened. It certainly has an impact.

To begin with, you can sign this online petition against the government’s new diktat. You can also approach your local MPs and MLAs and your representatives and convey to them what you think of this censorship drive (realistically, I’m not too optimistic of this approach).

Write against it on your blog. In fact, I’m going to link from this blog post to all the blog posts and articles written on this subject.

Create online forums to discuss the matter.

I mean, do whatever you want to do, but do something. Once the damage is done, it will be nearly impossible to undo it.

Related reading

 

Is upgrading software and hardware becoming an unhealthy obsession?

According to this recent article, it is. People instinctively want to upgrade their gadgets like mobile phones, Tablet PCs, computers and laptops. Until a few years ago, it used to be just the software. Whenever there was a new version out, you wanted to install it, or upgrade it. But hardware? It was upgraded only when the existing hardware configurations couldn’t accommodate the new software.

I agree that it is becoming an obsession especially when it comes to gadgets. People not only own multiple gadgets that solve the same purpose (for instance, owning smart phones from different companies) they also want to switch over to the newer version as soon as it is available. For example, whenever there is a new iPhone or iPad or even a Samsung Galaxy phone is introduced, if people can afford it, they upgrade it. Sometimes they upgrade it even when they cannot afford it (thanks to credit cards).

With some software it makes sense to upgrade, especially when it is freely and easily available, for instance WordPress (software used to publish this blog). One must upgrade to the latest version because it always comes up with security patches – the latest version is always more secure than the previous one. If somebody hacks into your account and you hadn’t upgraded, they are going to say, well, you didn’t upgrade.

Another bit of software that you need to regularly update is your antivirus software. Obvious reason.

You can also upgrade free source and open source software like most of the browsers and Linux-based operating systems such as Ubuntu simply because you just have to download them and upgrade your copy (but if you don’t have use for their new features you will be simply wasting precious hours downloading, upgrading and then tweaking).

If there is no security reason and unless the latest features aren’t helping you achieve more of what you intend to do, upgrading, especially when you have to pay for it, doesn’t make sense. You are simply wasting time and money.

Regarding gadgets, well, as my wife always says, these companies have to sell and they have to sell repeatedly. That is why every six months or even three months they are coming up with new features to entice new customers as well as existing customers – it is a never-ending thing. As far as business goes, I think this is a necessary evil that we have to live with.

Provided you have got loads of money with you, you can purchase and upgrade as many gadgets as you feel like (I would) but if you are stretching your budget simply because you cannot resist the craving for the latest gadget, I think you have got a problem. I crave for gadgets, but I have never even purchased an iPod, leave alone an iPhone or an iPad or even the Samsung Galaxy phone (I own a Samsung Galaxy Tab that was gifted to me by my father) simply because I would rather spend that money on my family, or save it.

Small change with big implications

Although I am an admirer of Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, in this New Yorker article he doesn’t seem to get social media. Coming from an author who is constantly encouraging people to embrace new thoughts and think out of the box it seems a bit strange when he tries to downplay the role of social media tools like Twitter just because you cannot be physically present at a particular place in order to stir up a social revolution.

Social media is effective because it empowers people (at least those who can connect and communicate through text, video and images). It is a communication network. It may not trigger full-fledged revolutions (well, who knows?) but it can easily internationalize local revolutions as we recently saw in the case of Iran, Egypt, and latest, even Saudi Arabia. With just a single tweet you can reach the entire global community. Of course, it doesn’t happen in every case but you can say this even about revolutions in the physical world: not all revolutions catch up and 99% of revolutions die off even before 5 people can join.

The same happens with Twitter and Facebook. After all it’s the people who are interacting and they are moved by the same things that move them in the actual physical world.

Revolution doesn’t always have to be, necessarily, dipped in sweat and blood — it is normally a mass action against an ideology, regime or bias. What is wrong if you can participate in a revolution by simply sending a tweet? It’s about expressing yourself and you don’t always have to be physically present in order to express yourself.

And there is no use of going into “Will you fight wars on Twitter and Facebook?”

Now that we have xxx domains

The porn websites will now have their own .xxx top level domain name prefixes, just like the way you have .com and .org or these days, .tv (for TV websites). Some people are thrilled (who have been missing some porn websites simply because it wasn’t clear if it were really porn sites) and some are angry (those religious losers) that it is an attempt to legitimize a nefarious activity on the Internet.

Two good things are there if we have clearly defined TLD prefixes:

  • Websites can be easily accessed
  • Websites can be easily blocked

So it’s a win-win situation for both the parties.

It’s high time we also had TLD prefixes for political websites (.pol), propaganda websites (.propaganda), Maoist websites (.mao) and Jihadi websites (.jihad). Then there can be games websites (.game), religious websites (.rel), news websites (.news). It’ll be interesting to have prefixes for all the niches because one, it’ll be easier to recognize them, and two, all of a sudden there will be so many new domains available for booking. It can be a multi-billion dollar business.

Your vision improves with proper outlook

The new studies have shown that how clearly you can see depends a lot on your attitude. Here’s the link to the news.

This is something I have actually experienced. My vision gets blurry when writing a check (cheque) because I always think I’ll make a mistake, or my signatures won’t match. This is because due to cerebral palsy my handwriting depends a lot on what’s on my mind and how I’m sitting and what’s the level of the platform where the checkbook rests.

My problems with my checkbook percolated into other writing activities and soon it affected my laptop vision too and consequently I had to get my eyesight checked and start wearing glasses. But I never picked up the habit and always forgot wearing the glasses and now I no longer need them. Although my problem with the checkbook remains.

Recently my dad purchased a cheap Chinese version of Blackberry and since he never intended to use it, I borrowed it from him. This instrument is quite ill-designed (of course, since it’s so cheap), and although it solves my purpose (sending text messages to my writers and clients and other associates) it’s difficult to maneuver it in the lying position. So my vision gets blurred when I’m trying to set the alarm in it or trying to play a song. I never had this problem with my normal Sony Ericsson phone.