Category Archives: personal

Warming the house

Midway through my housewarming function on Sunday, I had a “Lawrence of Arabia” moment. In the movie, Lawrence, a reluctant soldier has to execute a guy named Gasim in the Arab army he is leading. Lawrence shoots Gasim, and then finds that he actually enjoys killing people. This is probably one of the pivotal moments in the story.

My day had begun badly, as the priests who were supposed to turn up by 5, did not make their appearance until a full hour later. What was interesting was that the photographer, who had been asked to turn up at 630 came in a full hour earlier. With the priests not coming in till it was close to 6, I was going bonkers, and declaring war on the priest community, and regretting that I had agreed for a religious ceremony at all.

They arrived soon, however, and off I went to change into a silk panche (not a great idea for summer). And I heard clapping and shouting outside. Three eunuchs had invaded the house and were refusing to leave until they had been paid Rs. 1100. I must mention this was the first time I had been so harassed. And these people were refusing to negotiate or bow to threats. Finally the demanded sum was paid and off they went. This transaction has been recorded in my housewarming ceremony income and expenses statement.

My official family priest, who was unable to make it thanks to an earlier booking, had mentioned that the complexities of handling a housewarming meant that we had to employ four priests. Any doubts of any value that multiple priests added were dispelled in the first few minutes of the ceremony beginning. One priest with a good voice chanting mantras can occasionally be pleasing to hear. But four priests singing in tandem, not all of them at the perfect pitch – which created a nice effect – and not all of them singing simultaneously, was phenomenal. Their chants reverberated off the walls of the empty house (not too many people want to turn up for a ceremony at 7 am on a Sunday, so we had spared most guests the moral agony and had invited them only for lunch), and when it was accompanied by the ringing of bells, as it was occasionally, it was absolutely mindblowing.

It was around this time that I had the Lawrence of Arabia moment. After all my protestations against religious ceremonies and suchlike, I discovered that I was actually enjoying the process. The sound was fantastic. With significant hand-holding from the priest what I had to do was also enjoyable – throw flowers into one area at irregular intervals. I could construct my own little games (not unlike Pee-ball) and it was a lot of fun.

After a short break for coffee and a longer one for breakfast (technically you are supposed to fast during such events but such rules have become flexible nowadays), it was time for the “homa” or throwing things into the ritual fire as an offering to the fire god Agni and his wife Swaha. I didn’t start the fire. It was initially lit using burning camphor by two aunts. It was fueled mostly by the priests (another time when multiple priests came in handy – two chanted the mantras while the other two kindled the fire).

My role here was to occasionally pour in ghee using the small wooden ladle, and then later put in “modaks” (fried momos filled with coconut and sugar) into the fire. Again I invented my own little games. How do you throw the modak such that it immediately catches fire? How do you ensure the modak doesn’t bounce outside of the fire pot? Can you create patterns with the burning modaks?

Midway through this ritual I started imagining doing a barbecue on this ritual fire (this thought was fueled by a particular modak, which on partial burning, started looking like a piece of grilled chicken). A couple of days earlier I had imagined what would happen if illegal weeds were to be procured and added to the ritual fire. The wife and I had then thought that the original intended purpose of such rituals was communal bakery.

We had planned to finish the ceremonies by 9:30, so that we could prepare to receive guests who would arrive around 11. The problem is that if you are the only person(s) who know certain guests, they can get lost and bored if you are stuck in rituals. Hence we had planned the rituals such that we could be ready to receive guests by the time they arrived. We had built in an hour an a half of slack (9:30 to 11), and it came of good use as the rituals ceased at 10:30 (the hour’s delay being a function of the delay in priests’ arrival).

Guests came, saw, ate and went. Around 5 in the evening the wife started cleaning the house. By 8, there were no traces of a ceremony having happened there. And we went out.

Tradition demands you spend a night in the new house even if you don’t intend to move in immediately. We went to bed at 12, after having opened the presents. Initially sleep was good. Then we got woken up at 430 by a pack of dogs that were prowling the streets and fighting. Then we tried to get back to sleep, but were again woken up by the nearby mosque’s azaan. I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come once we move.

 

The Greatest Day Of My Consulting Career So Far

Close to three years back, when I first decided that I should get into this business of helping people understand, appreciate and use data for business decision-making, I had this picture in my head of how I would work. I imagined myself taking a client’s data set, and twisting and turning and slicing and dicing it, and presenting it back in a way that generated insight.

I had then imagined this scene where I would present one such interesting visualization. And the clients would go bonkers. They would see what they had never realized before. Some would be euphoric (that they had located the source of the problem, perhaps). Others worried (that there was, after all, a problem, perhaps). Others would fight amongst themselves. And I would sit there, and watch, and revel, and then move on with my presentation. In other words, that my work would help these guys look at the data in a completely new way, which would help them make superior decisions.

Little had I imagined then, when I first imagined the scene, before I got into the business, that this “dream” would happen within my first year of business. It is exactly a year since this happened. And it all happened as per plan, except that I couldn’t see the faces of my clients, and that was probably a good thing.

I had taken their data and sliced and diced and twisted and turned it, and presented an interesting set of graphs. I was making a presentation to the senior management. I was, however, not in the conference room – I had dialed in from the comfort of my home.

Most of the presentation went unspectacularly. I would show stuff, explain, and hear nothing back (that is one of the downsides of presenting on call. The silences can sometimes kill you, and leave you unsure of whether the client is actually listening). And then this happened. There was this slide I put up (for client confidentiality reasons I can’t say much about the slide itself). The next few minutes were a dream.

There was a long-standing debate about this issue, and my slide had presented the data in a way that settled the debate in a definitive manner. One side was clearly happy, the other side clearly not. They started arguing. Normally, if it’s your presentation and people you are presenting to start arguing, you consider it your moral duty to step in and moderate the discussion. Here, though, I was on call, several hundred kilometres away. There was no moral obligation to step in.

I listened, and I reveled. The “dream scene” I had imagined before I had gotten into this business, had come true within my first year of operation. It was fun as various parties on the client side dissected different parts of the graph I had put up, to make their point vis-a-vis the longstanding debate. And I could listen to it, without having to step in.

After a while I intervened, made my point, and moved on. The rest of the presentation was relatively unspectacular, but I couldn’t care less. I don’t know how many people in how many “jobs” can see their “dream sequence” being enacted within their first year in that job.

Getting monkeys off your back

I’m mortally scared every time I make pulav. Now, I’m reputed to be a pretty good pulav maker – at least the wife and the mother-in-law will vouch for this, and it is this reputation that puts pressure on me every time I stand throwing spices into the pressure cooker. “The law of averages will soon catch up with me”, I think, and hope that this is not the time it will catch up.

Normally, if you make pulav seven times, and each time make it better than the previous time, you begin to think you’re becoming an expert in that and you can do no wrong thenceforth. I don’t feel that way. Knowing myself fairly well, I know it’s nigh impossible for me to hit 100% accuracy in pretty much anything that I do – at best I can hit a 90%. That I got a “hit” seven times in a row means that the coin fell on the 90% side seven times, and even assuming a Markovian process (success or failure of this batch of pulav is unrelated to previous performances), it gives me a 10% chance of failure each time I make it!

The thing with making pulav in a pressure cooker is that when it comes out well, it comes out great, but it can go spectacularly wrong. I don’t use formal measures for the amount of rice and water I use – it is all based on rules of thumb (literally – sometimes I stick my thumb into the mixture in the pressure cooker to feel if the amount of water is right). And I know that if I put too much water, it can end up being a soggy mess. At the other end, it can end up not cooking at all, or worse, burning.

So when a couple of months back my pulav went marginally wrong (slightly watery, but not inedible) – it made me feel happy. It made me feel happy that the law of averages had caught up with me, and that it didn’t result in a spectacular failure! Sometimes when you know that you are due for a failure, it can be self-reinforcing and result in spectacular failures. So it helps to take a mild fall once in a while that gives you the assurance that you’re human after all, and doesn’t put undue pressure on you the next time.

So what do you think about your continued successes, in the kitchen, at the workplace, and elsewhere? Does that make you feel better or worse? Does it lead to a sense of hubris, or greater self-doubt? Do leave a comment here and let me know.

Countercyclical business

I realize being a freelance management consultant is countercyclical business. For two years in succession, I’ve had a light March – both years I’ve ended up finishing projects in Jan/Feb. With March being the end of the Indian financial year, most companies are loathe to commit additional spending in March, and it is a bad time to start new projects!

This is counter-cyclical because most other businesses end up having a bumper March, since they have end-of-year targets, and with a short sales cycle, they push their salespersons hard to achieve this target in March!

Getting depressed over trivial issues..

When Jonathan Trott returned home midway through the Ashes citing depression, a number of commentators heckled him saying he was returning because he was having nighitmares about facing up to Mitchell Johnson. While it might be true that he did have nightmares of facing Johnson, it is unlikely to have been the cause of his exit.

When you talk to people about depression, they say it is an overblown problem and you get replies such as “but everyone is depressed at some time or the other” or “80% of the world is depressed, and they  get on with their lives, so what makes you special?” What I want to highlight here is the difference between getting depressed and suffering from depression – the two are different things, and it is unfortunate polymorphism that leads to people believing otherwise.

You are likely to get depressed if you flunk an exam. You are very likely to get depressed if your dog dies. You are extremely likely to get depressed and get worried about the thought of facing Mitchell Johnson the next morning. And all this is intuitive – 9 out of 10 people (number pulled out of thin air, but I suspect that is about the ballpark) are likely to get depressed for the above reasons. Then, something else happens, you come to terms with the situation, you figure out how to move on, and you move on, and you are not depressed any more. Sometimes you are likely to be depressed for longer than usual, but you eventually recover.

When you suffer from depression (the disease, not the symptom, to help with the polymorphism), though, you not only get depressed for the big issues (like flunking an exam or losing your dog), but also for tiny issues that should not be normally bothering you.

You get depressed that someone didn’t pick up your call – and if you also suffer from anxiety, you can worry endlessly on whether they are pissed off with you that they didn’t pick your call. You get depressed that the masala dosa you ate this morning didn’t taste perfect. That you could not find the right sentence to complete this paragraph bothers you endlessly.

Coming back to Trott, he didn’t go home because he had nightmares about Johnson – you don’t need to be depressed to have those nightmares. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if even the mentally strongest of English batsmen didn’t have nightmares about facing Johnson.

Trott went home because things that are seemingly trivial and generally not worth getting depressed about were bothering him. Would he get his favourite seat the next day on the team bus? Would the hotel make his omelette to the right consistency? What route would the bus take to get to the ground?

My understanding (you should read Marcus Trescothick’s Coming back to me, about his battles with depression, to understand what really can affect you) is that Trott left the tour because he was getting bothered about seemingly trivial issues. When seemingly trivial issues start bothering you, it is a problem, since there are usually a lot of seemingly trivial issues in everyone’s daily lives, and if you get bothered by everything, you have no mind space left to do your job – which in Trott’s case is to go out and get runs against Johnson and Co. And so you go home.

To summarize, you are (clinically) depressed if and only if you get depressed and fret over things that should not normally depress you.

Depression and playing out the overs

There are two ways to bat – you can either seek to score runs or you can seek to play out the overs. Some puritan fans of Test cricket argue that the latter is the more important skill – that you are not a good Test player unless you can play out the overs when required. However, cricket matches are won only when you score more runs than the other team, and so while playing out the overs is important at certain times in the match, the value of run-scoring ability should not be ignored.

Sometimes, however, especially say when you are chasing a big fourth innings target on a nebulous wicket, you could decide to eschew any thoughts on run scoring and instead focus on hanging in there. You decide to devote all your energies to just “staying alive”, and just playing out the overs. In that sense, yes, playing out the overs without necessarily scoring runs can sometimes be a valid strategy.

However, you should notice that it remains a valid strategy only until the end of that particular Test match! Once the stumps are drawn at the end of the fifth day, with you hopefully still unbeaten and your team escaping with a draw, things are reset to zero! The next Test match is a whole new game, and you start off from zero, and you cannot afford to start that Test match batting the same way you did while you were trying to save the earlier match! You need to realize that you should include some run-scoring in your objective function, too!

Sometimes in life, when you are going through a tough phase for whatever reason, you might make a decision to “simply hang in there”. At these points in time, you don’t care whether you really achieve something in that time period – all you seek to do is to prevent further damage to yourself – this is similar to trying to play out the overs in a Test match.

I argue that this can be a viable strategy if and only if you decide to “play out the overs” until a fixed point in time! The difference between game and life is that game has a specified end-point. At four thirty on the final day, if you are still batting, the game is a draw, irrespective of whether you were one down or nine down! The next Test starts on a clean slate. This, however, doesn’t apply to life.

Life doesn’t have clear breakpoints like cricket does. And sometimes when you get yourself “nine down and far behind in terms of runs”, you find that you begin the “next Test match” (if you can divide life into discrete units called Test matches) at a disadvantage, and soon find yourself far behind and unable to cope.

Given that life doesn’t play out the same way as a game of cricket, you should use the strategy of “playing out the overs” only sparingly, and only when you see a clear “gamechanger moment” after which your equation is reset to zero! If you choose to overplay this strategy, however, not much good is going to come out of it.

So, what does depression have to do with all this? I’ve found depression to be a state of mind where you want to play out the overs even in situations where it is not the right thing to do (think, for example, of India’s third Test against the West Indies in Dominica in 2011). And soon you get into the state of mind of just playing out the overs that you lose all ambitions and hopes and desires for run-scoring. And soon you find yourself in a rut. And you decide to “play out” the rut by continuing to dig in. And that makes you sink deeper. It becomes harder to “play out” but now you know no other strategy, and soon get into a bad downward spiral.

If you find yourself “playing out the overs” way too often, it is an indication of trouble. It means that you are possibly exposing yourself to a downward spiral. And it is possible that you need help. The next time you get the desire of wanting to “play out the overs”, check if there is going to be an end to it, and implement the strategy if and only if you see a clear end.

The Goa Project

The last three days I was in Goa, attending the second edition of the Goa Project. Considering how stressed out I was with work last week, it was a good three-day break, and I had a good time meeting new ! people, getting to know them, generally hanging out and drinking (though I must admit I got sick of beer).

The Goa Project is an interesting concept. The basic idea, as one of the organizers put it, is to get a bunch of interesting people together and put them in one place for two days and let the network effect take over. There is no particular objective in terms of immediate outcomes from the workshop – it is simply about connecting people! Talks are scheduled through the days and at any point of time one typically has three sessions to choose from, but like in any good conference, most of the “useful stuff” happens outside the lecture halls – where participants meet each other and just “hang out”.

I took an overnight bus to Goa (first time I used VRL – was pretty good), and so reached the venue only at 11:30 am. The first pair of keynote lectures (those that don’t have any “competitors” and thus don’t give you a choice to not attend) had just got over and people were moving around. The first set of “real sessions” were starting, and I realized there were few people I knew. But then, the point of an event such as this is lost if you end up knowing a lot of people there, and don’t make any effort to expand your network.

In ten minutes I was in and out of all three simultaneous sessions – all of which I found rather uninteresting. Then began my quest for what I called the “white noise space”. The problem was that the microphones at all three venues had been turned up, and it was impossible to have a conversation without any of those lectures disturbing you. Finally I reached what is possibly the “weighted centroid” of all the loudspeakers, where sounds from each of the three lectures could be heard equally loudly, so that they cancelled one another out, allowing us to have a conversation.

Two or three weekends back, I was reading this book on networking called “Never Eat Alone” (on Gandhi’s recommendation), which for a “management book” was a really good read and rather insightful. It was while I was in the middle of that book that I got an invite to speak at the Goa Project. So it can be said that my visit to the Project was an attempt to put what I read in that book to practice.

During the course of the two days of the workshop I don’t think I talked to more than twenty people (there were over two hundred there). My wife had made twenty five or so new business cards for me to give out at the workshop, and I gave out less than ten. I collected three of four business cards. There was this small group of people (some of whom I knew earlier, but not too well, and most of whom I had never met earlier) that I met, and this group expanded during the course of the Project. So while I didn’t expand my network wide, I did manage to get to know a few people well.

The irrepressible Krish Ashok (with whom I hung out for a large part of Day One) gave an absolutely kickass talk on day one about mixing and making music. Fittingly, it was heavily attended, despite it eating into lunch time (inevitably, I must say, there were delays and the schedule got badly mangled). There were only two other sessions on day one that I sat through till the end, though, with most of the others being rather underwhelming.

When we got married, my wife and I had decided that we would not have live music for the reception, for if you keep it too soft, the artists will get offended, and if you keep it too loud, it can interfere with conversation. The live music at the end of day one had the second of these effects, and with some people who I’d hung out with that day, I went to a far corner of the venue (where the music was actually enjoyable) to eat my dinner.

I was talking about the economics of auto rickshaws – perhaps a part two of the talk on Chennai auto rickshaws I’d delivered in Chennai in 2011. I got slotted into a track called “society”, where interestingly I was perhaps the only speaker who was not an activist. In some senses that made me a bit of a misfit with the rest of the track speakers. Sample this interaction during my talk:

Audience member: Given that the auto driver is under privileged ..
Me (cutting her short): Policies should not be framed based on who is under privileged and who is over privileged. They should be based on sound economic reasoning.

The audience member was a bit stunned and took a while to recover to continue the question I had cut short.

Anyway, the lady who was managing my track had sent an email asking us to rehearse our talks and also sent Amanda Palmer’s TED talk to tell us how we should structure our sessions. She had asked us to script our talks, and rehearse it a few times. While my experience on day one indicated that few other speakers had bothered to actually rehearse, early on Day Two, I thought I should rehearse at least once before the talk.

And talking in front of the mirror as I made coffee and dressed myself, I over-exerted myself and promptly lost my voice.

The rest of the morning, before my talk, I decided to “conserve my voice”, and thus not being able to speak, I decided to attend some talks. I sat in the front row when Lucia director Pawan Kumar talked about how he crowd-funded and made the movie. I listened to this guy (who I know via a “secret society” but had never met before) talk about his experience of being a cop in London. In between, I walked about, talking in a low voice, with people I had met the earlier day.

Mangled schedules meant that my 12:40 talk started only around 1:50, when lunch was underway. It didn’t help matters that it was scheduled in the arena farthest from the cafeteria. Calling it “economics of local for-hire public transport” also didn’t help. But that there were less than twenty people in the audience meant that I could settle down on the stage and deliver my talk.

And so I delivered. Mic in hand, low voice didn’t matter. Small crowd meant I could take questions through my talk. Hanging out with a few people through the length of the workshop meant they helped enhance my audience (a favour I returned). And a lunch-time talk meant that when I started getting too many questions, the track manager declared “lunch break” and I slipped away.

I was wearing a white shirt with sleeves rolled up, over khaki cargo shorts. Sitting on stage cross-legged (which meant that the fact that my shirt was untucked or that the shorts were cargo didn’t show), with a microphone in my left hand and waving a pointed right forefinger, I think the only thing that separated me from an RSS pramukh was a black cap on my head!

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The rest of the day went well. I attended some excellent talks through the afternoon and evening, though not too many others did, for the schedule had played havoc again. Dinner time saw a nice band playing, though I stopped drinking since I got sick of beer. I met a few more people, gave out a few more cards, “watched” Liverpool massacre Arsenal via Guardian minute-by-minute commentary, and returned to my hotel a happy man.

The Goa Project continued into its unofficial third day today, as I met a few of the other attendees for breakfast (we were all at the same hotel), a few others for lunch, and some more at the waiting area of the impossibly tiny and congested Dabolim airport as I waited to fly back to Bangalore.

I’ll be back next year.

 

Volleyball

It’s been over eight years since I last played the game, but if I were to pick one outdoor game in which I’m best at (relative to other games I’ve played) it’s volleyball. And when I say I’m best at that, it’s on a strict relative basis – in undergrad, I struggled to get into my hostel team (let alone college team). It just goes to show how bad I’ve been in other outdoor games! I’m a successful cricket and football-watcher, though!

The thing with volleyball is that my game runs counter to how i play other games, and my life in general. In general, I’m an extremely high-risk person – I’m not into adventure sports, though, but have a Royal Enfield motorcycle – I take chances where possible and go for the spectacular. It is hard for me to be “accurate” and “correct”, and given that I know that I’m prone to making mistakes I try to maximize the outputs from the times when I don’t make mistakes, and thus go on a high risk path.

So I’ve quit my job without something else in hand four times, now freelance as a management consultant, blog about every damn thing – things that have promises of big upsides, but also risks of downsides. It also reflects in how I sometimes talk to people – I sometimes try too hard to make an impression – which can potentially get me big returns, but end up saying something stupid at times, and end up sounding arrogant at other times. Those are risks I willingly take.

And this risky nature has reflected in most games I’ve played, also – again nothing in the recent past. In chess, I get bored of slow technical Carlsen-esque positions, and am prone to go on Morphy-esque attacks that can backfire spectacularly. Playing bridge, I finesse way more than I’m supposed to – making some otherwise unmakeable contracts, but going down in contracts I should have otherwise made.

Back in school, when we played cricket with rubber and tennis balls, I would bowl leg spin, and using a light bat, would try to hit every ball for four or six, rather than trying to bat steadily. And while playing basketball (my “second best” outdoor game, after volleyball) I have a propensity to go for long shots.

What sets volleyball apart is that my game completely runs counter to who I am. In volleyball I’m a solid player – don’t spike too much (can’t jump!!), but can set spikes well, block well and can lead a team well from the back line. In fact, my best volleyball games have been those when the team has had to carry some weak links, and I’ve led from the centre of the back line, lending solidity and helping build up attacks. It definitely doesn’t reflect what I’m like otherwise.

But volleyball has also been the game where I’ve had a large number of spectacular failures. At every level I’ve played, I’ve had some responsibility thrust upon me, and I’ve buckled under the pressure. It’s volleyball that comes to mind every time I let down people’s trust because I do badly a something I’m supposed to be good at.

1. Voyagers versus pioneers, 1999: This was the school inter-house tournament. We go two sets up. They win the next two. Down to the decider. We lead 14-13, and its our turn to serve. Our captain purposely messes up our rotation such that I can serve (I had a big serve – one attacking aspect of my volleyball). The serve clips the net on its way across (back then, a let was a foul serve in volleyball). We lose.

2. NPS Indiranagar versus NPS Rajajinagar, 1999: Then I get selected to represent my school. I’m on the bench, and am subbed in right on time to serve. I decide to warm up with an underarm serve (before I start unleashing my overarm thunders). Hit it into the net. Opponent’s serve comes to me and I receive it badly. Get subbed out.

3. G block versus F block, 2004-05: Semi finals of the IIMB inter-hostel championship. We have two big spikers, two decent lifters and defenders (including me) and two who had never played volleyball in their lives, but were chosen on the basis of their physical fitness alone. Down to third set (best of three). We lead 25-24 (new scoring system). I’m playing right forward. Ball comes across the net. All I need to do is to set it up for a big spike, but I decide to spike it directly myself. And miss. Then I serve on the next match point. Decide to go for a safe serve, gets returned. We lose.

4. Section C versus Section A, 2004-05: Again similar story. I don’t remember the specifics of this, but again it was heartbreak, and I think I missed my serve on match point.

I guess you get the drift..

Twitter Peek-a-boo-boo

So I must confess that for the last one week I’ve been cheating. I’d made a grand statement here a couple of weeks back about being off twitter, and how it was giving me so much time. After that post, however, for a variety of reasons I logged on to twitter. And I’m not sure I want to return to it as yet.

The first time I returned to twitter was during Rahul Gandhi’s interview with Arnab Goswami last week. It was a fairly hilarious interview so I was interested in knowing what people were saying. I didn’t cheat fully that day – I used the otherwise rarely used twitter tab on my flipboard to see what people were saying.

The next morning, one of my election pieces got published in Mint. I have a mechanism where any post I put on any of my three blogs gets automatically posted on twitter. This, however, doesn’t work for things I put on Mint, and that needs publicity. And so I decided to log on for just one tweet.

While I was at it, I also happened to check my mentions and messages. There were lots of them. Just one tweet announcing my temporary absence hadn’t been seen by enough people, I think – there were lots of mentions and messages. To each of the messages, I replied with my email ID mentioning I’m not on twitter any more, and to not contact me there henceforth. I also spent a lot of time replying to some mentions. It must’ve been hilarious for those people to get the replies after so long. So I logged on, replied, posted my tweet about my piece and logged off. I saw some 10-20 tweets before I did that, and I thought I was missing something. I logged on again on Thursday to tweet another piece I’d written for Mint.

 

Again I tweeted, read a few tweets and disappeared. Felt happy being back again and thought I should prepare for a good limited comeback. I would only log on through the browser – no apps – and not use it on my mobile devices, I thought. However, I decided i’d give it a full month of absence before coming back.

That full month ended on Saturday.

When there is an event that makes you happy, you want to talk to other people who are feeling similarly. So I logged on to twitter yesterday as soon as Karnataka had won the Ranji trophy. And jai happened.

So it seems Narendra Modi was giving a speech somewhere at the same time, and my timeline was flooded with tweets about every word he said, and analyzing them. Offenders were on both sides – some gloating over Modi, others bitching about him. It was horrible.

And then I realized that the forthcoming elections are among the most polarized in India’s history. And this is the first national elections since everyone got on to twitter. I realized that the longer I stayed on twitter the more I would be subjected to such tripe. And I logged off.

I have made a mental note that when I do start my limited comeback on twitter, I should first unfollow all these political types. The problem is how fine I draw the filter – there are some people who mostly tweet political stuff. They can be safely unfollowed. There are trolls who tweet stuff just to draw attention. They can be unfollowed too. But what about those people who mostly tweet useful stuff but go into a frenzy during an event? What does one do about those? Until I have an answer to that I’ll delay my comeback.

And when I logged on yesterday, there were a few tweets about the Ranji trophy victory that made me happy. The one that made me happiest was this one:

 

 

Leaving twitter

It has been over three weeks since I signed off twitter. On January 1st, I had left this message on the social network:

 

After that I logged off twitter on all my computers, deleted tweetdeck from chrome and deleted the twitter app from my phone and iPad. I haven’t changed my twitter password, though, so every time I write a blog post wordpress will send an automatic notification tweet (it is likely that some of you are reading this via the automatic wordpress twitter notification).

The reason I logged off twitter was that I was getting addicted. Every time I had a minute or two of free time I would go check tweets. I was constantly on twitter all my waking hours. I would wake up in the morning to the alarm on my phone, and the first thing I would do was to check twitter. It is not unfair to say that twitter had consumed me.

Hence the effort to log off and delete the apps. So far I haven’t faced any withdrawal symptoms. There are times when I pull out my phone and instinctively go for the twitter app. And then I realize it’s not there, and curb my instincts. While working if I need a break I look for tweetdeck in my Chrome, but then realize it is not there.

So far, Facebook has been a good substitute. The advantage of facebook over twitter is that the former has a much more slow-moving news feed. If you check facebook after an hour or two, there will be two or three status updates on your timeline. Essentially when you instinctively click on facebook, it doesn’t become as much of a time sink as twitter used to.

One of  the reasons I would check twitter was for interesting links and articles. In the last 2-3 years some of the best stuff I’ve read online has been recommended to me by people on twitter. However, I have a way of accessing that without accessing twitter itself – I use this app called Flipboard (on both Android and iPad) and that curates articles that have been recommended by several of my followees and shows them to me. I check Flipboard approximately once a day, read some articles and bookmark some others. Thanks to that, I only get the article content on twitter without all the inane commentary and the PJs.

In my last month on twitter, I had logged off for a day on two-three separate occasions. The problem with twitter of late is that it is turning into yet another TV news channel. When there is an event of some interest, all the diversity on your timeline disappears, and everyone starts talking about the same thing. For a while it is good, for you get different perspectives. And then there is more and more of the sameness and can absolutely drive you nuts.

There is one reason I miss twitter though – for sharing articles. For a long time now I’ve liked to share interesting pieces that I’ve read. Back when Google Reader existed and had the “shared items” feature enabled, a number of people requested to be my GTalk friends just so that they could look at my curated “Google Reader Shared Items” content. Since that feature was taken off, though, I’ve resorted to twitter for sharing interesting articles. Now that I’m off twitter (technically Flipboard and Feedly (my RSS feed reader) allow me to share things on Twitter without logging on, but I don’t want to do that) I need another way.

Facebook doesn’t work, since most facebook friends are of a personal kind and won’t particularly be interested in articles on financial hedging (for example) or football formations. I’m not on any of these link sharing systems such as digg or delicious (assuming I’ve understood correctly how those two work), and I dn’t want to add another social network which can be yet another source of distraction. Hence, I’ve come up with an ingenious solution.

Back when Google took off the sharing feature from Reader, their recommendation was that we use Google Plus instead for sharing links. And that is exactly what I use that social network for. I never log on to that, but every time I read something interesting, it goes there. People say Google Plus is like shouting into an empty room. I don’t know (and don’t care) who reads the links I put there. I don’t share links for popularity. I share it because I think someone might find them interesting.

When I first got off twitter, people told me my resolution won’t last. It’s been three weeks already and i’m happy the way things are. I’m much less distracted, and can work better. I have a lot more time to myself. Time that would earlier be spent saying inane things on twitter is now spent in deep thought – and that is a good thing. I used to be a big fan of long lonely walks. Constant interaction on twitter means I don’t do those any more. But now I get more time for myself. On an auto rickshaw ride to meet some friends last evening for example, I just looked around and thought. It was wonderful!

I don’t rule out ever getting  back to twitter but  I don’t see myself doing so in the near future unless there is a very strong reason, and unless I know I won’t get addicted again. Till both these events happen, I remain away from that social network.