Monday, December 30, 2013

The best argument I have read for staying away from social media

Avid reader and seasoned journalist Aakar Patel, writing in the year-end issue of Mint Lounge, says social media is for those looking to be distracted by an inexhaustible supply of material — and not those for whom reading is a serious affair.

I don't agree with him entirely, but a couple of points he has made are right on the button:

As a writer, I personally find social media off-putting and not useful.

Writers must be insulated from feedback, particularly of the immediate kind. One has no option but to be exposed to this on Facebook and on Twitter, and such things always carry the expectation of a response. ... [The comments section] is meant to be a conversation, and I accept that at times it is an intelligent one. But having comments on your work published alongside it is the equivalent of talking from atop a soapbox at Hyde Park.

The hooting and the cheers and the heckling is all on display, and apparently for the benefit of the writer. All of this is fine, and legitimate I suppose, and certainly it adds to the reader’s experience. But why subject yourself as a writer to it? Unless the idea is to bask in your popularity or infamy, there is little point.

And here is the other important (and just as valid) point:

[Comments by Indians] tend to be tangential, personal, often abusive and mostly irrelevant. I must also say that the quality of the comment is poor and that of the writing poorer. This is an anecdotal observation, but you know what I mean. It infects the other strain of social media, which is user-generated reviews. I don’t think it is wise to pick a restaurant here through what people have written about it on the Internet.

Read the column in its entirety here: "Why I’m not on social media".
  • To know more about Aakar Patel, go here.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

You have heard about the Curse of the Mummy. Now read about the Curse of the "Mummyji"

Trust the Economist to provide the most intelligent and fact-filled yet engagingly written feature I have ever read on India's vexed saas-bahu relationship.

The headline is perfect: "Curse of the mummyji".

The intro is brilliant:

TIHAR jail in Delhi has a special wing just for her. Young women fear and revere her; their husbands seem crushed by her embrace. On television she is a sari-clad battle-axe. Books about her offer advice including: “Run, she is trying to kill you.”

The direct quotes are kept to a minimum, both in number and in length (unlike the long and often pointless quotes we skip in most Indian publications). Here's a sample:

An elderly woman in north India, laughing ruefully, recalls how, after her rural wedding, it took “three days to work out which man in the new family was my husband”.

By tradition, a wife accepted her saas’s tyranny. The life of Renubala, now an elderly woman, is typical. Married at “12 or 13”, she moved in with her husband’s farming family in Tripura, in north-east India. For three years she shared a bed not with him but with his widowed mother. “I was very scared of my mother-in-law, even when she was nice,” she remembers. “I would call her ‘ma-goshai’ [Godmother].”

Mrs Venugopal sees sex and shame behind such obsessive control. Mothers-in-law, she says, “don’t trust [daughters-in-law] to be faithful”, so they try to desexualise them, locking them up, fattening them up, phoning several times a day.

The transitions are smooth, which is the hallmark of good writing and, also, the hallmark of Economist writing. There's an easy flow to the whole three-page feature, and in no time at all, before you even realise it, you arrive at the concluding paragraph, which you have to admire for its ingenuity because it says so much about the saas-bahu relationship without saying too much.

Read the article in its entirety here to soak up the brilliance and to learn a few things, as I did, about Indian mothers-in-law.

PS: You will be shocked to read what happened to Renubala, the mother-in-law worshipper.
  • Photograph courtesy: The Economist

One of the most courageous young women I know. Certainly, the most courageous young mother I know.

Why I am proud of Commitscion ANN THOMAS (Class of 2005):

Friday, December 20, 2013

Goodreads tells me I have read 107 books so far this year. Only 107?

My Year in Books! What I Read in 2013
Ramesh Prabhu read 107 books in 2013. See the full list on Goodreads, the world's largest site for readers and book recommendations!
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      Monday, December 9, 2013

      What is "tabloid journalism"?

      Here, in the form of an article in Mint, is a fine explanation of tabloid journalism by Aakar Patel, a senior journalist whose writings I admire and who uses the Tarun Tejpal story to make his point:

      At one end of the news spectrum is the report on one individual and one incident. The more famous the person is, the smaller the incident required to qualify it as news (Sachin Tendulkar retires, Shah Rukh Khan and Gauri have a surrogate baby, Tejpal accused of rape). These stories are usually of no concern to the reader and do not affect the world at large.

      However, this is a legitimate space for reportage, and media that focuses purely on this sort of journalism on one person and one event is what is called “tabloid”.

      There is a class bias here. Such news is aimed at and consumed by the lower classes, who are not very educated and interested in popular rather than high culture. It is the blue-collar masses who subscribe to tabloids such as The Sun in London, which are the best exponents of such journalism.

      What lies at the other end of the (media) spectrum? Read on: "When every newspaper becomes a tabloid".
      • To know more about Aakar Patel, go here.

      Font memories

      Blogger gives me a choice of seven fonts:
      • Arial
      • Courier
      • Georgia
      • Helvetica
      • Times
      • Trebuchet 
      • Verdana
      I don't care for either Arial or Courier, the former because it is ubiquitous and the latter because it looks ugly. Our college newspaper, The Chronicle, uses Georgia; Helvetica and Times, like Arial, are commonplace, while Verdana leaves me cold.

      Which leaves me with Trebuchet, the font that, as it turns out, is perfect for blogging. Here's why:

      This "humanist sans serif typeface" was designed by Vincent Connare, according to a note on Wikipedia, "for the Microsoft Corporation in 1996. It is named after the trebuchet, a medieval siege engine. The name was inspired by a puzzle question that Connare heard at Microsoft headquarters: 'Can you make a trebuchet that could launch a person from main campus to the new consumer campus about a mile away? Mathematically, is it possible and how?' Connare 'thought that would be a great name for a font that launches words across the Internet'."

      Isn't that a great story?


      To move on: I may be a huge fan of Trebuchet, but I learnt recently after reading an article in Bloomberg Businessweek that there are "Helvetica men", too, and Richard Turley is one of them. In his piece about Apple iOS 7's "design problem", Turley spends a lot of time discussing the font chosen by Apple while explaining why Tim Cook & Co. should have used a particular variant of Helvetica.

      If I have a single criticism of Apple’s font, it’s that the designers didn’t go back to the source. The desire for the purity of essence and obsessive detail on which Apple prides itself should have led the company to Christian Schwartz’s recut of Helvetica... Schwartz went back to the original forms of Max Miedinger’s Neue Haas Grotesk, before it evolved through various compromises and mutated into Helvetica. That’s even before you get to Neue Helvetica, a further mutation, which Apple is using here. More weights, more rational, more square, designed by committee, and even less like the original. So. You make a big play of spending every waking hour committed to perfection, Apple? Not in my book.

      Read the piece in its entirety here: "Apple iOS 7's Biggest Design Problem".
      • There is also a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture. Titled (what else?) Helvetica, it "looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives". To learn more, go to "Helvetica: A Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit".
      UPDATE (January 10, 2014): Searching for something about the origins of the ampersand, I discovered this very interesting page on typography on the Adobe website. And that's how I learnt that the symbol & is derived from the ligature of ET or et, which is the Latin word for "and". Learn more about the ampersand here and then go on to the Type Topics page.