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Updated: September 28, 2013 17:25 IST
ARMCHAIR WITH A VIEW

Avenues for apoplexy

KRISH ASHOK
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Illustration: Satwik Gade
The Hindu
Illustration: Satwik Gade

Why don’t we offer to get outraged on behalf of other countries, given how good we are at it?

Two unrelated things happened this week. One has to do with our sense of humour (more precisely the lack of it) and the other has to do with our average life expectancy. As always, there is a connection, one that will become clear towards the end.

The first one relates to the two major political factions in India. One is called Comatose Apathy and the other one is called Trigger-happy Sociopathy. The former sits and does nothing while the latter is always getting really angry at the slightest criticism coming its way. In fact, a famous Kannada novelist recently patented a business model that successfully uses this outrage to good effect. It’s called the Outrage Vacation and it works this way. Say something mildly insulting about India, its culture, its glorious past or Lord Rama’s habit of divorcing women because they received Orkut friend requests and so on.

For example — “I really can’t tolerate tourism in India. I’d rather die before visiting ridiculous places like Varanasi, a city that seems to have been built more from cow dung than brick. And my local corporation water is cleaner than the Ganga there.” This will, as U.R. Ananthamurthy recently proved in his white paper published in the Harvard Business Review, set in motion a chain of events ultimately culminating in the home delivery of business-class flight tickets to a foreign vacation location of your choice.

The outrage vacation is a mere subset of this larger general principle of outrage agriculture. One sows the seeds of mild insult and liberally supplies the fertilizer of sickular mainstream media and then waits patiently for the misinformed insecurity of the masses to grow and then finally harvest the fully grown pumpkins of outrage to make anything from pie to sambar.

The soil of our glorious nation is outrage-fertile and honestly, we should consider exporting it too. If we can do outsourcing, why not outrage-sourcing? We could outrage on behalf of others at lower cost. In fact, think about this. We could offer to outrage on behalf of Americans who are anti-outsourcing and set up Twitter accounts to go after anyone who is pro-outsourcing. That way, we would be stealing their jobs on the one hand while using the other hand to steal money from the side that is outraging against outsourcing.

The other news is that Google is now investing in technologies to extend human lifespan. Many in the business press are wondering why a company like Google would be interested in this space but that is precisely why they continue to be the business press and not the technology press. Techies will immediately get this. A 140-year-old man will spend more time accidentally clicking on Google Ads in his lifetime than a 20-year-old who is more likely to install Ad-blocking software. But I was intrigued for a very different reason.

I decided to test my doubts by typing “How to live longer” in the Google search box. I got results for low carb recipes and high impact interval training, which seemed sensible enough, so is that not good enough for starters? Are there life extension techniques that can bypass a good diet and exercise? That is when it struck me that the geniuses at Mountain View are going after the big picture problem of people not taking good advice when it comes to their own health. If you don’t believe this is true, exhibit A is the scarily large number of folks who believe that they can actually lose weight by eating more and then using a motorised belt that tones their muscles while they watch Masterchef Australia on TV.

The most disruptive research in the world has historically been research that panders to mankind’s pathological laziness. Can’t be bothered to walk? Here’s a car. Can’t be bothered to do homework? Here’s Wikipedia. Really love full meals and detest exercise? Here comes Google….

But you know what will be really disruptive? Combine life extension breakthroughs with the NSA’s access to all your life’s data and offer a service that aggressively prevents you from doing silly things with your health. Going to order that cheese burst pizza? This service could use your private health data on your cholesterol levels, your past pizza binges and intervene by forcing your bank to decline that credit card that you are just about to use. It could also post embarrassing photos of your paunch on your Facebook profile without your notice.

So on the one hand, some of us get really angry all the time, and the demographic dividend of this collective outrage is a huge business opportunity as I explained before, and on the other hand, we want to keep eating and live longer as well. This seems like a curious contradiction in terms, but that’s where a certain elephant god who recently took a dip in several seaside locations can teach us a thing or two. He brilliantly uses his brother’s tendency to get angry, steals the fruit of knowledge for himself and eats everything in sight while pretty much managing to be immortal while at it.

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