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Updated: May 2, 2014 18:59 IST
City Lights

Wise owl, witless ulloo

C. K. MEENA
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C.K. Meena writes about the credibility of sources on the Internet
Special Arrangement C.K. Meena writes about the credibility of sources on the Internet

In theory the internet empowers you by presenting a wide range of information that helps you make wise decisions. But how credible are your sources?

Wise in the west, stupid in the east — I’m speaking of a bird — to wit, the owl. A jingle in a commercial for a brand I cannot recall has been infiltrating my reluctant ears. You can’t make us ulloos, say some characters who claim to be smart because they have the internet on their mobile phones. But you don’t automatically become a wise owl by reading stuff online; in fact the ready availability of gazillion bytes of unreliable data just might convert you into a stupid ulloo.

When everyone sings the praises of social media and I have no truck with them, does that make me an owl or an ulloo? I can’t say for sure. But despite my tenacious efforts to stay disconnected, forces beyond my control sometimes oblige me to intervene. It all started last year when an acquaintance emailed me birthday greetings — in itself a surprise, since only a few close friends know and remember my anniversary — on the wrong day. I asked her where she’d got the date from and to my alarm she replied, “It was on Facebook.” I told her unequivocally that I was not in any way a part of any manner of virtual networking. “Then somebody has created a profile in your name,” she said. “It’s someone who knows who you are because it says you’re a journalist and everything.” Creepy. I trembled a bit, but thought no more about it.

Then a reader teased me that I seemed to be some kind of child prodigy because according to my Wikipedia profile, I had become a journalist at the age of two. What Wiki profile? I pleaded not guilty. More people began to rib me about it. Still (and I permit you to call me an ulloo), I wasn’t provoked enough to even look it up let alone correct it. Next I began to notice that whenever I was introduced in public, patently false statements would be added to the brief bio I had sent in advance. My initial reaction of tolerant amusement gradually turned to annoyance. At last, after a deal of sighing and moaning, I surveyed the loose assortment of facts and lies that purported to be a description of me, rolled up my sleeves and edited the damn thing. Take a moment to review this scenario. You can see how many people repose implicit faith in the web. Instead of getting bona fide facts about the horse from the horse’s mouth, they rely on the rider’s cock and bull stories. Who’s an ulloo now?

Speaking of cock and bull stories, I wonder what the wise owls who browse on their phones would make of a ‘forward’ about frozen lemons curing cancer. Yes, news of this astounding discovery was conveyed to me via email. You’re supposed to stash the lemons (after washing them to remove the germs, of course) in the freezer, and grate them into every single item of food you consume because the rind contains powerful enzymes and whatchamacallits that are known to prevent and cure cancer. But a massive conspiracy has been hatched by evil companies to keep the miraculous properties of lemon rind hidden from the world. They have deliberately suppressed news of this inexpensive antidote because they want you to buy their expensive drugs. Now I can well imagine some ulloos washing their nimbe hannu (limes are not lemons, by the way), popping them into the freezer and grating them into their coffee, curry and cornflakes until their families scream for mercy.

In theory the internet empowers you by presenting a wide range of information that helps you make wise decisions. But how credible are your sources? The net is notorious for spawning and spreading canards and half-truths. Print journalists, on the other hand, vet what they receive before sharing it with others. We do make mistakes (which social media are quick to pounce upon) but we cannot be replaced — only supplemented. I’m loading the dice here, aren’t I? I should be speaking of social media’s power to create revolutions and so forth. I admit I’ve signed an online petition or three, but I suspect the primary purpose of social media is not news or communication but marketing — of everything from handbags and home furnishing to opinions and politicians.

For a polar contrast to my anti-social-media behaviour, meet Chris Dancy, ‘the most connected man on earth’, who has a plethora of smart devices strapped to his body parts to monitor and to archive every second of every aspect of his being. He calls his system the inner-net. Oh my gawd. Does that make him the wisest owl on the planet because he is brimming with information about himself and the world? Or the biggest ulloo because to be totally connected is to be totally exposed? Of course there’s no such thing as privacy anymore. Hacking and snooping are the order of the day. Every fingerprint you leave online is monitored. You only have to send an email containing the expression ‘bed of roses’ for a hundred ads to pop up, of firms that sell flowers and foam mattresses.

Anyway, don’t expect me to be blogging, tweeting, gaming or flash-mobbing in this lifetime. I just might win a title, though — of being the least connected woman on earth.

Send your feedback to ckmeena@gmail.com

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