Do you believe in books finding you?
This Idea Is Brilliant , a book edited by edge.org founder John Brockman, found me last week. I don’t know if somebody had gifted it, or did I buy and forget about it? But I am just grateful for it. Published in 2018, it keeps its promise of assembling “lost, overlooked, and under-appreciated scientific concepts everyone should know”.
Most of the concepts are narrated in small essays. But the one that stayed with me is a paragraph—yes, it is only one-paragraph long —by recording producer Brian Eno on ‘Confirmation Bias’. His observation resonated in the week of cricketer Hardik Pandya’s online inquisition or persecution, depending on what your own bias or belief is!
Here’s what Eno, a legendary producer for music bands like U2 and Coldplay writes: “The great promise of the Internet was that more information would automatically yield better decisions. The great disappointment is that more information actually yields more possibilities to confirm what you already believed anyway.”
Online inquisitions become potent when there is a video. And the season never ends.
In June 2018, captain of the Indian cricket team Virat Kohli posted a video on Twitter. It showed his wife and actor Anushka Sharma scolding a person in a luxury car who had thrown garbage on the road. The recorded video is still on his verified Twitter handle. It got retweeted 21,800 times, and liked by 1.29 lakh followers! “If you see something wrong happening like this, do the same & spread awareness,” Kohli tweeted.
In contrast, the two most recent online inquisitions in the past month emanated from traditional media, TV. The more sensational one involved the remarks of cricketers
Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul on talk show Both were called back home from Australia, where the Indian team is touring, as a punishment from employer, the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Pandya’s comments, in particular, are under the scanner. Star India’s online streaming app Hotstar has pulled down the episode. Koffee With Karan. Also Read: The republic of hurt sentiments, and the vilification of Hardik Pandya
Around a week before that, a video featuring Rani Mukherjee with an array of her Bollywood colleagues, aired on another TV channel New 18. Netizens on Facebook and Twitter came down heavily on the different types and degrees of misogyny and gender stereotyping.
What fascinated me was the silent and gender-neutral presence of the fourth wall—the video camera. If you are a journalist, this matters. In an age when it is OK to shoot or punish the messenger, the camera shoots what it sees, at least on legitimate TV networks.
A TV show camera records the biases and defence (or no defence, as in the
Koffee With Karan video), before the kaleidoscopic social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) amplify and generate myriad reactions. On an established TV network, such videos reach more people in India than it would have if Kohli himself had shot and posted a video online. Worryingly, for corporates and advertisers, there is nowhere to hide as a video can resurface of icons they have signed on ‘shooting’ themselves in the foot.
Interestingly, at least a couple of YouTube content creators have begun to plug advertisements of apps as ‘paid promotions’ in their commentary of the Pandya moment on
Koffee With Karan. It really boils down to how information online conforms with our beliefs, needs and who we are. Find the Normal
In the US and UK, traditional media’s share of media consumption has dropped to nearly 60 percent. The rest is digital media. This 2018 estimate by consulting firm BCG was based on measuring hours of media consumed per week. In India though, the same estimate points out that while digital video consumption is growing sharply, there isn’t a substantial decline in TV consumption.
Around 75 percent of the demographic aged less than 23 years still consumes TV. That figure rises to 78 percent for the 24-38 years age group, and rises even further to 82 percent for viewers in India aged between 39 and 53 years. Consequently, provocative material on Indian television networks is ripe for eyeballs and for the online regurgitation. Don't forget, traditional networks and TV faces began to build credibility long before their digital counterparts.
The camera now demands neutrality. In the #MeToo era we are part of, there is a problem even with that media adage, “Content is King.”
As consumers, this reform is happening online. I think about the time I cracked or laughed at a sexist joke on a WhatsApp group, causing people to leave the group. My laugh had reinforced a stereotype. Such boycotts are much-needed signals to watch our words in the digital world, just as we should know better in the real world. ‘Writing on the wall’ isn’t a metaphor anymore. We type out our biases, as we spend more time of our lives online.
For traditional media networks in India, the past month poses huge learnings because of the simultaneous impact online. In the Brockman book, behavioural economist Richard M Thaler evokes Gary Klein’s idea of “the Premortem” in his essay. Premortem is the opposite of postmortem. “Assume we are at some time in the future when the plan has been implemented—and the outcome was a disaster. Write a brief history of that disaster,” Thaler writes. It involves unearthing devil’s advocates to counter biases on camera. Otherwise, video is unforgiving. Video has a way of nailing rodeo stars.
Tech Trail is a column that delves on technology in the Indian realm. Kunal Talgeri is a freelance journalist in Bengaluru. The views in this column are those of the author.
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