Sunday, January 29, 2017

From Consumption to Contribution

2016 brought with it a lot of things that blew our minds - Brexit, US Presidential Elections and demonetization. The year of universal disappointment finally gave way to 2017, which in its first month itself has given people a lot to talk about, such as the inauguration of the 45th US President amid worldwide protests by women, and closer home, the debate surrounding Jallikattu. 

Personally, 2017 seems to be the year when I will finally execute the plans I had made for myself in 2016 (it was the year of disappointment for me too). I finally have a stamped passport, having visited Singapore in the first week of January (No, it wasn't a professional trip, and yes, I had a lot of fun). Keeping alive the trend of being late, I sat down this weekend to reflect on the year gone by, just as people started breaking their resolutions for this year. The one theme that seemed to emerge from my introspection was that of consumption, not just food or expenditure - though that consumption is more conspicuous, what with XL clothes and XXL credit card bills – but of content and information. I realized that I had taken in a lot of information this year, through different media.

The rise of web series in India was one of the best things that happened in 2016. Whether it was TVF’s Tripling and Humorously Yours, with great production value and greater popularity, or lesser known ones like Aam Aadmi Family and Little Things, there was a wide variety of themes that were explored this year. With mostly crisp content, and some fresh talent, web series have great potential, and deserve to be covered in depth (note to self). It was also heartening to see polished TV and movie actors like Lubna Salim, Shernaz Patel, Kumud Mishra and Rajesh Sharma join the web-series bandwagon and take on relatable characters.

Short Films were the next best thing after web series. Movies like Kriti, Pure Veg and Chutney had some of our favourite actors play interesting characters. In fact, such was the traction of short films that YFilms, the digital sibling of YRF, came up with a weekly series of romantic short films called Love Shots, and Filmfare added an award category for such films.

But my consumption of content was not limited to entertaining videos. I devoured articles published on Storypick (don’t judge, we all do so), or Scroll, which has turned out to be quite a website. While digital content formed the major source of information for me, I did not spare printed content either. I managed to maintain long streaks of reading the newspaper, and yes, it was not just to show off. I now have favourite columnists, and specific sections in the newspaper that I look forward to. I also managed to tick off some books from my To-Read List – Tipping point, My Gita by Devdutt Pattnaik, Love in the Time of Cholera.

Which brings me to the second part of my introspection – what did I do with this information?

With almost every content provider, print or otherwise, having an app of its own, there’s easy access to all sorts of information. According to a study, smartphone users spend 2.2+ hours everyday with their devices – reading articles or watching videos. We are almost always looking at our smartphone, whether it’s in a queue or in the bus, and for some, even the bathroom. But if we do not add to the discussion, or take that information to improve something in our lives, are we not becoming some sort of parasite?

I wondered what I did with the immense information and content I exposed myself to – Did I share it with people? Did I upgrade myself? Did I contribute to the discussion? Did I apply the learning in my life? The answer was largely a no. While I did spend hours watching YouTube channels featuring fancy recipes, why did I stick to perfecting the art of making Maggi? Did I write to my favourite newspaper columnists? Did I apply the learnings from Gita in my everyday life? And I ask the same question to my friends through this blog.

Even better than incorporating something in one’s own life is sharing what one knows with others. While there are multiple ways of getting information, the beauty of the internet lies in the fact that there are equal opportunities to contribute. However, there’s a thing in internet culture called the 1% rule, which states that only 1% of the users of a website actively create new content, while the other 99% of the participants only lurk. This is also called participation inequality.

Participation inequality, in my humble opinion, hurts the collaborative value of social media and internet. It is a bit like elections – if people with a particular ideology don’t go out to vote, that ideology is under-represented. Similarly, if people do not share their experiences frequently enough, it will be much harder to find what people like us think of a product or an experience. As much as we use this data to make our own decisions, we can also provide such data to others, hence giving back. Another aspect of this is in driving online discussions – until and unless sensible people share logical ideas, and persist to keep a discussion relevant to the topic, trolls will continue to rule and influence. And that is one problem we definitely need to address. Being a lurker is easy, but being a participant is not necessarily difficult.

It could be as simple as writing a Zomato review, or if you are a subject matter expert, helping people out on Quora or LinkedIn. I have a friend, who seems to watch a new movie everyday – but he makes it a point to write an extensive review of the movie, with insights on everything from the storytelling to cinematography. Another friend of mine reads a lot, and she always posts a review of the book on Goodreads and Facebook – it is an optional feature, but that she takes the time to give value back is admirable.

There’s going to be a tsunami of content and information in 2017, and yes, we are going to be completely immersed in it. But how we use this information, could distinguish this year from the despicable year 2016 was. This year, let’s become a contributor, and not just a consumer. I just made a small attempt at doing so: