Nicebook

I am pretty confident that I stumbled upon a valuable business idea. Its time hasn’t come yet, so there’s an opportunity to get ahead of the curve. It is backed up by science, which I will explain in three minutes. And best of all, it will be a positive influence on the world. Checks all the good boxes, doesn’t it? Now let me share that idea with you, because I am too lazy and stupid to monetize it for my own profit.

If you look back at your recent social media history, you might be surprised like me at the amount of negativity that we have allowed ourselves to be exposed to.

In some cases it was greatly justified – like calling out a TV channel for unfairly criticizing the Indian cricket team. Sometimes it was a matter of which side of an issue we chose to take, such as politics and elections. On several occasions it seemed like we were picking through an issue simply to take offense (‘PK’, ‘India’s Daughter’, the AIB roast aftermath), sometimes scraping the bottom of the barrel when we ran out of things to hate (Anushka Sharma’s lip job, or a single phrase in Deepika Padukone’s narration about women and their right to choose).

It is understandably in our nature to get carried away by minor flaws, while missing out on the beautiful, larger things they are a part of. For some inexplicable reason it is much easier for us to contribute to a commentary that tries to discredit someone or something, rather than support it. This trait hardly provides any value, unless we were part of a comedy roast panel or a political group with a self-serving agenda (in which case, bring on the power of hate!) However for regular people like you and me, the satisfaction that comes from expressing our discontent does very little to lighten our mood or brighten our day.

And that brings us to the worrisome trend I stumbled upon. A bulk of the negativity on social media isn’t merely caused by external factors outside our influence – like bad politicians or bad news. It seems to be aggravated by people in our own online circles. On any given day, at least one or two of our friends and friends’ friends are nudging us to pay attention to these negative posts, comments and shared links to articles. Accumulated over weeks, months and years, that adds up to a considerably large pile of hate.

Dislike

Science shows that we have a fascinating tendency to subconsciously mirror our peers’ mental states. Apparently humans, animals and birds too tend to follow each others’ emotional cues and even breathing patterns by simply hanging around each other. Arguably it works best within members of the same species, of course. In plain words, see happy outside to be happy within.

This generates a very valid concern with all the negative commentary we are involuntarily feeding on for months and years. It might very well be working its way into our own emotional states, and our offline interactions with family, friends and co-workers. If you recall, this wasn’t what you signed up for back when you created your Facebook account.

By the time this phenomenon blows up into a red flag raising macro-trend (and ends up on your newsfeed as yet another negative story), the harm might very well be done at least in immeasurably small yet influential proportions. Now might be a really good time to start building a new social medium that filters out all the hateful talk, negative views and disheartening stories. Wouldn’t you love to wake up every day and see celebrations, happy announcements and positive thoughts on your timeline? Even if its benefits on your long-term mental health may be intangible, at the very least it might act as an encouraging pick-me-up, minus the caffeine breath.

Now get to work, you coding genius, before Facebook introduces it as a premium add-on for its millions of users caught in constantly depressing spirals.

Update: The missus rained on my parade with a harsh reality check, claiming that many people see only the glossy, happy snippets of others’ lives on Facebook, and hence get depressed because they don’t have that same bubbly life. Perhaps what we really need is a filter to cut out the negative comments from the missus.

Mind Tech

This is a weird train of thought. You have been warned.

What do Inception, Terminator, Minority Report and Total Recall have in common? They all involve different forms of awesome and futuristic technology that plays with the mind: shared dreaming / hypnosis, Artificial Intelligence, pre-cognition and memory implants respectively. I find that some of the most interesting sci-fi plots (outside of aliens, dinosaurs and fem-bots) are those involving the mind. And I just discovered a big, fat void in the sci-fi plot universe!

Mind-reading as a concept has been around for a really long time (think psychics). For some strange, unknown reason, it has been largely ignored by the elites of Hollywoodland. Granted when I give it a cheap, abused name like ‘mind reading’, grand plot devices and complex science are not really the first things that come to mind. However it’s the one concept that’s closer to reality than all the ideas mentioned above.

While you and I have been watching Gangnam Style parodies on YouTube, some brilliant geek gods were creating unbelievable things. Stuff that we only fantasized about while sitting on the toilet (before the Holy iPad arrived, obviously).

These things are no longer the potential; they have already been realized, commercialized and now advertised. For instance, you can buy some of this stuff right now for less than $100 (that’s the closest I’ll ever get to sounding like an infomercial, I promise).

So what’s the new ‘potential’ now? What’s the stuff that the geek gods fantasize about today? You know, apart from schematics for several anatomically correct android girlfriends. A couple of years ago, I read a New York Times article about an ongoing attempt to ‘photograph’ a passing thought.  (I know I’m breaking a cardinal rule of the Internet here: “Pic, or it didn’t happen”, but I really couldn’t find that article anymore. Thanks for nothing, Internet!)

Imagine the possibilities once you can actually start ‘reading’ minds – capturing the words, images and thoughts happening inside someone’s head. Here are some applications I could think of, ranging from the closest to the farthest from potentially seeing the light of day:

– Psychology: therapeutic peeping into someone’s mind, reading dreams (ok, I’m getting into psychic turf again), behavioral therapy, possibly crime-prevention too.

– Thought recording: the ultimate form of data storage, and maybe even transfer from one person to another!

– Individually customized entertainment with awesomely rich ‘brain media’ experiences: think video games, movies, new forms of art and music. And why not? My favorite video game maker Valve is already working on an Augmented Reality console, so I bet someone is already thinking of this (Hire me, whoever you are!)

And now we’re getting into the really crazy stuff. You were warned and you’re still here, so this one is totally on you.

– Haven’t you always wondered what your pet thinks? Does your dog see you as a giant body-pillow? Is your cat secretly plotting to kill you?

– Ooh, babies! I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve always wanted to know what a baby is thinking. No verbal skills, no understanding of the physical world – Dear God, what is happening inside that tiny, hairless head while she stares at you, simultaneously pooping her pants?

– One day someone figure out a way to read the mind of a ‘foetus’ or that of a dying person. Oh, the possibilities!

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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Rise of the Planet of the Apples

The biggest roadblock to world domination is free will. That’s exactly why Religion is fascinating – billions of people spontaneously giving in to groupthink without much resistance or doubt. Of course, one might prefer to use a friendlier term for it: faith. It’s a bit like referring to Gollum as an eccentric snuggle-bunny, but whatever you say.

The only entity that’s close to replicating God’s success today is Apple. Those folks at 1 Infinity Loop have it all figured out – “Entice and Enslave”. I bet there is a secret Apple mission statement that goes something like that. And I bet it’s more carefully guarded than Coca Cola’s recipe or Donald Trump’s comb.

Of course, Apple is not the first company to try and take over an entire generation. Disney has been doing it for years. They visit kids as soon as they are born – literally, in the hospital maternity wards – to give away free Mickey Mouse blankets and hotel discounts for the kid’s first trip to Disneyland. Five years in advance.  That explains the Hannah Montana fan base, doesn’t it?

While poor Disney is still figuring out how to push ads into mommy’s tummy and how to retain its market share beyond the age of 14, Apple has already found the golden-egg-laying goose.  It went the other way, by first targeting all the young adults.

 

And then Apple went after an even younger group – teenagers – who are thrilled at the slightest opportunity to act like young adults. Of course, by that I mean spending money and showing off stuff. Not going to work, paying taxes or buying groceries.

After the first caveman picked up a stick and clubbed a sheep to death, can you imagine what the rest of his tribe did? They all went looking for sticks, of course. Now you know what happens when you put a sleek iPod into a teenager’s hands, stick white earphones into his head and show him to other teenagers. The rest is history, which we have all witnessed the rewriting of:

Music player iPod

Songs iTunes

Computer / Watch / Camera / GPS / Mirror / Friend iPhone

Einstein / Santa Claus / God Steve Jobs

Tirupati / Mecca / Jerusalem Apple store

Diwali / Ramzan / Christmas / Birthday / Anniversary / Sex Apple product launch

A few months ago I was on a plane waiting to take off, when I heard two loud voices behind me at once, “NO iPAD!” I turned around to see a stern-faced couple and their sulking daughter. She wasn’t old enough to even get her own seat. Or talk.

Ooh, what fun times ahead for the missus and me! I can now see what the future looks like for most people like us, who decided to make new people:

  • The baby will achieve a high score on Angry Birds before she even visits a zoo or playground for the first time.
  • Mom and Dad will walk into the living room to find the TV screen smeared with tiny, chocolate-covered fingerprints, because she was trying to ‘unlock’ it.
  • When she finally learns to talk – How high can a giraffe jump? Where do babies come from? What is a hooker? Why can’t we eat pizza every day? What does Spiderman do when he has to go to the bathroom? – naturally, she won’t be talking to her parents, because Siri never says “Not now. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
  • For her 5th or 6th birthday she may get a bike or a puppy, but she won’t be happy because what she actually asked for is an iPod Touch (“But all of my friends have one!”).
  • When she wants to sneak out of the house to party with her friends, there will be an app for that.
  • When she decides to get her own phone, she will pick an iPhone of course, having grown up with the same user interface.

You still don’t buy the argument that a profit-making organization can command a religious following without messing with free will? Consider for a moment the famous child of Apple and Disney. Now go find one person – of any age – who has a genuine hatred of what Pixar does.

I think I have made my point. Dear God, you have some serious competition.