Sunday, June 22, 2014

Intelligence Vs Empathy

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

I have been told that respect must be earned. I think as a rule, we should respect every human being who has been born into this world and who shares our living space on this earth.I  therefore make it a rule of thumb to  practise : Do Not do unto others what you do not wish others do unto you but it takes more efforts to practise :Do unto others as you would have them do to you though they both pretty much mean the same thing. The rule simply means “Be kind to everyone." 

As we all have our preferences and favourite people, there are people whom we are very happy to do things for but there are others we keep at a distance or  do things out of an obligation or duty. There are times when I feel really annoyed when other people do not seem to have this rule in mind or they do not reciprocate with kindness and understanding. I have to remind myself that I cannot control what others do and how others act, I have to act what I feel is right. I also believe that in essence, we reap what we sow. But things are never that straightforward as not everyone's mind operates the way I think.


In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15 year old boy  lives with his father who takes care of him as a single parent and they live in Swindon where his father runs a business doing heating maintenance and boiler repairs. Christopher goes to a special needs school as  he has some behavioural difficulties and he knows his own many likes and dislikes. He likes things to be in a nice order, is observant and detests lies. He does not like strangers because he does not understand them. Christopher likes Maths and he thinks he would make a very good astronaut.

The story is narrated in Christopher’s voice and when his neighbour’s dog died, he set about trying to find the killer. The mystery novel is  very cleverly written by Mark Haddon who is an author, illustrator and screen writer.

My memory is like a film. That is why I am really good at remembering things, ike the conversations I have written down in the book, and what people were wearing,and what they smelled like, because my memory has a smelltrack which is like a soundtrack.”

“ And when people ask me to remember something I can simply press Rewind and Fast Forward and Pause like on a video recorder, but more like a DVD  because I don’t have to Rewind through everything in between to get to a memory of something a long time ago. And there are no buttons, either, because it’s happening in my head.”

The pictures in Christopher’s head are all pictures of things which really happened.  He has a serious difficulty with life in that he really does not empathize with other human beings. He cannot read their faces and unable to put himself in their shoes. He cannot understand anything more than the literal meaning of whatever’s said to him.

This is how Christopher describes his school friends.
All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I’m not meant to call them stupid. Even though this is what they are . I ‘m meant to say that they have learning difficulties or that they have special needs. But this is stupid because everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding Relativity is difficult, and also everyone has special needs, like Father who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets amoured with him to put in his coffee to stop him getting fat, or Mrs Peters who wears a beige-coloured hearing aid, or Siobhan who has glasses so that that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is an endearing read indeed.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Parallel Effects


We read to connect with other minds. Every day I find that  there is a lot to read and digest. There are always writings for everyone who cares to read. But we have to be selective in what we read as not only the information may be inaccurate and  misleading, the writings may contain a lot of bad grammars and spelling mistakes.

Last weekend, I was feeling all drowsy, my head was hurting and my legs felt heavy. The doctor confirmed that it was the flu bug, I felt miserable because I could not concentrate and think clearly. I had been rather slow in getting to the end of the novel, “ The Word Exchange  a debut novel written by Alena  Graedon. It is a science fiction that talks about a world where prints are dead and a group of  some unscrupulous people have  invented a virus that cause words to disappear and those  infected with such a virus lose their ability to communicate.

This week, the columnist for the Sun daily newspaper , Nury Vittachi wrote in his article entitled “Saving the apostrophe.” about how internet users frequently use the phrase “Your” when they mean “ You’re ”. According to the said writer, by 2009 “your’ was replacing “you’re” in about 50% of the exchanges he monitored, and today “your” has triumphed almost completely. Incidentally, there was some typographical error in the sentence printed in the said article, so I presume that he had meant about 50% and not more than 50% when it was printed as “about than 50%”. The said writer was concerned about the rate the English language is being mangled in print and on the internet and since modern dictionaries are governed by the “descriptive not proscriptive” principle, which means ”your” will soon appear as a legitimate alternative for “you’re”. If he calls for “Save the Apostrophe meeting”, I will definitely attend.

Grand Cafe ,Oxford
Due to the common usage of abbreviation in our texts messages on our phones, we run the risk of  losing the ability to spell our words correctly. Recently, in a group chat  formed by some schoolmates via whats app, someone typed “G9” another asked “ What is G9?” the person responded, “Good night is G9” and advised the other person to get  to know  text lingo. My daughter told me that  she used it when she was  thirteen and she has stopped using since. With constant usage of words that sound like the actual words we are meant to write, we can gradually lose touch with the actual spelling of these words. When we text, we let our grammar slide and we use short forms. A few weeks ago, someone took a snap shot of two signboards that were placed on the road that led to the place where some by-election was taking place. One signboard read:“Sorry for the inconvenience erection going on” while the other one read: “ Road is temporary closed for erection”. It is funny yet it is no laughing matter.

Sloppiness not only appears in emails and text message, it appears in newspaper and all kinds of printed materials including signboards and brochures that are being distributed at the shopping malls. At work, if I were to insist on having every email and letter that is written in English to contain absolutely no grammatical or spelling errors before they are sent out , not only I  would get  very little work done, I would consume more time, more  paper and more  ink for the printer. In fact we seriously  need an editor to proofread every single letter if we demand perfection. Once upon a time, I had staff telling my office partner that she was resigning because I had made her correct the same letter and type it umpteenth times. What she had omitted to note was that it was due to the errors that had appeared in those letters. These days I have become far less demanding as I figure that we cannot afford the time and also the wastage of precious stationery. Since words can be easily corrected on computers, staff pays even less attention to their typing, as a result, the work gets  more sloppy. It would appear that the switch from typewriters to computers certainly have not saved millions of trees and now we have discarded parts of the computers to deal with for our environment.

How can we convey a message effectively if we are unable to spell the words and use the grammar correctly? The standard of English is declining due to the way we communicate via text messages and social media. It is an epidemic.
In  The Word Exchange, words get scrambled and  language is disappearing, as a result,thoughts and memories are in danger of becoming disposable. The protagonist, Anana Johnson works with her dad, Doug, who is a lexicographer at the North American Dictionary of the English Language, and they are hard at work on the final edition of the dictionary that will ever be printed. One evening, Doug disappears and Anana has to search for Doug based on a single code word : ALICE. The writer of the book, Alena Graedon divides the book into three sections, THESIS, ANTITHESIS and SYNTHESIS. Imagine a world where we are glued to handheld  devices called Memes that keep us in constant communication and can hail a cab before we leave our offices. The users do not commit the words  they have learnt to their memory instead they relegate that chore to their Memes. As the story goes, the Memes even create and sell words in a digital marketplace called the Word Exchange. 

 Rather than catalog a long litany of the Meme’s dangers, how ever, we will focus on the sphere of our greatest concern: communication. How we write and read. How we listen and speak, including to ourselves. In other words, how we think. It is comforting to believe that consigning small decisions to a device frees up our brains for more important things. But that begs the question, which things have been deemed more important? And what does our purportedly decluttered mind now allow us to do? Express ourselves? Concentrate? Think ? Or have we simply carved out more time for entertainment? Anxiety ? Dread?

We fear that Memes may have a paradoxical effect – that indeed, contrary to Synchronic’s claims, they tend to narrow rather than expand consciousness, to the point where our most basic sense of self-our interior I –has started to be eclipsed. Our facility for reflection has dimmed, taking with it our skill for deep and unfettered thinking. And another change is taking place ;our capacity for communication is fading.

In the extreme cases, Meme users have been losing language. Not esoteric bits of linguistic ebris but everyday words: ambivalence, Paradox, na├»ve. The more they forget, the more dependent on the device they become, a frightening cycle that only amplifies and that has grown to engulf another of Syndronic’s innovations, the Word Exchange.

The fear is real. The Word Exchange is highly recommended. Alena Graedon is ingenuous and ingenious. It is time for us to save the WORDS from further abuse and misuse otherwise we might be heading towards a dystopian future where words lose their meanings. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Time Tunnel

La Saone, France

Over lunch one Saturday, I  told a  good friend some embarrassing yarns in my life and I have to acknowledge that in my young days, I had done some silly things and things  which are pretty much uncharacteristic of me.  I have a tendency to challenge myself unnecessarily. An American 19th century author and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau once said, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” Nothing really matters if you really think about it as what really matters is how you live your present life.

Gray, France
Time travel is a popular theme for movies as it is not uncommon to think that if you could travel back in time and were given a second chance, how would you change your life? Last Wednesday night, I watched Camille Redouble  at the French Film Festival. Camille Redouble is about a forty year old woman whose husband  has fallen for a younger woman and their 25 years’ marriage ends in divorce. Camille feels bitter and has a drinking problem. On New Year’s eve, she goes to a party hosted by her high school friends and she passes out after having too much to drink. She then finds herself waking up in a hospital bed and her parents are there to get her home. When Camille realizes that she is back to her sixteen year old self, she vows to avoid her ex husband Eric since she knows how her love for Eric is going to end. Camille Redouble is a charming and sweet story. Incidentally on Thursday night, I surfed the television channels and chanced upon the science fiction comedy film “ Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel”. The English film is a love comedy that has three friends commuting between future and present in a pub . Last week, I watched X-Men: Days of Future Past and it is  about how the mutants have to travel back in time to change history in order to prevent a total destruction of both humans and mutants. I surprised myself that I actually enjoyed the movie that was  based on the characters appearing in Marvel Comics. Superhero film is never my kind of movies but I find the concept of future past fascinating as time does feel like expandable at times.

Movies that involve parallel universe or worlds and give time a different dimension are entertaining.  In one’s experience, there must be   moments when time  appears to be on standstill. When I am conscious about the ticking of the clock, time slows down. Time definitely appears to accelerate as I get older. After a vacation that is packed with activities, I feel that I have been away longer than the actual period of my time away. I  am aware that there is absolutely no way that I can escape the passage of time as time goes on no matter what I do. While I should set some time lines for things I want to do and books I want to read, I must not become impatient when faced with gush of time passing that is irreversible in reality.
La Saone