Thursday, September 24, 2009


There’s a strange thread on the Bangalore Bikers Club forum. An otherwise sane and thinking human being has asked for pictures of “Bangalore Biking Cuties” to add to a presentation about cycling in Bangalore. (In his defense, he did not invent the… well, cute phrase, but just ill-advisedly used something that was said elsewhere.) Naturally, it has led to some of the said cuties protesting the term. Yet others have defended it saying, among other things, that “the men in this group have always been respectful towards women”. What one has to do with the other is hard to work out.

A friend of mine has responded with well-worded reasoning, so I should just provide the link to it and shut up, but in my self-appointed role of Last Word of/in Wisdom, it’s really hard to keep quiet.

My first reaction was blank horror on behalf of Joshine Anthony who cycled all 919 km of the Tour of Nilgiris in 2008, including a 7000-foot climb. I’ve talked elsewhere on this blog about gender condescension in a sports context. No matter how good the intention, referring to women cyclists like this just implies that it’s a secondary wing, introduced at best as a concession, and at worst to add a bit of colour to the proceedings. It’s an injustice to serious cyclists.

Purely from a communications point of view, how much more effective would that message have been if it was something like: “Need representation from the women cyclists”? Well, you may only be asking for photographs, but you probably would have also got involvement – perhaps new ideas, women willing to participate more actively, to go with you to make that presentation to corporates, to use their networks too for the common good. Now you’ll have enough photographs, sure, from the cuties and from those who will be big enough to rise above the pettiness, but that seems so meagre compared to what it could have been. There will be women who will get involved anyway, some because insensitivity is not a solely male prerogative and some because of, again, rising above. But it will not start the transformation that it could have.

And surely concepts like respect need to be approached with circumspection, not bandied about carelessly? In my experience, those who feel it tend not to feel the need to state it. Not one of the 20-odd men that completed the same distance in TFN ’08 gave the slightest indication that they thought of Joshine in any terms other than, simply, a fellow cyclist. This is very different from telling her, for example, “I respect you Joshine for being a woman cyclist who completed the tour”.

If the male cyclists were referred to as Bangalore Biking Hotties, then calling the other half cuties would have probably been okay. If it was used ironically, that would have been fine too. But I think this is another of those things that you either get or don’t. It cannot be taught, be we never so strident.

Just checked the thread again, and saw that several women are now pointedly supporting the cause, and drawing their skirts away from the protesters. Perhaps one person's sensitivity is another's needless political correctness. I still stick to my point, though.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Facebook: The glue of small things

Elizabeth Bernstein is the latest among several columnists worrying that her online social network might destroy her real-life one, with complete disregard for the illogic of that.

I think blaming Facebook for the fact that you or your friends may not take the time to actually meet is a particularly grand abdication of personal responsibility, even for a time that has made that into a fine art. And about the people who don't have time to keep in touch but have the time to update their pages - well, if they didn't want to call you, they would have found other things to do anyway.

The example in the article of someone being upset at being de-friended by his ex is just bizarre – isn’t that the natural thing to do when you’ve just ended a relationship? I’ve hit the “remove friend” button to celebrate far smaller endings! A jiltee keeping too close an eye on the activities of the jilter and other kinds of stalkers are not new. Going online is just another way of doing it. As for intrusion, you can choose not to see people’s quiz results or photo albums and who gets to see what on your page. You’re not really at the mercy of anything, so all the angst is a little overdone.

One of the points in the article is that people can get more aggressive and indiscriminate when they’re typing than they would face-to-face. This is true in some cases, but it’s also worth noting that someone whose social abilities break down before a keyboard probably didn’t have too many of those to begin with. The couple who bickers on an FB wall are likely to do so in your living room too. The person who updates his status with flossing details would probably also share this information to your face, as would the one who wants to talk about last night’s dream. These people were always in your life – you were forced to listen to them at work, in the supermarket, at the bus stop, on the train, in the gym, lift or lobby. Now you also hear them online. The difference is that you’re free to ignore the status updates. In fact, if you didn’t log on every thirty seconds, you wouldn’t even have to know they’re there.

FB probably doesn’t bother me because I have a stunted social conscience and tend to turn off social contact like a tap when I’ve had enough of it. But apart from that, I frankly enjoy it! When your siblings are scattered around the world and your closest friends are far away, Facebook is a magic window. I’m at a point in my life where most of my preferred phone numbers have area codes and time zones. I can’t make an international call just to tell someone what someone else said this morning, nor is sharing everyday trivialities over email a good idea. It’s the worst thing about long-distance relationships, a hollowness that comes of never having enough small things to fill it. To me, this is what the status update, wall post or photo comment is about.

Perhaps the reason Facebook inspires so much love-hate press is because - ironically - it's a pretty accurate representation of our "real" social world, and it makes us uncomfortable to see it in all its ugliness.

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