Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Mind Wasters

Hummingbird enjoyed reading the article "The Mind Wasters" (ISKCON News).  Some excerpts from the article:
Many studies have looked violence on television and its impact on our minds, culture, and social interactions. How many murders, gun-shootouts, and violent responses to interpersonal conflict can we digest before it rubs off on us, and our children?
Here's some new evidence why we may want to turn the boob tube off, if not take it out of the house. According to recent studies:
- On average, an American who lives to the age of 80, will spend 13 years of his or her life in front of a TV set.
- For every hour we spend watching television each week, we are likely to spend an additional $200 per year on consumer goods promoted by TV advertisements.
- The more time we spend watching TV, the more likely we are to develop Alzheimer's disease in later life.
In short: watch more TV - waste time, waste money, waste your mind.
This is not to say that there's no value in television. Some rare programming may have educational or other benefits. The point is to be aware of the impact of owning and turning on, or off, a TV set. Its not just idle time we are wasting, it's our money, and our minds, too.
With great difficulty, spread over years, Hummingbird got out of the habit of watching TV programmes.  Hummingbird used to watch cricket matches on TV (till his 12th standard).  Thereafter, something strange happened.  A sudden thought struck Hummingbird one day that even as he busy wasting his time and life watching cricket matches, it is the cricket players who actually make the money.  Hummingbird thought why should he waste his time if he is not going to make money?  This thought effectively killed his interest in the game.

'The Hindu', used to cover sports (especially cricket) very well.  Hummingbird used to read every article written by R. Mohan (The Hindu) and Rajan Bala (Indian Express).  While Indian Express covered sports in its last page, The Hindu reserved its last page more for advertisements and also for a small special column on religious discourses which Hummingbird used to enjoy reading.  Sports used to be covered in the previous two pages.  Hummingbird developed a curious way of reading the paper 'ulta' i.e., reading from the last page first, which habit got ingrained due to reading sports articles.  All that interest in cricket vanished after Hummingbird stepped into college.

Later, the 'old' cricket which Hummingbird knew died its own natural death.  Match fixing controversy (remember Manoj Prabhakar?) wiped out whatever little interest Hummingbird had in the game.  It was rumoured that R. Mohan went out of The Hindu due to this controversy.  Rajan Bala passed away some time back. Hummingbird was thoroughly out of cricket (or for that matter any sports news) that one-day while travelling in a train (to Churchgate) his friend asked him what's the score?  Hummingbird was forced to profess ignorance - he had no clue which countries were playing, what's the tournament, where its being played etc.  Look there he said, showing the Stadium (near Churchgate) where India was playing!  Hummingbird was witness to another cricket match - this time from Aaykar Bhavan where he had gone for a tax hearing.  The Asst Commissioner was busy watching the match from the window of his cabin, with a radio commentary going on in the background!  Hummingbird was told to come again next day, as AC Saheb was busy (watching live cricket free, ofcourse).  Hummingbird is happy he got out of a bad habit.  But he is sad, he wasted so many years, during his childhood - which theoritically he could have used for studying well and scoring better marks.

Many years later, Hummingbird got introduced to CNBC after landing in Mumbai.  Even as one deadly habit went out, another got in.  It took many years to peak and equally took many years to get out of the habit of watching CNBC.  It took a great deal of reading of articles by Prof Ben Graham (eg., of the variety of 'Mr Market') which opened the eyes of Hummingbird and helped him in getting out of the habit of watching CNBC non-stop.  Those days, he used to think of those who watch 'normal' TV channels (news & entertainment) as silly people and only 'intelligent' people watch CNBC!  Needless to mention that Hummingbird thought of himself as 'intelligent'.

Instead of looking at the long term, CNBC by endlessly talking about every issue under the sun and how the sensex is going up or down, only ended up confusing him. Why the price of a share (or the market) is going up or going down - everyone had views - without compunctions they changed their views after a few days (with no apparent ground breaking change actually happening).  It took sometime to understand that they all had an interest in the share price - either going up or down. Many years later, SEBI insisted on "disclosure of interest" so that we the common people don't believe all that is said without actually understanding that people (can) have hidden motives too.

As markets went up and down, CNBC's TRPs also went up.  Everyone wanted to know why it went up or why it went down and whether it would go up or go down.  Hummingbird realised that this is not something sensible people do - people who invest for the long term need to protect themselves as much from the outside chatter / noise - as also from their own 'minds'.  We cannot remain idle.  We need to do something.  In our anxiety to do something, we end up doing the wrong thing.  Hummingbird realised CNBC may be good for 'day traders' but not for 'investors'. 

Later, Hummingbird got into the 'Budget' band wagon.  Budgets became a media event (post liberalisation) and channels started to telecast pre-budget expectations followed by the budget, post-budget analysis etc.  Hummingbird used to spend a substantial amount of time watching every such programme and reading articles in business newspapers. Again, it took many years to actually understand that what matters is the final bill that is passed by the Parliament.  All these discussions are a waste of time.  For almost 5 years now, Hummingbird remains in 'splendid isolation' free from garbage discussion on any topic (including budget).  He reads the Tax Referencer or BCA Journal, after the Parliament approves the budget, so that all pre-budget 'non-sense' talk doesn't pollute him.

During this phase, Hummingbird had slowly but steadily stopped reading the 'normal' news papers.  It was a torturous decision to stop reading 'The Hindu', since it was a childhood habit to read the paper.  'The Hindu' lost its 'balance' long back when the Sri Kasturi retired as Editor.  It has long been hijacked by Communists and atheists.  It was a equally torturous decision to stop reading Indian Express - the paper which Hummingbird used to like the most, especially when Arun Shourie (also click - here and here) and Gurumurthy were at the forefront exposing corruption in the Indian polity.

Times of India, never appealed to Hummingbird as a paper.  After reading 'serious' paper like 'The Hindu' and Indian Express, somehow Hummingbird could never take Times of India, as a newspaper at all, though Bombay people enjoy it a lot. Just as Hummingbird looked down upon TOI, he looked down upon Bombay people too - mmm.. these are not the 'intellectual' types like Madrasis, he used to muse.  Hummingbird used to feel that TOI is more an advertisement sheet wherein between different ads you find something filled up - mostly of the non-sense variety.

The English press whose hearts normally beats for terrorists more than patriots, helped Hummingbird in getting out of a habit ingrained from school days. After almost 30-35 years, Hummingbird became a free bird.  What he wanted was 'news' - what he got was 'views'.  Hummingbird did a 'Ganga-snan' for general newspaper reading and stopped watching 'news' channels.

Heavens have not fallen because Hummingbird has stopped knowing about which train met with an accident where, which politician criticized whom, who looted how much etc.  These things continue to happen all the years.  There are better things in life which happen all the time - our only problem is that the media has saturated coverage with the sensational and negative type - thus removing from scene the silent and positive transformation that is happening in many parts of the country.  How many of us actually know about the grass roots innovations that are happening?  How many of us have understood the difference micro credit funding has made to lives of women especially in terms of empowerment etc.

Hummingbird has travelled a long distance since the old innocent days to believe everything that the media says.  He reads on areas / topics of his interest, but reserves his judgement. Today, 'Mint' and 'Businessline' occupy the mind-space of Hummingbird.  Economist and New York Times remain the most favourite websites for Hummingbird. His readings have become more focussed on economics / business topics and general finance/tax/accounting/HR topics.  Hummingbird likes to read those news items that would enable him to learn something new that's of use for him / his companies.

Ofcourse, Hummingbird had to face many an embarrassing situation. For several months, due to sheer work pressure, Hummingbird just couldn't read even headlines (even from Mint & Businessline).  One evening he spent a few hours scanning the headlines (of many months) scanning the headlines in a RSS reader which he had installed.  In a passing he saw one headline mentioning "Jyoti Basu ill".  He wasn't interested in the news and so he did not bother to click the link and read the full news.  Casually (and quite innocently), he mentioned during a conversation about clearing the old unread links and especially the news about Jyoti Basu being ill. The next day, another colleague told him that Jyoti Basu died many months back!  Hummingbird provided a good case of 'being a joke' for friends on that occasion.

In any case, Hummingbird is not in the race for a popularity (or intelligence or General Knowledge) contest - so his not knowing about some happenings is perfectly OK with him.  Even if he knows, how is it going to help him?  Hummingbird often thinks like this - of what use is it for me to know what is the temperature or weather in Chicago and so why should I know about everything in the world?

When automobile sales zoom, the auto industry cheers the news.  But Hummingbird worries about the impact of pollution, the deaths due to irresponsible road driving, lack of space for the common man on the roads etc.  When salary levels go up, the middle class is happy.  But Hummingbird worries about the poor and the impact of inflation that the salary increase is going to bring on the lives of the poorest of the poor.  Sensex at historical peaks, doesn't bring happiness to Hummingbird.  But starvation deaths bring tears to his eyes.  The heart of Hummingbird has long been captured by Sairam and Sri Ramakrishna.  CNBC and news channels cannot enter his heart anymore.

All these thoughts came to Hummingbird as a flashback while reading "The Mind Wasters".  There are well read people, more intelligent people, all around Hummingbird.  There is also a little Hummingbird in this part of the world - more as a specimen of stupidity, ignorance and isolation from the mainstream!  Hummingbird is happy to be in splendid isolation.  Let all intelligent people be happy knowing about everything under the sun - even without intelligence, Hummingbird is happy, in his own little ways, in his own little world.