Tuesday, November 13, 2007

To talk or not to talk, that is the question!

Henry David Thoreau said "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate". Probably, the context in which he said this was to emphasize that materialistic riches and decadent existence were not required to lead a satisfactory life. It can be argued that this statement goes against the pursuit of science but that is irrelevant here. What is still relevant here is that "...have nothing important to communicate".

Mobile phones (or cell phones in USA) are a product of the tremendous technological achievement in Electronics and Communications. There is no denying that such a thing would have been laughed at had it been proposed about 40-50 years ago. But it is a reality and, with ultra-cheap silicon technology, has made a grand foray into third world consumers' pockets. No one would have imagined that a country like India, where the penetration of land lines was abysmal just 10 years ago, would see pani puri wallahs and road side workers wielding mobile phones.

With new technolgy and new lifestyles come new problems that people don't know how to handle. No one has ever been instructed about how to use these mobile phones in public. There are no set rules on etiquette or accepted norms of behaviour regarding them. So what is stopping people from hollering into their phones in a crowded bus or on the street? Nothing! People just do not care about neighbours being bothered or other people trying to concentrate on their work.

We have had mobile phones thrust upon us for almost no cost. So now, whether or not we have anything to talk, we cannot stop taking. Conversations can go aimlessly or discussing your most personal thoughts and feelings in front of total strangers who are made to put up with your agonies. More irritating are the boisterous types who think that the neighbours have nothing better to do than listen to your drivel; and they go on talking at the top of their voices to the utter consternation of everyone in the room.

This even happens in friends' circles where the idiots cannot go a little distance away to speak into their phones. They sit right next to you and talk into the stupid device for hours. You are made to listen to one half of a meaningless conversation while doing nothing. Can you not make a decision whether to take a call or not? If you must, can you not learn to keep your conversation short or tell the caller that you will get back to them later?

There has even been a lot of research done on the topic and why people find mobile phones annoying. You can see simple reasons in this work "Why are Mobile Phones Annoying?" published in the Journal of Behaviour and Information Technology. [Monk, et al]. Coming back to Thoreau's quote, we lived all these years without a cellphone. Life was normal and people found a payphone if they had something urgent to talk to someone outside of their homes or offices. Now suddenly with a phone in their hands, people cannot stop talking to each other over a cellphone. It definitely is a bane rather than a boon to have a cellphone.

[Monk, et. al] - Andrew Monk, Jenni Carroll, Sarah Parker, and Mark Blythe: "Why are Mobile Phones Annoying?" Behaviour and Information Technology, vol. 23, no. 1, 2004, pp. 33-41.

Recommended reading:
  1. Cell phone etiquette : 10 dos and don't s
  2. The Ten Commandments of cell phone etiquette

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On Bookshelves and Reading Habits

I have always believed that bookshelves add an indescribable charm to any room. As soon as I see a bookshelf in someone's room, my eyes start scanning the book collection. I am attracted to the collection of their books, the condition in which they are maintained, the kind of bookshelf, etc. I cant but help notice if the books have been cared for or not. Also, I try to gauge the personality of the collector by seeing his/her collection of books.

I adore bookshelves as much as I love books. It is always a pleasure to see a well designed tastefully organized bookshelf. As Pradeep Sebastian eloquently puts it in his Endpaper column in the Hindu Literary Review, he ponders over deep vs slim shelves, pigeon-hole shelves, whether libraries should use those ghastly slotted angle shelves and a host of other dilemma a book collector has to face.

Mark Twain once famously said "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them". In essence, I think books are as essential as food, air and water (I was about to say wireless internet but refrained myself!). So, prejudiced as I am, I somehow cannot believe that some people can live their entire lives without reading any good books. The USA which is the largest publisher of books in the world is now 'endangered in reading habits' according to CNN. It wasn't for nothing that B. F. Skinner said "We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading".

Now why am I endlessly droning on two different topics - books and bookshelves?
There is a connection. Recently I chanced upon the website of Strand Books which, believe it or not, sells books by the foot! Now have you ever heard of such a thing? I had heard a few years ago of buying dresses by the kilogram(!) but selling books by the foot is the height of it all! My first thought was what sort of an idiot would go to a bookstore and say 'Hey, I want about 4 feet of books to fill up my bookshelf'!!!! Then after seeing this site it became apparent that people who build beautiful houses and are rolling in money with no time to read want to have a bookshelf in the study or in the living room. It would test their patience to go out and buy books that they could read. So they buy artistically bound or gilded books with golden coloured spines, golden lettering with leather covers and weird sounding titles. I am seriously not against beautifully bound books but buying them only to decorate your living space is ... um... really crazy.

This website even announces on its page that "A home without books is like a room without windows" and the offerings vary from $300 per foot for Victorian era books, $250 per foot for art books and so on. I really do not understand why people have to portray this false sense of literacy. Or it is that they just want brand new books to go with that shade of wallpaper and mahogany!?!? As someone said, "The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it". how can you explain that to these people!?!?

Check out the webpage. It really is fun to see what all you can sell if you can convince gullible rich foolish customers. People with lots of money are really crazy. And I don't have lots of money :-)