Are you trying to be smart ?

Surely you have heard this phrase before. Most probably when you are trying to pull a fast one, aiming for those perfect last words to show how witty you are really are, trying to be arrogant, or ‘cool’ … or often when you have just a staggeringly stupid act. Usually when one hears these words, the irony is lost on most people. No you were not trying to be smart – you were just being yourself or you really had to prove a point. The reasons usually don’t matter.

But what if you were actually, really smart? And someone came and told you nonchalantly – ‘It’s ok to be smart!’ What would your reaction be – ‘Are you trying to be smart or are you just a plain old chauvinist?’ And is this comment driven by your jealousy because your grey cells aren’t really as grey as the one who you are trying to put down? (At least this is one situation where a shade of grey is better than being black and white) . Again … the reasons usually don’t matter.

But what matters is that there are millions kids out there who are being told this exact thing – ‘It’s ok to be smart!’ This phrase stopped me in my tracks. It was emblazoned in large friendly letters on an educational toy(called brain quest) that we had picked up for our kids during our summer vacation in USA.

Admittedly, it is a reasonably good educational aid with interesting questions, put together in an easily referenced and digestible format to build up the kids’ general knowledge. We have had fun with it and it has been handy on a few long road trips….. but what a way to advertise it! It’s like telling kids – don’t fret, it’s alright if you are more intelligent than the others. If you know more than your friends, no need to feel the odd one out. Your knowledge will not be considered unnatural. You are not a mutant or a nerd and you will not be persecuted. And to top it all, a picture of a small boy wearing large geeky glasses rounds up the message. The message is really complete.

Isn’t it the whole point of school – to learn, to experiment, to grow your knowledge? Talking to a an american friend, a ratification emerged. It seems like the general level of interest in real knowledge is indeed diminishing among a majority of school students. Kids who know more than others are usually made fun of and considered ‘nerds’. All kinds of euphemisms are drawn up and hurled at them. Regardless of this situation, it does seem a fairly convoluted way to promote intelligence and knowledge.

This holds universal truth that extraordinary ability usually stands out and is most often lauded, or in a minority of cases is scoffed at. (Just thinking of this brings Howard Roark from ‘The Fountainhead’ to mind). Imagine telling Einstein this – ‘It’s ok Albert, we don’t really mind you being so brainy. We know why your hair are always standing up. Just trying being quite when you are around people, and don’t think up answers to the scientific mysteries on a daily basis’ .

But the point is – ‘It is really ok to be Smart!’ … you don’t need to justify it or hide it. While we will continue to use ‘brian quest’, but every time I will pick it up in the future, this question will jump up at me again. And my answer will be .. ‘Oh really. thanks for the tip!’

The chronicle of bytensteins and outsourced guardian angels

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I am sure you have heard or have said this in an all-knowing way a few times. But as they say the proof of the pudding is in eating it. I learnt the meaning of this and almost ate humble pie last night, but was saved miraculously by the wonderful new age business invention – outsourcing.

I am making it sound so dire, but it wasn’t anything dangerous like driving off the cliff or electrocuting myself (though my wife can certainly attest to the fact that i have come close to latter a few times thanks to my ineptness in dealing with electrical wiring – another case of little knowledge). It was certainly not a danger of a physical kind, but more related to the modern-day phenomena of preserving our memories in the digital world (if you are to believe some futurologist like Mr Kurzweil, very soon we will be living our lives only in the digital realm- but don’t we already?)

Ok enough tomfoolery, time to get to the point -here’s what transpired. Most of us have fancy mega-pixel cameras, we click away constantly, swoon over the results and share or preserve them online on numerous photo sharing sites available today. But i live life on the edge, firmly believe in my computer skills &  refuse to use the free options. So i went ahead and registered my own private domain name, set up a fancy software with password protected access to leave out unwanted snoopers, funky slide shows and a gazillion options. All good so far then, my friends and family (only the ones with access – remember) happily get a friendly automated email every time new photos of our kids, holidays etc are uploaded. Everyone is happy and the digital phototrain rumbles on.

But looks like Elektra (the ancient Greek goddess of computer software) had some other ideas. She ordered some bytensteins (the rogue grown up computer bits and long-lost cousins of Frankenstein) to wreak havoc. Try what i may, but i cannot upload any new photos. The bytensteins running amok as digital werewolves, block all my efforts. Convinced to outdo them, i roll up sleeves, put on an expression somewhere between the arrogant smirk of Steve Jobs and the dumb geeky smile of Bill Gates and reach deep under the hood of the admin options of my website. As the bytensteins lure me deeper, i realize that i may be losing my way. Prudence tells me not to delve deeper, but i battle on gamely. A few ignorant clicks, and suddenly the screen is inundated with thousands of lines of text – informing me that thanks to the last option i chose, every single one of them photos and directories has been deleted! All that existed now was a big ‘Nothing, Nada, Nil’.

I sit there flabbergasted with my jaw touching the floor, with a hopeless expression on my face (the one similar to the bowlers’ face when Sehwag is on song). Thousands of photos, hours of work of choosing them, years of memories – is now relegated to the virtual trashcans. I could almost hear the high fives of the bytensteins. While i am not the kinds to give up easily, even I knew this in now beyond my limited computer skills (as i have just painfully learnt in the last few minutes). I mull all possible options. The only option that looks feasible is now is to send a SOS to the invisible lifesavers in the form of the tech-support helpdesk. Now is the chance to test their claims. But i suddenly remember, that there is a small catch here. I had very politely declined to sign up for their priority support option and chose not to pay $40 a year for instant assistance for a problem that i may never have. But now i have one on my hand – and a big one at that.

I gingerly type my email request, trying to walk the thin line between expressing confidence in their ability and not showing my desperation. I click ‘Send’, and watch it disappear into the netherworld of the great internet. As i shut the lid of my laptop, i am praying to all the 65 million Indian gods and a few global ones as well (after all i am a global citizen). I pray that some kindred soul will take mercy and bother to help out a non-priority support request. As i opened my mailbox the next morning, i find out to my delight that someone did, and my website is restored to all its digital glory. The world is not ruled only by greedy capitalists and there is still hope for us half informed, self-professed computer experts. So thank you Viktor Tait (the helpful support agent) for bringing order and sanity back in my digital life.

But hang on Viktor, chances are your real name could very well be Venkataraman, Vikramaditya or Venugopal. And there is a very high chance that while you are very good at helping out folks like me, your real computer skills are probably being underutilized in that 10,000 people helpdesk. I fully realize that this offshoring wave has created millions of jobs globally, but it also must have surely lured many wannabe Zuckerbergs into a false sense of comfort of taking home a steady income stream, forget about their dreams of creating the next big thing and answer a continuous barrage of calls or emails day in and day out, while sitting in a cheerily decorated warehouse in a small town in India, Philippines or Taiwan.

So this goes out to all the Viktors of the world who might have a great idea lurking in their minds. I hope that you find your real calling and go on to create something big. And while that is happening, I need to figure out a way of uploading new photos on my website and helping India win the cricket world cup … Amen!