Is Social Media Abstinence The Next Diet Trend?

 

In mid-2018, I took a one-month break from Facebook. Though this hiatus was aimed at freeing up time and headspace to deal with the birth of my daughter, I found positive effects on other areas such as increased creative output and better focus on both my work and life. I eventually slid back into regular use, though at much reduced levels than in the past.

Three weeks ago, I dropped off Facebook again. I don’t log on to the platform, though the articles that I post on LinkedIn are posted to Facebook via the LinkedIn for Facebook widget. In a mere six days of abstinence, my writing output has shot up, and I find myself more focused. I now communicate one-on-one by Email or phone, and am drawing away from Whatsapp too. [since writing this, I briefly came back on the platform during the holidays]

I have discovered that I’m not the only person shunning Facebook. A number of people I have reconnected with in the past few days claim that they rarely log on anymore, and all of them report increased focus, better productivity, and improved mental health in separating from Facebook and Instagram.

In late 2011, I went on a low-carb diet to drop some weight. By July 2012, I had dropped to 74 kilos and 10% body fat from a peak weight of 110 kilos circa 2009. At that time, people following Low Carb, Paleo, and Keto diets were rare in India. However, now, with 2019 around the corner, almost everyone I know is on some sort of low-carb diet. In fact  These have become so popular, that here in Gurgaon, there are take-out kitchens that specialize in meals for those on Low-carb, Paleo, or Ketogenic diets. Considering the feedback that I’ve been getting from people who have cut back on Social Media use, could the Social Media Fast be the next diet trend?

With people now shunning Facebook in particular, it seems likely that Social Media has peaked. Multiple regulatory issues – starting with Cambridge Analytica – and now the indications of improper data sharing with Yandex and Netflix have revealed how the malevolent trinity of Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp is exploiting user data and driving social behavior. There is no hope of any imminent regulatory oversight of these social media platforms. Mark Zuckerberg’s five-hour appearance before a US Senate Committee – available in its entirety on Youtube – revealed that the political establishment is arrogant in its ignorance of the real issues in ethics and privacy relevant to social media.

These public spectacles have begun to change the way people regard Social Media. Perhaps its growth days are over and we shall soon she the kind of stagnation that has hit tablet computers and e-book readers. In fact, a contraction may be around the corner.

Another key factor is that Humans in general are trending to internal improvement and introspection. According to Forbes magazine, Headspace, an app that provides guided Mindfulness meditation sessions has been downloaded 11 million times and has 400,000 paid subscribers. Publishers in the UK and USA are reporting a spurt in sales of books on meditation and yoga, and globally, the number of yoga alliance certified instructors is increasing exponentially. Meditation and Fitness are not the only self-improvement businesses that are booming. Life, career, and dating coaches are a rapidly expanding sector of the self-improvement market. Two years ago, one of my mentors joked that “Coach is the new LinkedIn code word for unemployed”. He has since engaged a coach to improve his social communication skills. My own mindfulness and self-awareness based advisory practice has grown substantially solely by word-of-mouth since 2015. An increasing number of people now realize that material fulfillment and social media bragging do not bring happiness. Mindfulness and self awareness are incredibly demanding pursuits. A fair amount of time and emotional labour is needed in the early months, and I’ve noticed that my own clients and other people on mindfulness programs tend to draw this time by cutting back on social media.

The addition of one billion new mobile data consumers in the Orient may bump social media adoption figures, but it is likely that social media utilization has peaked, and as people look inwards in the economic and social volatility ahead, the Social Media Fast could become the new diet trend, and Facebook the new Refined Sugar.

If your 2019 goals include increasing focus, happiness, or energy; completing self-paced educational courses; or resurrecting a long-forgotten hobby, consider Social Media Abstinence. It’s probably the one factor that will decide success or failure.

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The Pixel 3 Is The Perfect Phone (for me)

Two weeks ago, I finally got myself the new Pixel phone. While evaluating the multiple phones I was considering, I found that most of the reviews online were written by professional reviewers, so I thought to write up my thoughts on the process to my purchase.

My previous phone was a Samsung Galaxy Note 8. It is a great phone with an outstanding camera, but the lack of software updates has been a constant issue for me, and in recent times, the size was something that I had issues with. However, this was my first flagship phone ever, and the experience let me to decide that all my primary phones hereafter should be flagship-grade.

The phones that I considered were the Galaxy S9, The iPhone XS, and the OnePlus 6T.

My key priorities were:

  • OS upgrades
  • Camera
  • Battery Life
  • Size and Feel

In examining the S9, the feel of the phone was amazing, as was the display. The phone is a little bulkier than I would like, but the real deal-killer was the software. My Note 8 is still running Android 7.1.1 at the fag-end of 2018. The S9 is shipping with 8.0 Oreo. Though Samsung rolled out the Oreo update for Note 8s in Europe and the USA in early 2018, they haven’t done so in India, this is odd, and somewhat reminiscent of Samsung’s earlier practice of dumping lower-spec phones in India – a practice that they still seem to pursue with the Snapdragon/Exynos variants. I think it’s asinine to pay top dollar for a phone that will not receive even a single OS update. Given that I work in compliance, device security is a priority for me – security patches need to be prompt, something that Samsung has failed at.

The iPhone XS is amazing in terms of camera, display, and performance. It seemed like the perfect time for me to switch to Apple, but given that the cheapest XS costs over INR 100,000 (USD 1,430) in India and the other issues around paying for storage, the compatibility of multiple work-related apps, I decided that the moment wasn’t ripe for this transition.

The OnePlus, frankly, was a bit of a disappointment. For all the hype, the Camera is quite passe. The so-called blazing pace is more a factor of the 8GB RAM rather than an efficient OS, and was still sluggish on the display pieces that I looked at. The interface is as cluttered as Samsung’s, and it comes bundled with the usual bloatware. I will buy a One Plus phone at some point, but that would be just so that I can install the Lineage OS ROM for specialized features and apps requiring root access.

The Pixel 3 was impressive.

Despite having just 4 GB RAM, the phone was blazing fast, and the interface a joy. To be fair, I used the Moto G (2015) between June 2015 and May 2017, and prefer the stock Android experience. Coming from there, both One Plus and Samsung interfaces were too cluttered, busy, or crowded. Compared side-by-side at a Croma store in Gurgaon, the Pixel 3’s camera outperformed the Note 9. The irritating thing about the Samsung Camera is its in-built beauty mode that subtly turns human subjects into wax dolls by smoothing over skin textures – an option that cannot be disabled. Even the OnePlus 6T, despite what its fans will proclaim didn’t come close in performance and output.

While I was still mulling my choices, the #PixelPowerUps offer emerged, allowing me to purchase the 128GB Pixel 3 from Flipkart for about INR 15,000 off the sticker price. I bought it.

I decided on the 128 GB model with an eye to the future. My 64 GB Note 8, despite being used for just about a year, has only 2 GB of space left, with most content on it being photos and 4k video that I’m shooting for a social media channel. The Pixel 3 comes with unlimited cloud storage for all Pixel phone content generated until 31 January 2022. Photos and Videos are stored in their original resolution.

What was particularly encouraging is that the first line of Pixel phones, released in 2016, have received the Pie OS update. Pixel 2 phones from 2017 received the camera software updates. I’m hoping that such updates endure, and I can use the phone for at least three years.

It’s software features aside, the phone’s design is fantastic.

Though the Pixel 3 is an all-glass phone, it follows the design language introduced with the first Pixel phone, with the two-tone back and dual front-facing speakers. I’m very happy with the phone’s size. I’ve always been disdainful of this obsession with screen size which compromises both battery life and the general handiness of the device. I still think the iPhone SE has the perfect proportions, and would have probably switched to Apple this year if they had refreshed the model with a faster processor and a nicer camera. The Pixel 3 feels perfect in my hand and nestles firmly between my palm and the top crease of my fingers. Of course, in the interest of preserving this phone for the next three years that I plan to use it for, I’m using the Spigen case from Amazon.com. This case has some heft to it, but will provide some protection for the three times a year that I seem to drop my phones.

Several online reviews have multiple points of criticism for this phone. The first regards memory management where apps are closed by the OS to conserve memory. Perhaps this has already been patched, but I faced no latency issues at all. To be fair, I have not been using any memory intensive apps or games.

Another criticism that was almost a deal breaker for me is the issue with the camera. Apparently, the camera fails to work properly when used through other apps. This is true. I had issues using the camera via the PayTM app and through Instagram. The latter is not really a problem, since I rarely take pictures through Instagram, and typically post pictures that I have already shot, filtered, and cropped. Google has promised to fix this issue in a subsequent update, and I generally consider them to be more honest than Samsung in such matters. However, if you’re planning to use a third party camera app, or use a work-related app that needs to access the camera, please ensure that this issue is resolved before you buy it.

In summary, if you’re in the market for an android Phone, and would like a long-lived device with an outstanding camera, the Pixel 3 is for you.

Can Someone Please “Disrupt” Agriculture in India?

The latest regional elections in India saw unprecedented promises of farm loan waivers. Representatives of both the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janta Party have made “support” to farmers a key point in their manifestos. According to an article in The Economic Times, farm loan waivers since 1990 total INR 2.22 trillion (USD 31 billion) – a bill obviously paid by the taxpayer. Now farmers in India enjoy kid glove treatment – they pay no income tax, receive free energy, are not subject to controls or restrictions on groundwater use, and are offered a guaranteed purchase price for what they produce. The Indian government seems to have positioned their economic role as a sacred duty rather than a professional pursuit. These privileges and incentives are taken for granted – for instance, just a few months ago, farmers in North India blanketed the region with a toxic smog as they burned biomass in violation of numerous laws and rulings – claiming that it was an essential step for them to be able to grow their crops. Not that nation is well fed – food prices are skyrocketing, and essential nutrition from greens and vegetables is inaccessible to low-income households.

When an industry linked to a vital human necessity finds itself dependent on government handouts for survival, the stage seems set for disruption. Farmers claim that their problems are caused by the lack of water for irrigation, changing weather patterns, and a low support price for their produce. However, looking at the big picture, complacency, apathy, and no incentive to innovate are equally big factors.

An acquaintance who was associated with programs run by the Israeli charity MASHAV once told me about the gross structural issues in the Indian agricultural system. He stated that the Green Revolution was right for its time in staving off hunger among the rapidly growing Indian population, but innovation and transformation has been completely halted since then. Commenting on the lack of water for irrigation, he said that most farmers in India use surface irrigation, the most wasteful method – that loses water to evaporation. Furthermore, the rice, wheat, and pulses prioritized by the Green Revolutionistas sidelined the millets and other crops more suited to regional soil types, water resources, and weather patterns. Another acquaintance with a professional understanding of the public distribution system told me that government support to certain industries such as sugar and brewing created systemic imbalances that affected soil health at the farm and food prices at the table.

One thing that stands out about the Indian agriculture sector is low technology use. E-commerce players have superceded India Post in efficiency in terms of transporting shoes, books, and cellphones to consumers in remote corners of the country. Grocery delivery services use analytics and Just In Time inventory management to deliver a wide variety of milk and eggs to households each morning. Can these technologies be used to disrupt agriculture? What about other factors such as climate change and politics?

Climate Change is real – Crop Choices and Food Habits need to change

Over the past few years, unseasonal rain or storms have destroyed large portions of standing grain crops. Such events have increased in frequency, and if this trend endures, crop choices will have to change. There is nothing that we can do about this – farming must evolve to thrive in the changing climate. An hour of un-seasonal rain a few days before harvest can devastate an entire wheat crop. However, a hailstorm on a potato-field will still leave produce fit for harvest. A good option would be to switch from grains as a primary carbohydrate to tubers such as potatoes, cassava, yams, and jicama. For those aghast at the suggestion that your fulkas and alou-paranthas will go from being breakfast to a delicacy, remember that post the Green Revolution, traditional breads made from maize and millets such as bajra and ragi were relegated to ethnic delicacies by the emphasis on wheat and rice. In fact, a change in emphasis from calories to nutrition – calling for more vegetables and greens in the diet – may improve national health and well-being.

Supply Chains need to evolve

The Mandi system needs to die. Period.

On a day that a farmer in Nashik reportedly sold 750 kilos of onions for INR 1,064 and made headlines by sending the proceeds of the sale to the Prime Minister, a supermarket near my home was retailing them for INR 35 per kilo. This obscene price increase is driven by middlemen, who in most cases have a 100 per cent mark-up on everything that passes their hands. Obviously, the logistics and distribution systems developed by E-commerce, fast fashion, and modern trade can resolve this – if a fast fashion brand can buy a dress from a factory in Bangladesh and yet sell it at a London store for GBP 20, I’m sure we can find a way for a farmer to be paid INR 20 per kilo for onions that sell for INR 35 in a supermarket.

Farming itself needs to change

In speaking to people from agrarian communities in India, it appears to me that a key factor affecting viability of farming is the increased fragmentation of land holdings. The profit from traditional crops – however efficiently grown – is still limited by one’s land holdings. For this reason, as land holdings split by inheritance with each generation of a family, many farmers just quit. Therefore, farmers with small holdings need to grow high-value crops to keep their farms viable.

About fifteen years ago, I had a brief conversation with a farmer from southern India. He’d had an acrimonious falling out with his family, and was given (unfairly by his account) two acres of fallow land in settlement of his inheritance. Having always been an enfant terrible by his own admission, he experimented with growing exotic vegetables, rearing rabbits, and finally settled on Vanilla. He claimed that his two acres of vanilla yielded substantially more revenue than the 60 acres of paddy planted by his estranged relatives.

Another approach is to leverage technology to boost productivity. Institutes such as Hyderabad, India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Netherlands-based Wageningen University have led pioneering research into improving the yield and resilience of crops. Wageningen, for instance, conceptualized programs that turned the Netherlands – a nation roughly the size of the state of Haryana – into the world’s largest exporter of tomatoes. The knowledge behind industrial farming on one hand and organic cultivation on the other is growing, with productivity growing by the day. Collecting this wisdom and designing programs is easier than ever in our new connected world.

A possible business model

Since we live in the era of the “collaborative” economy, here’s one possibility.

Suppose we have an enterprise that empanels “farmer partners” who “associate” their land holdings with the company. The company conducts tests on soil and uses meteorological data to identify appropriate crops, soil additives, and farming cycles for each parcel. Then, based on the ability of farmer partners to invest in their land, the company deploys a growing program. For instance, a farmer lacking the ability to invest may end up with a basic program for growing onions, but a farmer able to invest in sun protection for his field may be given a program to grow lettuce that would bring him higher revenue. The farmer handles sowing, growing, and harvesting per the program while the company would manage sale and transportation of the produce, and would be paid a percentage of the profit above a pre-decided rate.

How about it, any takers from the Private Equity world?

“Letting Go” Of The Past Is Bad For You

“Letting Go” has been a catchphrase for the personal development industry for ages. Coaches and motivational gurus speak of the power of letting go – with the past being termed “baggage” that you’re not supposed to carry into your present. This idea of distancing yourself from your personal history is so pervasive, that people with a beautiful and fulfilling present find themselves locked in an emotional battle to purge their past – that often taints their experience of the moment.

I say, Don’t Let Go. Us humans are experiential creatures. Everything that we are in the moment is a sum total of our history. For those consciously aiming for self-actualization, introspection and analysis of these experiences are a key part of the journey. Framing past adversity as “baggage” that needs to be discarded is a denial of a massive part of the emotional self and is a rejection of the context in which we view the present. Sometimes when we get too involved with “the present” or “the moment”, the past begins to seem like a fog – the memories are dim at best. We need the mementos – we need to remember that there were moments of joy, of contentment, of anguish, of achievement, because in our hyperstimulative today, it’s very easy to lose touch with the self. Now I’m not saying that we should dwell in the past – that is unhealthy – but I think we do need to appreciate the anguish that we’ve endured and perhaps be a little smug about our triumphs.

A view of the past is crucial to self-improvement. All organisms behave in patterns. Feeding and mating for instance, have established protocols in every species. Humans, however, have public and private lives that are substantially more complex than the average cheetah or dung beetle. The tendency to act in patterns and protocols detracts from our opportunities to appreciate and experience the infinite possibilities that life offers. This is why we should remember our past – there are patterns for joy and happiness that we should preserve, there are also adverse patterns that lead to failure, unhealthy relationships, addiction, and poor health that we need to observe and break. In fact, the “emotional avoidance” advocated by the Letting Go clique is a key hurdle to therapeutic approaches to emotional and psychological trauma.

So, don’t let go, but don’t dwell in the Past. A difficult balance to achieve. Lots of the pain that the Past causes is due to a toxic game of “what if”, where people speculate about possible outcomes if they (or others) had acted differently. Mindfulness, in its radical acceptance of the present, is a powerful tool to deal with such negative tendencies. Denying or ignoring the emotional burdens of the past in the name of “letting go” is the worst possible way of dealing with trauma. Instead, catharsis – through a journal or talk therapy – is a good way to go. Anger, sadness, guilt, and other such emotions must run their course, and contribute to one’s emotional and psychological fortitude.