Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How Facebook, Twitter and their Likes are Changing the World

Each time I read about the revolts breaking out in various parts of Arab and the details of how the protesters are organizing them, one question crosses my mind: Would it be possible in pre-social-media era? Facebook, Twitter and blogs are as much to thank for the success and spread of the revolutions as the people who are revolting.

For example, Egyptian protesters not just took inspiration from their Tunisian counterparts (where the protests broke out first) but also the know-how of how to organize and carry out successful protests. The Time has reported a Tunisian blogger as writing how a protester can stay safe and agile by wearing comfortable clothes and the importance of carrying water to protest venues. “Don’t discuss your strategy with just anyone you meet at protest site because it could be a security person in plain clothes,” the blogger warns.

It explains why the Internet becomes the first casualty when nervous governments want to stifle freedom of speech. The Internet gives people access to informal media (or social media) – Facebook, Twitter and blogs etc – empowering them to express their views in as-is form. This democratic character of informal media makes it more worrisome for repressive governments than conventional media which being organized are easy to control and suppress.

An Egyptian, a Google employee, set up a subversive group on Facebook and was jailed by authorities, and tortured. After the authorities freed him under public pressure, he went to Tahrir Square and gave a speech describing how he was tortured while in jail. Next day, the Egyptians who were part of his Facebook group went to Tahrir Square to join him, triggering protests that would eventually force Mubarak to step down.

History may have instances where a person singularly kicked off mass protests, but what is unlikely to have precedence is a popular protest in one country beginning a chain of revolutions in several countries, leaving regimes toppled and fates of nations reshaped in its trail. And no one knows where it will stop. That’s the power of social media.

                           A Scandalous Literary Work

Currently I am reading a book that many will recoil at – Lady Chatterley’s Lover – by D.H Lawrence. The book was published in 1928 and had created a furore in England and America because of its controversial storyline which is about extramarital affairs with graphic details of sexual intimacies.

Chatterleys are an unhappy couple. An accident has left Mr. Chatterley physically challenged and unable to perform conjugal duties. He also is indifferent towards his wife and encourages her to have a chequred relationship with someone so that Mr. Chatterley can get an heir to his immense wealth. Lonely and unloved, Mrs. Chatterley embarks on an affair with her husband’s gamekeeper, a caretaker.

The story gives you the glimpses of old English society, very lopsided and snob, and shows how the upper classes were indifferent to the plight of the ones below them. The Chatterleys have collieries and stay in a mansion, a world completely insulated from the lives of those working in their mines.

Lawrence had to have the manuscript typed by an Italian because several decent-minded English-knowing typists had refused to type it earlier due to heavy use of sexual expletives in the book. Upon its publication in the US, the book was banned. The ban spawned pirated copies which sold very well. It was DH Lawrence's last novel.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Career? What Career?

Today an old friend/colleague called up to say he has got a job in Calcutta, his hometown, which would pay him more than what he is making right now. (I was happy as well as surprised because Calcutta doen't have a great job market.)

Meanwhile, his current employers are trying to delicately dissuade him from leaving them. Even after he resigned, they put him on a career training programme which will cost the company a tidy sum. They have also promised to move him to their Calcutta branch.

Whether he should stay or go has left my friend a little indecisive. He has worked in his current company for almost four years, done well and been promoted. He is comfortable with his job and can continue for couple of years more and probably grow without too many challenges. But this comfortable environment mayn’t offer him much to learn.

Although the next company is smaller than his current one, the role would include some amount of learning. The role has some technical elements (my friend is a generalist) which the company would train him in. He would also get a few thousands more.

So should my friend stay or leave?

My friend’s problem is a typical mid-career problem where we struggle to balance mainly three concerns– money, career and skills. I am no management guru; still my thoughts may be worth reading.

The current company will help him have a comfortable job with a decent salary and some growth prospects. But his skills as a worker will remain the same. And few years on, with little bit of growth both in salary and position, he will either find himself in a project management or people management role. By the time he reaches there, he would be in his mid to late thirties with an over-bloated IT salary, minimal options outside his company and good 20 years of work life left before him.

But some would argue there is nothing wrong with this situation. It will make his career stable and he can also grow slowly. This simplistic approach misses more than it catches.

People who have stayed in companies for very long know staying doesn’t necessarily mean growing. Most stagnate, some grow, only to eventually stagnate. By the time they stagnate, their bloated salaries and high position minimize the availability of employment options in the market.
But, if a company is looking to cut cost, won’t old employees be at a lesser risk of job loss than the newer ones? How people in high-cost geographies lost jobs during recession, some of whom even after spending long years with their employers, blows this conventional theory to bits.

The reason why people like to spend long time in companies is that they place more importance on career than skills. What they forget is we don’t work for a vague indefinable thing like career but to meet immediate needs, ensure material prosperity and security. Of course, concern for career remains but it occupies a secondary position.

When you consider a new offer, first you look at two things: how the additional ten thousand (your increased salary will bring) will help you pay your car EMIs and whether you would be able to play the role comfortably. And then you look at how big the company is.

Your salary will help you meet your needs and your ability to perform your role will help you sustain the salary. The size of your company, on the other hand, will give you long-term stability which will help your career. But if the new role hadn’t fetched additional ten thousand or if you hadn’t been very confident of whether you would be able to perform the role, would you still join the company because of its size? No.

So skills are more important. They help you survive not just in one company but in any company. Regard for skills is where comes the willingness to acquire new skills and that keeps you mentally agile helping you to respond to varied situations and challenges either through use of existing skills or by acquiring new ones. And if you have the wit to survive, you will also find a way to grow.

Spending long time in companies has a merit, too. It exposes you to various challenges and it's by overcoming them that you can stay. So it's not necessary that if you stay in a  company for long, you don't learn. But you have to constatly remind yourself that just because  you have a comfortable job today, it doesn't mean tomorrow you will not need  to look for another one. And keep yourself ready for that.

A job that helps you get another job is a good job.

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