The new gift of the Magi — sciolism | india | Hindustan Times
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The new gift of the Magi — sciolism

Sciolism: noun; superficial knowledge; from Late Latin sciolus, "a smatterer"

india Updated: Feb 13, 2011 22:03 IST
Parthasarathi Swami

I have a dog named Casper. When he was born — a plaintive white head amid a litter of blacks and browns — the kids decided to call him Snowy. But there was a suspicion that there were too many Snowys around; a call of “Snowy” in the garden saw half-a-dozen Pekes and Poms come trotting up. Indians are not original thinkers when it comes to pets. If it’s a bitch it must be a Rani. If it’s a dog, it must be A. Raja. Why can’t we have a Sibal instead? The amount of yapping some of the smaller variety do, they could very appropriately be called deSibal.

To get back to Casper, my suggestion — through an association of ideas — was Tintin. That was summarily shot down. “What sort of a name is that? Next, you’ll say Captain Haddock. And the goldfish already responds to that.” So Casper he became. (In real life he is more Spooky — another creation of Harvey Comics — but that’s another story.)

Casper brought back memories. Of quizzing in Calcutta. Who were Casper’s companions — The Ghostly Trio? Answer: Fatso, Fusso and Lazo. Who were the members of another trio including Caspar (Caspar with an ‘a’ this time). Answer: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar — the three wise men of Christian mythology.

The Internet has killed quizzing, excepting for the dumbed-down crorepati variety. It is no big deal to remember that Christopher Columbus sailed in the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria when you can pull it out in a jiffy (0.08 seconds to be precise) in a simple Google search.

“Is Google making us stupid?” asks Nicholas Carr in Atlantic Magazine. His conclusion: The Internet — Google is a proxy for the Net — has changed the way we think. Our powers of concentration are gone; everything is staccato or flighty. If you catch a tiger by the tail (my analogy, not Carr’s), you will travel from the Bengal Tiger (“O what can ail thee, knight (rider)-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering”) and Tiger Woods (“The woods are lovely, dark and deep”) to ABBA (“I am behind you, I'll always find you, I am the tiger”) and Robert Blake (“Tyger, tyger, burning bright”).

Is Microsoft Word making us dyslexic? It will flag “tyger” but Steve Ballmer passes muster. (An Apple dictionary autocorrects Ballmer to Baloney.) But in today’s world, you may not need to spell. Even earlier, while reading a book, you probably just recognised the shape of a name. Yechury registered in your brain as Yech; such reduced cues limit the amount of rubbish you store in your head. If asked to pronounce or spell the word, you could take refuge in dialectic materialism. Now, you don’t need to know how to spell even simpler words; what’s Word for?

Is Facebook making us faceless? In the infancy of the Net, there were lurkers in chatrooms, 60-year-olds pretending to be teenagers; Chidambaram from Chennai masquerading as Anita from Amsterdam in cyberspace drag. Now you have fake Facebook friends. “The Youth Congress has asked its IT cell to track Rahul Gandhi imposters on Facebook,” reported the Hindustan Times. But Facebook is a passing phase. Remember GeoCities, a Facebook of less user-friendly times. It was taken over by Yahoo! and eventually closed down. At its peak, it had 38 million-plus user-built pages. The Net hates to be “monetised”. FaceBook is talking valuations. It will be taken over by Microsoft, lose face and be closed down.

Is Twitter making us attention deficient? There is just so much you can say in 160 characters, and 20 of those go for your name. @macmohansingh tension no attension cwG 2G mrsG caG forgot but SushmaG doesnt know where to draw the line.

Is WikiLeaks making us into Captain Haddocks? Billions of blue blistering boiled and barbecued barnacles! Are we destined to live in a goldfish bowl world? WikiLeaks has so far been about bank accounts and those of US diplomats. Will the blogger next door now be writing about what you are doing in the loo?

Is technology changing the way we are? We have become a race of sippers, flitting from subject to subject, multitakers seeking instant gratification —T-20 and two-minute noodles.

Marketers note: the consumer is no longer your wife. She is like this article — meandering, jumping from idea to idea, with never the time to explore each thought in depth.

And he is fast losing his brand loyalty, like Casper easily distracted by a Bone or passing B.

The writer is Managing Editor, Business India