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Sprinkling of fixie dust

Instead of Selfie or 404, the word for 2013 should have been Fixie, somewhat like a selfie in giving an impression of being the real solution for a problem. This is because the year has been marked by a bunch of fixes that will only create others. Anirudh Bhattacharyya writes.

columns Updated: Nov 30, 2013 01:15 IST

Yearends are never listless. We're at the beginning of the season for various outlets letting us know their annual lists, from Time's person of the year to GQ's 25 Least Influential People. More interesting, though, are the pronouncements of the words that described the year.

Recently, we were informed that for 2013, the honour went to 404, which isn't actually a word but does define the failure of the Internet or an offlined website. As in, when you've clicked on a link that promises to deliver unto you pictures of grumpy cats twerking and instead displays the 404 error message.

The 404 pick was announced by the Global Language Monitor, which isn't, as its name suggests, affiliated to the Internet's virulent grammar police. Taking second place, this Austin, Texas-based company informs us, is Fail. In 2012, the top spots were occupied by Apocalypse/Armageddon and Deficit. Which could leave you asking: what's the good word?

But obviously when it comes to language, the Oxford dictionaries always have the last word. For 2013 their choice was selfie, that self-taken photograph of your Facebook friend with the thumb obscuring their features.

For celebrities with carefully crafted images, there's selfie-inflicted damage, as with Rihanna who seems to be emitting a beam from a nostril in one. The Oxford American Dictionary's 2012 word of the year, Gif, was also image related, though not self-image.

That signifies our existence in a selfie-centred social media environment. Somehow, however, neither the selfie nor the 404 capture the zeitgeist of 2013.

For that, I propose a word like Fixie, somewhat like a selfie in giving an impression of being the real thing; a pseudo-fix. The fixie leaps from snafu to snafu, often leaving behind the need for a greater fix; an addiction to failure.

As the Obama administration launched Healthcare.gov, the portal to its signature Affordable Care Act, it proved to be a 404 wonderland. Not only were users unable to register, it was recently revealed that the payment gateway to purchase health insurance plans wasn't even available.

Built by a Canadian company, with a Colombian national as its face, this American endeavour's utter failure transfixed the nation. As thousands of Americans lost their existing coverage, or were hit with huge premium increases, the President's approval ratings tumbled quicker than those of Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford, who gets his fix from crack.

The fixie was deployed. Major changes were announced without any reference to whether they would actually work. Even as Obama pardoned two turkeys at the White House in an annual Thanksgiving tradition, the Obamacare website may prove one turkey beyond redemption.

After dealing with kill lists of terrorists to be taken out by drones the previous year, in 2013, the White House was abuzz over punch lists, to-dos to fix Obamacare. The ship of state was listing.

Just as the hyped fixies to counter criticism over the National Security Agency's vacuuming of global communication data have done little to deter cybersnooping, the Obama Administration's continued coddling of Pakistan is another fixture, marked with policy tweaks with as much actual impact on the region as Miley Cyrus' twerking.

As in the case of Tinker Bell, perhaps the idea was that sprinkling a little of that fixie dust would deliver results, but tinkering around the edges rarely does that.

Not that there haven't been plenty of seismic shifts in 2013: from the western powers brokering a nuclear deal with Iran, to Justin Bieber being dethroned by Katy Perry as the most followed Twitter personage.

Bieber, though, has struck back, focusing on a selfie-centred world with the launch of the Shots of Me app. The Iran agreement with the P5+1 may just prove to be another fixie affliction, hardly sufficient to keep Teheran's centrifuges from whirring.

The first year of the terrible teens of the new millennium, then, has been marked by a bunch of fixes that will only end up creating umpteen others.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years

The views expressed by the author are personal