About definitions, and the perceptions they generate

This post is merely a verbose version of the often made observation about how perceptions of things are affected by the definitions given to them. A smartphone is used as an example.

NOTE: While correct, the inner workings of technology are oversimplified, and the historical chronology used is casual, and not pedantic. They are used only as a means to an end, and, thus, not to be considered authentic.

The most recent, also the most pervasive and the most awe, and probably envy, generating, electronic gadget is the smartphone. A smartphone is defined as a mobile telephone that can do more than a regular phone; it is almost like a computer. The last bit of the definition is what causes awe among people. I claim this to be nothing more than a marketing gimmick, and pure sophistry, on the part of the smartphone manufacturers. A smartphone is a blend of two machines: a computer and a telephone. Let us see how it came to be.

A computer is a complex electronic (or electrical) machine that works on voltage levels to store, process and transmit information. What started out as a purely engineering assistance tool has evolved into something completely removed from the original area of application. Most users use this machine for purely leisurely tasks, be it social networking or gaming, or anything on those lines. That doesn’t preclude its use from the original area of motivation, which is still extremely valid, and growing. A computer was originally only hardware, in that a machine was purpose built to solve a problem, and only that problem. Software was a much later invention, but it proved to be a better technology simply because one hardware could be used to solve different problems with it. The software was an ingenious invention indeed. Now, the computer could do anything and solve any problem, as long as it had the right software installed. Nothing was impossible, to the extent that given the right electromechanical appendages, like a mechanical arm, software could do “real world” functions as well. Thus, our idea of a computer -an all powerful electronic machine running software -came to be.

The telephone on the other hand was a very simple and straight forward electrical device. It transmitted electricity, generated by a sound at one end, over long distances using copper wire, which at the other end was transformed into a sound. An electrical machine dealing with sound couldn’t get any simpler. The improvements that followed dealt mostly with better modulation and demodulation to give clearer sound, until radio waves were used. Radio waves were used to carry information, and thus voice. Telephones could now be used without wires. When the general populaton had access to this kind of telephone, it must have been seen as a very powerful machine compared to its land line cousins, for it gave people a sense of freedom -not being tied to a corner of a room, or not waiting in long lines, or not knowing whereabouts of their near and dear etc.

Then came the big idea: smartphone. A smartphone, which is a mobile telephone, is often held in contrast to the “dumb mobile telephones” and shown to be superior due to its versatility. There is an operating system running, like a computer has, which can run different applications, again like on a computer. These applications are often a version written for the phones, and much similar to their computer cousins. Thus it is shown that a smartphone is very powerful mobile phone.

Actually, long before smartphones, the dumbphones that were there were no different. They had an operating system too that was running applications. All functionalities offered by dumbphones were in reality applications running on the operating system. The only difference was users could not install and uinstall their applications. In effect, this was a purpose built computer.

Going back to versatility of a computer, historically, connection to internet was through telephone lines, via dial up modems. Modems themselves are purpose built computers: they translate electronic signals between the telephone lines and a computer. With a modem connected, and the right software installed, a computer can make telephone calls. Imagine this: You are working at your desk on your computer pre mobile phone era and you want to order a take out. Instead of leaving your desk and going all the way to the phone, or possibly to your neighbors, you could just switch on the modem, run the software, and make the call. How magical is that? Not much, because all you did was run a software; besides this is an all powerful computer in the first place.

Now imagine this: You are talking to your friend on your smartphone, commuting, debating on how wise it is investing in the stock market at the moment and you can’t recall the information you read in the papers earlier. Instead of trying to borrow papers from already grumpy co commuters, you connect to internet, on your smartphone, open your favorite web browser, on your smart-phone, search and voila! you get what you want. Information is right in your pocket. How magical is that? Extremely.

At this point we can’t help but ask these questions.

  1. Why was making telephone calls on computer not nearly as awesome as using internet on mobile phone?
  2. Why is the latter case not of a computer being used as a telephone, rather a case of a telephone being used as a computer?

The first question is about as much sophism as the idea of a smartphone. The answer depends on who is asked. A person born in the 60s or earlier would have found it incredible awesome but to a person born in the 90s or later this was commonplace and nothing remarkable. If we can stretch our imagination, the first telephones might indeed have been called “telegraph that talks”!

The second question is important, and the central point of this writing.

Although computers started out as bulky machines, needing rooms full of space, and were maintenance chores, what has remained in people’s imagination as a computer is the desktop, or PC. The mainframes are usually just a thing people have heard of and not seen. Between the desktop and the smart-phone have come a number of mobile, computer-eque devices: PDAs, laptops, netbooks and tablets.

Early business laptops used to have build in modems, and of course, speakers and microphones. If one made telephone calls from one such laptop, why would it not be a smartphone? If a telephone call is made using netbooks, which are lighter laptops„ would they be considered smartphones? How about making telephone calls with a tablet?

Turing the questions on their collective heads, if the SIM card (or other telephony related hardware depending on the device) is removed from a smart-phone, will it be a “smartphone without connectivity” or a “palm fitting computer”?

Some things that come out of the observations so far are

  • versatility implies power
  • complexity implies power

These can be extended and generalized as

  • power implies importance
  • possessing important things gives importance
  • people crave importance

Thus, when all the devices are nothing but computers, purpose built or not, the definitions given to them have profound effect on how they are perceived, be about their importance or their power.


Grouping Indians

Indians have very strong opinions on various issues, and I have found that these opinions are often in conflict when topic changes. On the surface the topics seem unrelated, and indeed most people won’t see the relation, but at closer examination we can easily see the common nature of the topic. There is a definite underlying pattern that unifies various topics when the details are abstracted away.

I have devised a small list of questions that might help understanding the fluctuation and contradiction of opinions. Although this is by no means exhaustive, it is quite effective because it is about ‘hot’ topics, the ones that generates a lot of heat and noise.

I have created a table for each theme. People can be grouped based on the cells they occupy in some tables due to their answers. A person can occupy only one cell per row per table. The insight gained will be enormous, especially if the tables are filled anonymously.

Sense of justice


inhuman but

unfamiliar with the details


hyped because

Palestine issue

Kashmir Pandits issue


inhuman but

unfamiliar with the details


hyped because

2002 Godhra

1984 Delhi

Sense of correctness


yes but

unfamiliar with the details


no but

Independence to Kashmir

Independence to NorthEast

Independence to Tamil Eelam

Independence to Kurdistan

Stop at once. Look at the horrific things done

Comen on, don’t mix one thing with another

Relation with Pakistan

Watching Salman Khan movies

About hero worship

Pervert and sicko. Look at all his horrible deeds

Epitome of humanity

No man is infalliable, so why not consider only the good deeds

Can’t care less


Mohandas ‘mahatma’ Gandhi

Thank god for Pakistan

Most Indians’ sentiment is captured in the title when they see the violence that emanates from Pakistan, and not just terrorism. People say had Pakistan not been created, such sickos [sic] would have been part of India, so we must be really thankful.

Really? Lets analyze.

In 1947 British  divided India into two countries – India and Pakistan. Many people migrated from one side to the other, from both sides. That means the sickos could have come over to India as well (although their deeds aren’t as well publicized). Then how do Indians consider themselves lucky?

That is a tough question to answer without being politically incorrect. You see, Pakistan was created on the basis of religion. It was supposed to be a safe home for the allegedly and potentially persecuted Muslims of colonial India. Therefore, many Muslims moved into Pakistan, and due to ensuing religious riots, most non Muslims from the newly formed Pakistan who were already living there  for generations – mainly Hindus and Sikhs – moved out of Pakistan into to India. So, the implicit idea in the statement is that Indians are thankful that such Muslims are not in India anymore, and the finer point is due to the nature of the migrations India was saved.

Lets ignore the sociopolitical aspects of this. The point of interest for us is that the sickos are in Pakistan now.

However, that is assuming all the emigrants (or their ancestors) were bad apples. That’s a bit unfair. The sickos, or their ancestors,  could have always been on the side that is Pakistan, meaning they didn’t migrate.

Thus, there was a 50-50 or one in two chance of sickos being either in India or in Pakistan. That means India got lucky.

But there’s more.

Although Pakistan was a single country, it was originally two geographically separate regions – east and west. Bangladesh was the erstwhile East Pakistan. It separated from Pakistan in 1971 and since then West Pakistan is called Pakistan.

So, similar to India, probably with lesser migration, Bangladesh too had the same 50-50 chance as India’s and got lucky like India. That shows both India and Bangladesh are equally lucky and must be equally thankful.

But  I claim that it is wrong calculation and Bangladesh is luckier than India, and must be more thankful. Here’s how.

You see, although British India was divided into two countries, the division resulted in three geographic regions – West Pakistan, India and East Pakistan. So each had one in three chance of having the sickos within its boundaries.

That means India had 1/3 chance where as Pakistan had 2/3 chance.

Because the sickos are now in Pakistan, and Bangladesh originally had 2/3 chance of hosting the sickos, it is Bangladesh, not India, that must be really thankful.

India can be thankful, but their chance always remained the same since 1947. Had British divided India into three countries as they stand now, each would have had equal chance of hosting the sickos and both India and Bangladesh would be equally lucky and thankful for the partition.

About Akbaruddin Owaisi’s speech

Let me start off by reviewing it. The plot was missing, the screenplay was all over the place, the dialogs were cliched and made you cringe, the camera work was shoddy and the acting was non existent. The supporting actors were confused about their cue and the lead actor was more juvenile than anything. He needs to speak proper Urdu if he needs a wider audience. Every time he used a khaaf in place of a qaaf I died a little.  He needs to improve his overall approach if he wishes to contend for a spot among the great hate mongers. However I must say there was this weird entertaining factor that you find with a badly made C movie. Would I watch it again? Sure, why not. To sum it up, it was like Zakir Naik meets Tahir ul Qadri meets Arnab Goswami

Although the previous paragraph was mostly in jest, the last line wasn’t. This man and his speech must be given same treatment as one would to people mentioned: chuckling and ignoring. However, the majority of the citizens, including the liberal intellectuals, are dead against such speeches and there is a huge uproar about arresting him and imprisoning him. The offense is exacerbated as he is an MLA.

While conventional wisdom says he must be prosecuted as the speech was hateful, indecent and against spirit of co existence, and there are indeed laws to that effect, I have two things to say.

First and foremost, this hate speech is harmless. You might be shocked (and probably wondering if I am a  Muslim myself  – you naughty naughty ) but don’t be. This is another instance of the rule I talk about here . Apply that to this and you shall see what I mean.

Secondly, wouldn’t an MLA always look to say and do what his future voters would like, whether or not he endorses them at a personal level? Isn’t an MLA supposed to appease his constituency and reassure them? Looking at it that way, he was just being an your typical Indian politician elected to represent a constituency.