Sunday, November 7, 2010

Live for the now

Picked up a copy of the New Straits Times last night at the mamak as I was waiting for my dinner to be ready. I hadn't brought my phone so couldn't play sudoku to amuse myself as I normally do... and the TV was showing football, pah.

It's been awhile since I last read the physical version of the paper. All doom and gloom -- floods, bus accidents, plane crashes, volcano eruptions -- makes me wonder how anyone would ever dare to go out of the house after reading it. There was an article about an inter-state express bus crash that claimed a life. I was reminded of all the times I'd taken the Sri Maju bus back home (a 4-hour journey), or from home back to KL. Makes me feel lucky to be alive.

And then there's the news about the volcano erupting in Java, Indonesia. I've always wondered about people who live in areas where there are active volcanoes, earthquake fault lines, or in paths of hurricanes -- why do they do that? When they know there's a chance of this... this thing they can't control doing irreparable damage, upending their lives? I remember feeling flabbergasted after reading in National Geographic that people in New Orleans were going right back and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Me, I would have tried to start over somewhere new, I think. Why stay when there's the chance that it might happen again?

It seems to me that most things are random. I'm a Christian so I believe that there is a plan, but still, since I don't know the plan everything appears random. Between the things that are random and the things that are somewhat predictable (like the fact that if you live on a fault line you're probably going to experience an earthquake sooner or later), I'd like to eliminate the predictable ones. The random ones we all have to live with; you just have to be careful and prepare the best you can.

So sometimes I think about the fact that I might die tomorrow, get hit by a bus on the way to work or something. I mean, you never know, right? I think about the fact that this might be the last time I'm seeing my brother because something could happen to him as he makes his way home to Seremban. It brings home to me the idea that life is short and unpredictable, and we ought to make the most of it because we simply do not know how long we have. We don't know how much time we'll be granted with those we love, and we don't know how much time we'll have on this earth.

The person who died in the bus crash I mentioned above was a 25-year-old man, engaged to be married. The wedding was to have taken place next year. I can't even imagine what it is like to have someone ripped away from you like that, when you have been making plans together. All of a sudden the life you envisioned will never be, and you have to readjust all your hopes and expectations for the future. Sometimes I look at long-time couples and think they are a little complacent, although of course it's not my place to judge. But they hold off on making a firmer commitment to each other (read: marriage) because they want to establish their careers first, they want to buy a house, they want to save up for the perfect wedding... they think they have a lot of time, but how do they know? We simply don't know.

Oh, I'm not advocating that we should rush into anything. But you know, when you are pretty sure that you've found the one for you... what are you waiting for? In any case, since life is unpredictable, the most important thing is to cherish those you love. Too many people have regrets after losing a loved one, or when they themselves are lying on their deathbed. Say the things that need to be said. Do the things that need to be done. I've started telling my parents that I love them -- we Asians are notorious for being lousy at verbal expressions of love, especially my parents' generation and the generation before them. But, I want them to know, even if I'm often not the perfect daughter and I make decisions that are incomprehensible to them, that I do love them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hanyalah nasib (It's just luck)

A lot of things are said about social media and connectedness. Yesterday, after the Judith Griggs story broke all over the place, Noel Cody wrote, "It's surprising that, in our connected world, Griggs believed she could act the way she did and get away with it."

I'm not surprised, though. I've been blogging since mid-2002 and in the course of my, uh, blogging life, I've written about loads of things that have happened to me. So have many of my blogging friends. Yes, we get supportive, sympathetic and encouraging comments, but never has anything like this happened to any of us. No one took up our cause or got fired up enough on our behalf to offer more than the ordinary levels of help and support.

The fact is, when something like this happens we realise how very connected we all are, and how the Internet connects us; but it is a very rare thing, or at least, rarer than we realise. Whether or not an incident gets spread all over blogs, Facebook, Twitter and international news sites is often a matter of luck. In Griggs' case, I'm pretty sure she'd consider it bad luck.

One of the most important things here was Monica Gaudio's (the original blogger) friendship with Nick Mamatas on LiveJournal and Nick's posting, then tweeting about what had happened. He's an author, and writers tend to know each other -- it's a small community; the same goes with journalists, lawyers, and so on. So fellow writer John Scalzi read Nick's post and felt strongly enough to blog about it. He also tweeted a link to Monica's post. His tweet was then picked up and retweeted by Neil Gaiman, a very well-known author. This was the second important thing: like I said yesterday, Gaiman has 1,500,998 followers on Twitter, so his tweet was probably highly influential in setting off the Internet storm.

Looking at the chain of events, they might not have been entirely unpredictable but you couldn't say they were probable, either. In fact if Monica had not known Nick Mamatas, or Nick hadn't felt strongly enough to blog and tweet about it, none of the rest of this might have happened.

A few months ago, over here in Kuala Lumpur, a person posted a Facebook note about two petrol station attendants who had refused to lend him the station's fire extinguisher to help put out a fire in a nearby traffic accident. As a result, the accident victim, who had been trapped in her car, burnt to death. The story was blogged and retweeted by many, and picked up by at least two local online papers. When the story broke, the company responded by saying that the station attendants had refused to open the door or lend the extinguisher to the man "as he was not acting calmly when asking for assistance", which is a bit ridiculous -- the matter was urgent and it had been an emergency, how could they expect him to be calm?

There was some outpouring of anger and indignation against the petrol company in question. Some people called for a boycott of all the stations owned by that company. Yet all in all it was nothing like what Griggs experienced. The vilification only took place in small pockets among local Internet users. Life went on as usual for all the rest. And, ultimately, nothing changed. It became a sort of storm in a teacup, despite the loss of a life.

The point is, although there's always the possibility of someone voicing out their displeasure on the Internet, and this getting picked up by big name bloggers or international news sources, most people who act like asshats tend to think, "It'll never happen to me." That's a very human thing. It's also true that most of the time it doesn't, or won't happen. I do believe in "the power of the Internet" but I also believe in being realistic.
Somewhat related reading:
Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted (New Yorker)

Friday, November 5, 2010

The tale of Judith Griggs

I find loads of interesting things on Twitter, which is mostly why I use it these days. This morning I read about a magazine editor lifting a blogger's post and printing it in the magazine without first notifying or asking for permission. The magazine attributed the article to the writer in question, so imagine her surprise when her friend congratulated her on getting published!

She contacted the magazine, and when asked what she wanted them to do about it, she asked for "an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and $130 donation (which turns out to be about $0.10 per word of the original article) to be given to the Columbia School of Journalism". Why Facebook? Because the magazine's pages are uploaded to its Facebook page, each issue being granted its own photo album.

Well, not only did they refuse to apologise, the editor of the magazine wrote an email that said:
  1. I've been an editor for 3 decades and I know about copyright laws

  2. I haven't done anything wrong because everything on the Internet is public domain

  3. You should be thankful that we actually credited you as the writer

  4. Your article was badly written and our editing made it better, so you should be paying us.

It's the sort of thing that proves truth is stranger than fiction.

Unfortunately for the magazine editor, Judith Griggs, the writer blogged about all of this. Even more unfortunately for her, that post was picked up by Twitter and Facebook users, even retweeted by Neil Gaiman (who has 1,500,998 followers). Eventually big names like Boing Boing,, The New York Times, and The Guardian, to mention a few, picked up on it too. Thus what must have seemed like the whole Internet community descended on her magazine's Facebook page, "liked" it and proceeded to, uh, vilify her business practices via wall postings.

Not only that, people began to investigate further, discovering that her magazine had also lifted content from other places, among them more prominent names like Martha Stewart and the Australian chapter of Weight Watchers; these people/organisations were informed of the discovery, as were the magazine's advertisers. Five writers/organisations have confirmed their work was reproduced without permission, with some contemplating legal action. A number of advertisers have also withdrawn their ads from the magazine.

It turns out that the magazine is mainly distributed locally and most of the advertisers are local businesses. While everyone is busy wondering how Griggs could be so misguided as to believe that anything published on the Internet is public domain (it is not, in case you were wondering), I'm just wondering what ramifications all this will have for Griggs.

I mean, how is she going to continue living where she's living? Local business owners and their employees will probably be giving her the cold shoulder after this; a (now former) advertiser commented, "...being associated with publications like this that don't respect its readers (who are all our potential customers) is unacceptable to us in light of their practices. What angers me even more is the fact that it is being made light if [sic] by the Editor herself." Apart from that, I expect the local townspeople will be pointing and whispering behind her back, and I'm also wondering what her employers will think about her notoriety, since editing the magazine wasn't her day job. I really can't imagine how she's going to hold her head up or dare to go out in public.

Yet she posted on her magazine's Facebook page:
    Hi Folks!

    Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently it wasnt enough for her. To all of you, thank you for your interest in Cooks Source and Again, to Monica, I am sorry -- my bad!
    You did find a way to get your "pound of flesh..." we used to have 110 "friends," we now have 1,870... wow!

    ...Best to all, Judith

It really does seem like she doesn't get it at all. In my part of the world, we call this Being unclear of the concept.