Media and its Adverse Effects

The glitter and brightness of the dynamics of society has hidden darkness, that today’s generation is not aware of.

A few days ago, while going through my old journals and diaries, I came across a poem written by Javed Akhtar. I have always liked this poem of his and still do. It highlights a very significant concept of life in an extremely beautiful manner. The title of the poem is “Kall aur Aaaj”, translated as “yesterday and today”. In essence, the poem highlights the relationships and conflicts of Heart and Mind or Heart verses Mind. It also conveys us the shift of humanity from “Heart centered” towards Mind or Brain; and its effects on social fabric of society. The first and the last couplets of the poem in “Urdu” are translated as:

How wonderful was the life of people of yester years, who could walk in any direction of life without any fears of harm (from people or society). And it goes on to the last couplet as; Today, the glitter and brightness of the dynamics of society has hidden darkness that today’s generation is not aware of.

Talking about the importance of hand written diaries and journals; I think the young generation of today is unable to completely comprehend what significance hand-written journals and diaries had in our times and how lovingly, we used to pen down all the pieces of poetry and prose that were close to our heart. Today, the vast amount of information available on internet, has apparently, made this process of collecting and preserving data easier but has depleted it of the beautiful spirit that was attached to it. While mentioning about the significance that a piece of paper achieves when it contains a note written from the hand of a person you love, let me share something. During the early years of my job, I was employed in different cities away from home. My mother (May God gives her a place in the highest of Heavens, Ameen) used to say to me, “I know you are very busy and do not have time. But just post me a blank piece of paper “your letter”, with nothing written on it. I will keep it safe and be pleased that I have my son’s letter.” Today’s generation is not able to understand the depth and value attached to such feeling. Mobile phones have entirely mitigated the distances but alongside, have also eliminated the deep love that connected those distances. It is impossible to knead in that spiritual endearment in messages sent through social media, that was there in the letters written by the very hands of your loved ones.

Where it has provided ease and comfort, electronic media has snatched away the subtle beauties of our life from us. People of my era, who have seen the world of yesterday and are also completely aware of today’s world of innumerable TV channels, internet and electronic media and their pros and cons, can very well understand how precious it was that we lost in order to gain what we have today. But alas, a state of helplessness prevails and we have to go through it.

Media has our lives firmly clenched. To be honest, this situation is haunting the lives of sensitive people. I am a member of a couple of WhatsApp groups. Whenever (and its quite often ), people debate over world politics and similar topics, I and other like-minded people, feel uncomfortable and anxious, resulting in some of them leaving the group. They are, then, called back in by friends; and for the sake of friends, they do join again and once again become a victim of such debates. This whole exercise, I believe, has made us very negatively obstinate. Things that mattered a lot before, do not matter as much now, we are not as sensitive as we used to be. We are helplessly waiting as to where this apathy and indifference take us.

Take some time out and consciously go through the channels that your television provides and observe. Observe and you will feel that almost all the content being shown on TV tends to be very superficial and almost negative. Although, there is some content that relates to literary nature, pertains to character building and contains positivity, but it is not practically related to our day to day lives. There are very few news on routine basis that reflect the positivity and humanity of people. Gradually, and unconsciously Media has brought about so many social and cultural changes in our lives and in our minds, and in such a process that we could not even feel it happening. Such sensitive topics telecast on television that were not suitable for the whole family to sit and watch together, are now being debated upon by immediate blood relations; father and daughter for an example. One is seriously confused as to whether we actually moving forwards or backwards in human development; it is hard to comprehend. We, as a human race, the vicegerent on earth, are actually degrading our levels of faith, and the worst part is that we do not even feel it. That sense of responsibility that is imposed upon us by the Creator, we have forgotten it. Now I almost feel that man was indeed naive that he became responsible for being God’s messenger and the best of creations on Earth. Alas, only if he knew the problems he would have to face in this world.

Today, we are surrounded by a large number of diverse problems. Difficulties and issues related to a person’s individual life, family life, social and community problems to name a few. Then, being believers (I being Muslims), the dreams of hell and heavens and the demands of righteousness to be met. And a lot more materialistic distractions that have our lives in their grip. The reference of the poem by Javed Akhtar given above truly reflects the situations we face today.

All these complications, problems and anxieties have blended into our everyday lives so deeply that it is almost impossible to run away from them. If you observe, one of the main causes of these disturbances in our lives is the overflow of superficial information of this temporary, superficial world. Most of the information we receive on everyday basis is neither a complete lie nor a solid truth, this incomplete information tends to increase depression in our lives. This race among different information providing entities of media and internet to be ahead of others has left man completely befuddled and confused. Jaun Aelia, a famous poet of Urdu says;

ہے یہ بازار جھوٹ کا بازار ۔ پھِر یہی جِنس کیوں نہ تولیں ہم

کر کے اِک دوسرے سے عہدِ وفا ۔ آؤ کُچھ دیر جھوٹ بولیں ہم

Translation:
Lies are the commodities of this world’s market. Let us also trade in this. Let us, by false promises of love in life be deceitful to each other.

Regular exhibition of pictures of the brutalities being carried out and tolerated throughout the world, people running insanely, not to help, but to capture the moments of helplessness and pain of others by their mobile phones, and then sharing those on social media with out hesitation or shame, rather even triumphantly has become a permanent and indefinite part of our lives. Whenever we share a video on WhatsApp, that portrays a person’s humiliation and insults, we do not stop to think that that person also has a family and a social circle, how will they feel when they see their loved one being mocked at. Not even that, we do not even realize what the person receiving the post would think about our mental level of understanding.

In spite of all the dissatisfaction, anxiety and to some extent, character degradation mentioned above, we do not even have time to give some direction to our broken understanding. Schools, colleges and universities do arrange seminars and workshops to help students understand these concepts but it has been seen that very little number of people are interested to join. I, specifically, urge the young generation of today to please give your life a direction, orient it in such a way that success of both the worlds is targeted. Because we know very well that without spiritual aspects included, the success of this world is completely pointless, neither it has a purpose, nor it has permanency.

Dr Akhtar Nawaz Malik

Swarm Intelligence

There is a need to educate masses from the grass root level, to bring the people back to basics!

A few days back, I was driving my car and was crossing a bridge which had three narrow lanes. I was in the middle lane. It was a jam packed, bumper to bumper traffic. Suddenly the ambulance siren was heard which had just entered the bridge and was about seven eight vehicles behind me, but on the lane which was on my right. I got worried as to how the ambulance would get a fast and free passage. I started slowing down, creating a gap between me and the car in front of me (of course, at the cost of listening to the honking of horn by the car driver following me). The cars from my right lane started shifting in front of me, one car at a time and the ambulance was moving a little faster. I felt quite relieved when finally ambulance got free passage.

I thought over this incidence and further contemplated on the density of vehicles traffic on multilane roads. I compared the flow of this traffic with that of birds, bees and fish while they move in large numbers. I am sure all of us have seen very large groups of birds, bees and fish and even animals moving as one unit, in the form of waves, if not physically may be on wildlife videos. There seems to be no problem at all of any collisions or disturbance in the smooth flight of hundreds of birds, bees or fishes. The group intelligence needed for such maneuvers is generally known as swarm intelligence. In case of birds, bees and fishes etc., apart from the miracle of fast instinctive communication, the scene of such flights offers a beautiful sight. For example watch, for bird called starling, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOGCSBh3kmM and of fish, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIgHEhziUxU ( (Thanks to people who have posted these videos on youtube/ internet).

One can find many more videos on the net about fishes, birds, bees and very large group of running animals in forests of Africa. Even in our own villages such scenes are specifically observed in the wheat harvesting seasons when hundreds of sparrows and other small birds fly in the form of waves in and around wheat fields. These birds do not collide even while moving with tremendous speeds.

Many projects have been done by robotics students where they use artificial intelligence in applying swarm intelligence in micro robots. Dozens of micro robots are put on the move on a large board or in a room. These move with high speeds avoiding collisions.

We now have two examples, first; the natural flight of birds, bees, fishes etc., with instinctive swarm intelligence, and second; the random motion of a group of micro robots programmed, applying swarm intelligence. No collisions are faced in both the cases.

But when it comes to human beings moving in very large groups, like when performing Hajj by Muslims, and many other such examples, there have been many cases of stampede. Also, while considering road traffic on multilane roads, the traffic blocks are an everyday phenomenon (of course primarily due to breaking of traffic rules by individuals or due to less courtesy).

The point to be highlighted here is not the application of externally applied traffic laws, but trying to give a thought on the concept of swarm intelligence. Karen Armstrong in one of her books says, “telepathy; communication by the transfer of thoughts should have been the primary mode of communication of human beings”. But probably it was of higher science which human brains did not accept. However, considering the Ambulance example mentioned above if all the drivers of the vehicles, while moving in large group of cars, intelligently think of the requirements and intentions of other drivers while following fundamental human attributes, I guess all kinds of blockade and problems in the traffic can be solved. Problem is encountered only, when the humanity based rules are broken, when drivers are rude, arrogant, angry, not selfless, not caring etc., thus resulting into traffic blocks. Otherwise the swarm intelligence in human beings is also possible like that of birds and bees etc. Even in micro-robots case when some bug in the programming code is faced, the movement of the robots cannot be collision free and thus the code is to be debugged. Same is true for human beings. When the society seems to be derailed and polluted from fundamental social norms the reading of minds of people (which can only be done on the platform of honesty and morality) while working or moving in a group is IMPOSSIBLE. There is thus the requirement of carrying out thorough debugging. This can only be achieved through excessive efforts of educating the masses from the grass root level. Bringing the people back to basics. When we will repeatedly and consciously do these acts of reading (guessing) others minds and reacting (proactively) accordingly for a better collective outcome, It will become our habit and go into our unconscious. We will then act or move unconsciously like the birds of the video clip. In case of human beings, this will then not stop here but will (can) stretch further to knowing and reacting (pro-actively) to the needs of other people among society, that is; our relatives, neighbors, friends or even passing by strangers without them asking from us; that is what was one of the purposes of creation of human beings. Please give it a thought.

Dr. Akhtar Nawaz Malik


Successful Failures

Failure is significant.. sometimes even more than success.

We all want to be successful, whatever the definition of success be. That is human nature. We as parents, want our kids to excel in their academic and professional pursuits. All parents want the same for their kids. We want to succeed in all our competitive exams, in our businesses, as an individual, and as a family. But so is the desire of all others. No one wants to fail. Failure, of whatever kind is considered to be a social stigma, and of course, no one wants to attach that with him. Most of the activities of human life are a sort of zero-sum games. Winning of some is always connected with the defeat of others; it has always been like this, but the realization of it these days is more pronounced because of the fast social media networks. This, less human realization of those who fail and by the actions of those who succeed, is the root cause of many evils; especially in the societies where people are more closely connected. This leads to a perpetual flawed understanding of successes and failures. What is the solution? Solution to all the problems of human life is education; educating the people about the true understanding of life and its purpose. It reminds me of a small act of one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was sitting in his shop during business hours at the later part of the day. His business of the day had been great. In the afternoon when a customer came, he asked him to purchase his needed item from the next shop who had fewer customers that day. This is the only solution; having compassion for others.

مَناؤ جشنِ بہاراں اِس احتیاط کے ساتھ

کسی چَراغ کی لَو سےکسی کا گھر نہ جلے

(Translation – Celebrate the springs of your life in such a way that your lighted candles do not burn the houses of others.)

Stephen Covey very rightly identifies five Cs as cancers of the society, these are; Competing, Comparing, Contending, Complaining, and Criticizing. We, the believers, need to straighten and refine our understanding of life which has gone very defective by our excessive involvement in the race towards materialism. In their true perspective, Successes and Failures are to be taken as activities of human life and both these segments of life are equally important for complete human development and understanding of life. We need to strongly develop our spiritual and compassionate part and mix it appropriately in all our social interactions. That will then guide us that at times, failures play a stronger role in our lives than successes. When rightly understood and deployed we raise ourselves to real and superior levels of human life. One of the most revered poet Dr. Allama Iqbal says;

تو بچا بچا کہ نہ رکھ اسے تیرا آئینہ ہے وہ آئینہ

کہ شِکَستہ ہو تو عزیز تر ہے نگاہِ آئینہ ساز میں 

(Translation – Do not save and protect your heart from the hardships and pains of life, as the more shattered this mirror is, more precious it becomes in the eyes of its Creator)  

It is true, not only from spiritual aspects, but even from the totally intellectual and cognitive perspective, failing is an important activity in human development. Considering this importance, some of the universities in the USA have instituted specific subjects about it. For example, probably Penn State University offers a course for engineering students, named Failure 101. In this course the students have to experiment, taking risks. They are supposed to work in the stretch zones of their capacities and not be afraid of making errors. Rather consider these errors as opportunities to learn, create and innovate. Their likely-hood of getting better grades probably depends upon the number of errors they make.

Michael Shawn Malone (born 1954 – an American author, columnist, editor, investor, businessman, television producer) says about Silicon Valley: “Outsiders think of Silicon Valley as a success, but it is, in truth, a graveyard of failures. Failure is Silicon Valley’s greatest strength. Every failed product is stored as a lesson in the collective memory. We don’t stigmatize failure; we admire it. Venture capitalists like to see a little failure in the resumes of entrepreneurs”. Silicon Valley is known as a center of significant success, but also significant failure.

Having defined and understood success and failures let us now combine success and failures in a unique way.

A phrase in which two words of opposite meaning are brought together is known as an oxymoron. Some common examples of oxymoronic expressions are: act naturally, random order, original copy, found missing, definite possibility, small crowd, exact estimate, pretty ugly, only choice, clearly misunderstood and on a lighter note maybe Happily Married. The phrase SUCCESSFUL-FAILURE may also fall into this category. However, it requires a little deep thinking, a small philosophy. The term Successful Failure has been used at various locations in human history and published literature. The classical example that can be quoted here is the failure of Apollo 13 lunar-landing mission. A brief of its history: The launch phase of the mission with crew Jim Lovell, Fred Haize, and Jack Swigert, on April 11, 1970 was successful. On 13th April during its flight, it developed some electronics fault. By the combined efforts of the ground station in Houston (USA) and the onboard crew, it splashed safely in the South Pacific on April 17. The mission was termed as a “Successful Failure”, because it failed in its initial mission, nothing had really been accomplished.  But, Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, after around four decades declared the mission in an exclusive interview to Reuters Television (in 2010) as “a great success because people involved have saved a catastrophe with a successful recovery.”

A number of other examples from history and many from our daily lives can be given to explain this concept. Explorer Christopher Columbus failed when he sailed to find India – and found America instead. It was a Successful Failure. When Abraham Lincoln asked the teacher of his son through his letter, “Teach my son that it is more honorable to fail than to cheat in exams”, he was talking of Successful Failure.

There are quite a number of superior human acts that demonstrated true human behaviors at testing times. One; on August 4, 1936, Jesse Owens won the gold medal in long jump in Berlin Olympics with a leap of (26 ft 5 in). He credited this achievement to the technical advice that he received from Luz Long, the German competitor whom he defeated. Similarly, we will be remembering an incidence when a West Indies bowler did not stump the Pakistani batsman who had left the crease and he let him come back in. There may be many such instances in our lives where human beings came up to their true definition. There is and there has to be a unique higher pleasure in such acts. We must long for having at least some feel of it.

بساطِ دِل پہ عجب ہے شِکَستِ ذات کا لُطف

جہاں پہ جیت اٹل ہو  وہ چال ہار کہ دیکھ

(Translation – There is a strange pleasure and a higher feeling connected to heart by the surrender of self, try losing a move where your success is certain.)

We can have logically four combinations of the words Success and Failure. These are: Successful-Success, Successful-Failure, Failed-Failure and Failed-Success. Let us see what they mean? 

The Islamic history tells that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), directed the victorious Muslims to enter the gates of the city of Makkah with their heads bowed down, less their gaze offend the human dignity of the defeated nation. This was a beautiful example of Successful-Success. Further details of this victory are also graceful and maintain human dignity both of the conquerors and those defeated. On the contrary there are a number of apparent victories of oppressive nations, atrocities committed by strong on weak (when the opponent is very weak and is not worthy of a conflict), or when the task in hand is too inferior compared with the capacities of those undertaking it; in all these cases the apparent successes may be termed as Failed-Successes. The fourth combination is the Failed-Failure. When we do not learn from our failures, these are real failures and can be termed as Failed-Failures; otherwise, there are NO failures at all. Thomas A. Edison said about his failed attempts; “I have not failed. I’ve just found thousands of ways that won’t work.

We are most likely to make mistakes when we work outside our Comfort Zones, and that is the genuine approach to learning new things. If everything we do succeeds, then we are failing, because it means we are not taking risks. Anyone who is afraid of failures cannot learn. It is all about taking risks. As someone very rightly said, “‘If your life is free of failures, you’re not taking enough risks”. “Success and Failure are simply the two sides of the same coin”. Failure is nothing, but success turned inside out. We don’t need to feel dejected when we fall short of an objective. Normally we only remember our successes and do not realize that 1 percent of our successful work is based on our 99 percent failed struggles. When the stone breaks with the last blow of the hammer it is only because of the earlier strikes.

To confront failure without fear we need to visualize ourselves in the center of a circle, which is a small band of a failure circle, surrounded by another circle of larger radius, which is the success area. In this configuration, we have no other option but to go through the failure circle. This will completely remove the fear of failure from within us.  

In the end, having said all that, sometimes, every logic is favoring our success and still we fail, that shows the presence of an ultimate Power, who is controlling all world activities, The Creator of the universe. Our achievements have to fit in His mega plans. The great scholar, fourth caliph and the immediate successor of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Hazrat Ali (Razi Allah-0-Anho) beautifully captured it saying,

  ’میں نے خدا کو اپنے ارادوں کے ٹوٹنے سے پہچانا‘

(I was convinced about the existence of the Creator of this universe through my failures)