Postcards from another planet

It all started with a impulse purchase at a Bookstore at Khan Market, New Delhi, on our way to Hillhacks at Bir, Himachal Pradesh.

The colour-it-yourself postcards were lacking in quality so I decided to play around with them and imagined that the contents were actually images and drawings from another planet; Andlorra. The birds were coloured exotic and the trees surreal. These were conceptualised and coloured in the Earth House, Palampur.

postcards.pngI sent these to a few friends whose addresses I could gather at that time. The stamps were bought at the Bir subpost office and the postcards were posted from the Dharamshala postoffice. These travelled across the world and funnily enough the Bangalore ones reached last. This was the second time I sent a series of postcards around the world. The last time I sent these was when Shivani hosted a postcard popup shop in Cubbon park last year.

If you want one when I do a series the next time, please share your address with me.

 

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A regular cat and mouse story

The young today are increasingly wary about existing notions of housing, loans, marriage, etc. They are worried that governments and corporations are snooping in their messages and intercepting their dick pics. They prefer opting for solutions that are less attaching than the earlier generations. That means they live in the present and don’t want to worry about the future. The generation I belong to tries to straddle both this world and the older one awkwardly.

Snapchat was born of the phenomenon of impermanence and paranoia that is very characteristic of this younger generation. No one would have sold me on the idea that a company centred around ‘you sending a photo to your friend and it disappears after 10 seconds’ would some day be a multibillion dollar enterprise(nor would I have thought that a website to pin your ideas visually would be valued in the billions but that’s another story). But this somehow clicked, along with products like Secret, with the high school crowd and soon everyone was clamouring to see what the hype was all about and adding to Snap’s valuation. But then the question about why they would stay and not move on to yet another app became Snap’s existential crisis.

Today, I believe with ‘big data’ being thrown around, our behaviour has begun to shape technology. Once a product achieves product-market fit, a company is able to understand the needs of its users and cater to it in ways not previously possible. Netflix for example provides what kind of topics their users watch to production houses so that they can produce more watchable content. Quality content means returning users means $$$. For Snap, the primary idea was about sharing that single snap with your friend. What started with a single snap, then became a series of snaps which were called ‘Stories’. These however rarely had a coherent narrative. Snap opened up corporates to create their own stories which you would rather associate as ‘perishable magazines’. They are beautiful. They blend eccentricity with news, memes with opinions, silly videos with reviews. This kaleidoscopic capsules is what takes me back to Snap. I might not have snapped everyday but I will go back to see what topics are being talked about today. I find this more useful than any other source of news at the moment and boy, are they monetisable. To further increase their domination, they have started making the product more ‘affordable’ to older users.

This is the second thing that influences product evolution – monetary valuation. Companies are constantly trying to increase this to be able to survive. This probably is what motivated to create something called ‘Memories’(image data) which directly attacked Facebook and Facebook responded quickly enough with its own version of stories on Instagram. Instagram has been racking its head to figure out a monetisation strategy and earlier this year started pushing sponsored posts on the timeline which were not received very well. I assume Snap’s stories monetisation capacity pushed Facebook to create its’ own Stories. Instagram’s stories are not so rigid as Snap’s. They let you create curated sneak peeks into your life and skilled creatives can leverage this medium to great heights. That’s the reason why they are not rigid. Unlike Snap only opening up this customisation of stories to corporates, Instagram seeks to attract lot of people to utilise this medium. This is also similar to Apple opening up Siri to corporates vs Google keeping Google Now integration based on corporate tie-ups. More people = more eyeballs for advertisements = more commission.

Facebook has in the past decade been great at getting people onboard unlike any other digital product before it but it realised the need to diversify when it saw its numbers dropping. Facebook’s attempts in product engagement and monetisation have been criticised for lack of empathy. It’s Basics program was ridiculed and abused by its users. It’s become yesterday’s Google which in turn has become day before yesterday’s Microsoft. But it’s got a few aces up its sleeve; Oculus(wont get into it) and Messenger. Both of these are being written as platforms. I presume that the threat from WeChat was what prompted Facebook to pivot Messenger to a platform. Along with WhatsApp in its kitty, Facebook has achieved dominance in today’s western messaging culture but I feel it is not in complete control of what its governing over. Messaging is important because of its access to users. Your phone space is sacred and you decide what apps reside there and messaging apps have the highest importance in this regard. So converting them into platforms become the de-facto next move for companies. The rise of chatbots is for this reason. I do not want to say that chatbots are the next big thing rather I believe AI is the next big thing. Chatbots are just a means of expression of the platform. Notifications came before them and there will be other expressions to come. So with just a messaging app you will be able to access various services without installing apps – a platform inside a platform. Will it give rise to more platforms inside these? only time will tell. 

Freedom of choice with no real allegiance is the core value at the centre of this and the millennial’s use of products like Snapchat. This freedom was what the World wide web was all about. Powered by domains, it gave users endless opportunity to setup virtual shops that broke the access barrier that the physical shops had but retained other problems like how do you find these shops? That’s what gave rise to digital advertisements and that’s what churns the wheels of our digital products. This promise of everyday ubiquity is the new dream of capitalism and this is why the greatest minds of this era are indeed trying to get people to watch ads.

Travel Diaries: Surreal Kanyakumari

Kanyakumari was just a few hours away from Kovalam, the venue of 2015’s hackbeach, that I() decided to plan a day trip to visit the Southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent. We toyed with the idea of taking a cab like a friend of ours did but in the end we opted to take the Island City Express to travel the roughly 3-hour journey.  This was turning out to be quite a low cost trip thanks to the company I had. One of the concerns I have with solo tripping is that it does burn a hole in your pocket if done for short periods of time.

Tip: To get to the station from Kovalam, you have to choose between a rick (tuk-tuk), cab or the bus.

So we caught the train around 12:30 and reach Kanyakumari by 15:00. We were staying at Vedanta – Wake up and since it seemed closeby we decided to walk there. As we walked to our Inn, we got our first taste of  the multi-ethnical, multi-cultural town of Kanyakumari.

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After a brief break, we decided to head to the tip, where the action seemed to be; the sea shore. The Triveni Sangam is one of those rare places where you get to see the “meeting” of 3 bodies of water. This incidentally also means that at Kanyakumari you can see the sun rise from the sea and set into the sea as well. However the weather was gloomy and we did not get to see the sunset.

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There is a Gandhi Mandapam where his ashes were kept before immersion. This is really a huge empty building populated in some parts by lovers.

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As it grew darker we decided to explore the shops around and man! were we in for a surprise. The busy market was full of LED lit shops selling wares for Rs. 30, Rs. 20, etc. Entire shops dedicated to a single pricepoint.

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We headed back to Vedanta to sleep early so that we could wake up to see a sunrise.

IMG_20151114_061148933.jpgUnfortunately, the morning was just as gloomy and the crowds that had woken up with the hope of seeing a sunrise had nothing to do. Some of us walked down the stone jetty to the far end and sat down to take in the calmness of the morning but there were people selling watery tea and trying to con people into buying ‘pearl’ necklaces. There was this one guy who haggled with a family and brought down the price from 200 to 20. Later on in the market, I overheard another seller trying to sell similar necklaces to foreigners for $100. I wonder if anyone falls for their tricks.

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When we got back we could see that the line to visit the Vivekanand Memorial snaked through the bylanes of the town and the memorial had not even opened yet. So we decided to skip it since we wouldn’t be able to make it back to Trivandrum in time. But we had plenty of time to kill, so I decided to go for a stroll along the coast.

Being from a coastal town, I felt surprised to see the amount of construction and development done to commercialize the shoreline and provide people a place to sit and see the ocean. The roads too were well maintained and the streetlights bright.

Finally it was time to go. We headed back to the train station and waited for the island city express to start.

Back we headed to Trivandrum.

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The 36th Convocation

The birds created convoluted patterns in the sky, as the students sat on the lawns absorbing into their souls that this magical night was the end of their journey.

Three years.
These three years that came at the right time.
These three years where we grew up.
These three years made us who we are right now.
These three years full of stories and people.
These three years that we needed.

My Travel Diaries: Varkala

The first time I heard of Varkala was probably way back in 2011, when we were in chennai and trying to decide what could be our next trip post Pondicherry. We never ended up going for it then and when I was planning a list of places to visit in 2015, I tried to include it.

The Diwali extended holiday seemed right for a trip down south and so it began with me flying to Trivandrum from Bangalore on the 11th of November. In hindsight, I should have tried the train from Bangalore.

Tip: A cheap way of getting to Varkala from Bangalore is taking the 16526/Island Express which leaves at 8:00 PM and reaches the next day around 12:00 AM.

Now that I landed in Trivandrum, I had to figure out a way to get to Varkala. The internet spoke of buses from the airport to the city and the city to Varkala but I was told that they are not very frequent and the train is my best option. So after getting to the city for which I paid a rickshaw ₹ 150 to ferry me, I bought myself a ticket to Varkala. It cost ₹ 30 to get to Varkala in a crowded general compartment (the Island express on its way back to SBC) full of the afternoon crowd. Once there, I just took an auto after non-aggressively haggling to take me there for ₹ 80. My return trip cost me ₹ 70.

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Vedanta Wake up! was where I chose to stay in Varkala. I had tried Vedanta earlier this year at Kochi and was quite satisfied with what they offered. Vedanta, though is located a bit away from the beach but not too far so it still is a good choice for solo travellers.

Tip: Go for a morning walk along the cliff walkway and the beach, you will get to see fishing boats casting their nets. Walking south takes you to quiet beaches, walking north takes you to the black sand beach.

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I spent just a day out here but I liked is so much that I shall surely return again. I had to head to Kovalam next, so at around 12pm I set out to the train station. I was told that there is an AC volvo and decided to take it instead since the train would take longer. There are no boards informing you of the bus, but luckily one did come along at 1pm, half hour later than what the local shop owner had told me. It cost me ₹ 92 to Trivandrum and the bus continued to go to Kovalam from there so I travelled on it for ₹ 32.

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