I like First Person Shooters

I have been trying to write about video games ever since I began writing blogs on the internet about four years ago. I never got around to it because I felt like I wasn’t really qualified to write about games like those guys on them fancy websites. That’s probably still true. This isn’t going to be some complex analysis of themes and a deep dive into nuances of a game or a genre. This is just me talking about first person shooters.

Now, one of my earliest memories of playing video games apart from watching my sister play solitaire on Windows 95 while I waited my turn, was Wolfenstein 3D. That was the beginning of a long love affair between me and the genre. There’s just something very enticing about FPS games that I cannot fully explain. Perhaps it’s me playing out a power fantasy. Perhaps it’s getting involved in the story and a feeling of empathy towards the protagonist. Perhaps it’s the right level of difficulty that keeps you coming back to try again when you’re stuck on a particularly difficult level. I think it’s all of those things and some other things that I haven’t thought about yet.

I’m just going to list some FPS games that I really enjoyed playing, while talking about what I liked about them. Spoiler alert.

Wolfenstein

The first FPS I ever played. I spent a ton of time on this game. You could not look up or down, and you only got a few weapons, but the premise was simple, and it offered a great level of challenge which ramped up as you increased the level of difficulty. The cheat code was pretty simple too, which was helpful.

I recently played The New Order, which really brings this franchise to the 21st century, while keeping the essence of this game intact. I really appreciated the story the new game offers. You can dual wield assault rifles, which looks stupid considering how massive the gun models are. It is all stupid in a good way, however.

I really wish I had a lot more to say about this, the first ever FPS I ever played but suffice it to say that this is the game which made me fall in love with the genre.

Doom

I like Id software’s approach towards the original DOOM. The story is there, but it isn’t shoved in your face with cutscenes. It’s just kind of in the background, left for you to piece together yourself. The central aspect of this game is shooting demons in the face. Of course, this was the most influential game in the early history of FPS, and the fact that it is still offers up an enjoyable experience to me today is a testament to it’s timelessness.

DOOM 2 is my personal favorite of the franchise, as it extrapolated all the ideas of the original into a more complete package. More enemies, different environments, skull keys.

Which brings me to DOOM 2016. You’ve heard everyone wax lyrical about it, so let me do that for a little bit more. The music is phenomenal. The glory kills are amazing and don’t slow the game down. The gun-play is viscerally satisfying. The Doom-slayer’s absolute disdain towards story exposition and indeed demons, which he shows through his actions makes him a great protagonist. However, the Cyberdemon gets defeated way too easily,and the cliffhanger ending to the single player campaign pissed me off a little. The multiplayer is nothing to write home about but I’m not much of a multiplayer person myself so that’s neither here nor there.

Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem is a problematic figure that is best left in the past. The character and the game itself exemplifies the ultra-violent, highly inappropriate FPS that ran roughshod across the videogame landscape in the 90s. As pre-teen/teenager however, I really didn’t care about political correctness and really liked ultra violent power fantasies, so I played countless hours of this game.

This game had you in the shoes of a roided up freak, a one man army who threw around one liners and was in a world that seemed like a homage to 1980s action movies. Women are treated like objects of desire, things that need to be rescued, hostages and incubators for the alien invaders.

But behind all the crassness which I felt was cool at the time, there were a few clever game mechanics. Not only could you shoot aliens in the face, but also lay traps and use holograms to distract them. Shooting aliens in the face worked for me at the time.

Shadow Warrior

I found this game in the bargain bin of a CD store. Me and my cousin bought a game each. He bought something that turned out to be a set of ghostbusters themed mini-games. I got Shadow Warrior.

The original Shadow Warrior is quite similar to Duke Nukem 3D- this game outs you in the shoes of Lo Wang, an assassin for hire who needs to kill demons on his mission to exact revenge from former employer Mr. Zilla. His name’s a pretty obvious dick joke.

This being an FPS from the late 90s it came with its fair share of inappropriate racial stereotypes and toilet humor in the form of one liners and objectifying women. It was a step above Duke Nukem in terms of gunplay, with weapons having alternate fire modes, a melee weapon and having different kinds of grenades.

A similarity between SW and DN was also the level design which was often maze like. Areas were cordoned off and you had to find keycards. There were also a lot of Easter eggs and secrets.

I enjoyed the hell out of Shadow Warrior, so I was extremely excited when I heard that it was being remade. The 2013 remake of the original Shadow Warrior is indeed a great FPS which has it’s own identity. The new Lo Wang is the greatest example of how a character can be brought into the 21st century. No longer is he an inappropriate old man Asian stereotype. Lo Wang is an irreverent assassin who is also an unabashed comic book and pop culture nerd. In the beginning of the game, he flubs his one-liners. He tries too hard to use one-liners and his early attempts fall flat. After a spirit entity enters his mind and gives him magic powers, he gets to be the bad-ass he always dreamt of being. As the game progresses he gets into his stride. Towards the halfway point Hoji ( the spirit entity inhabiting Lo Wang’s head) even says something along the lines of  “Am I misunderstanding or are you actually enjoying this?”. This is a subtle arc of character progression which continues into the sequel.

In fact, his psychotic enjoyment of vanquishing his opponents is reflected in the initial few dialog sections of the sequel, and they took me by surprise. I was turned off by this change in character initially but it made a lot more sense to me as the game progressed. His anger juxtaposed with the psychotic enjoyment he took in slaughtering demons was surprising at first, but it really makes sense in a world taken over by demons.

Side note: Flying Wild Hog really seem to like using a person occupying the mind of the protagonist as a way of plot exposition and character development. I came to this conclusion after playing Hard Reset, which is in many ways the proto-Shadow Warrior.  

Also, the sequel is a Borderlands style looter-shooter with a focus on Co-Op. You get weapons, and you add stuff to your weapons to give them different characteristics. The UI for that was pretty terrible in the beginning, with no way to filter the different types of stuff you could add to your weapons. Having a favorite gun was pointless because you’d run out of ammo for it and would have to use whatever else you had.

The guns however, are secondary to the excellent melee weapons in Flying Wild Hog’s rendition of this 90s classic. The melee weapons feel satisfying to use, and there are powerful ranged and area of effect attacks associated with them so they end up being the most useful weapons in the game.

The sequel is also very movement focused. You can strafe, circle strafe, jump, double jump, dash, and dash in mid-air while jumping. This dovetailed with the new approach towards level design. The first game was linear. The second has procedurally generated levels with a lot of open space, and multiple routes across the map.   

All in all though, the single player campaign of the sequel was quite unsatisfying. It lacked the sense of purpose I saw in the first game. The interactions with the new spirit entity in his head were nowhere close to the amazing back and forth of the original.

Red Faction

To be honest, all this was just an excuse to be able to write about my personal favorite FPS of all time, Red Faction. I’ve thought of countless think-pieces about the Red Faction franchise, and some of them even made it to the draft stage, where they lie for eternity, because I couldn’t flesh out the ideas.

Red Faction was released at around the same time as the original Halo, Serious Sam, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, to mention a few. It probably got lost in the shuffle in an overall great year for FPS games.

Looking back at the game, I can see why people thought of it as a B+ game overall. The gun play wasn’t really genre defining. The plot wasn’t as complex as a Half-Life. But it’s still my top favorite FPS.

The original Red Faction featured “GeoMod Technology” which allowed players to alter some parts of the terrain. Although you couldn’t just destroy literally everything in the game, you could use that mechanic in enough spots to make it interesting.

What made Red Faction so amazing to me though, was its sense of humor. It had a weird dichotomy to it- the plot took itself way too seriously, but the game allowed you to do stuff like stick bombs on to enemies and watch them run around screaming and flailing their arms. The NPCs had some hilarious dialog. The enemies call you a miner in the beginning of the game and the way they address you changes as you progress. A simple touch that really makes you feel like the protagonist of the game.

The campaign isn’t short either. Of course there are the customary turret and vehicle segments and a couple of stealth segments shoehorned in but they aren’t overbearing. The game ramps up in difficulty towards the end, with tougher enemies and more powerful weapons. All of these points are better explained in Classic Game Room’s Review.

This was the game which I played for hours on end without stopping. I played and replayed Red Faction’s single player campaign and I enjoyed every single time. The game found a balance between story, gameplay mechanics and humor that I’ve tried to find in every other game since.

Which brings me to Red Faction 2. I’ll admit I was very disappointed by it when I first played it. I was expecting something closer to Red Faction, but the sequel didn’t make a good first impression at all. The initial levels were terrible, and it was on earth instead of mars, which didn’t make sense to me. Also GeoMod was barely used in the game. The UI was pretty bad too. Using and switching between grenades was too clunky. The environments weren’t as compelling as the first game. The voice acting and NPS dialogs were quite funny but the game lacked that great balance between violence and humorous dialog that the original  had.

Looking back at it though, I think I may have judged it too harshly. It did have it’s own sense of humor and it did have some great local multiplayer. The game allowed you to dual wield weapons, something I hadn’t seen since the original Shadow Warrior. It also had cheat codes which allowed you to do some really interesting things. The third game in the franchise was a return to form, with GeoMod being front and center. It was however, in the third person perspective. The fourth and final game was also quite stellar in my opinion, with the best use of a magnets in a game ever.

Half Life

One of the finest linear narrative driven FPS games. That’s me trying to find a fancy way of saying that despite all the scripted events that take place while playing these games (half life and opposing force. Not Blue Shift. That one I don’t like so much.) all those events make sense and drive the story forward. They don’t feel like they take away from the experience.

That’s all I really had to say about this game, honestly. It isn’t a power fantasy. You have to conserve ammo. Some of the enemies are very annoying. The section of the first game where you are on the alien planet is pretty weak. First person platforming in general is bad.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Modern military shooters are focused on multiplayer and the single player campaign is mostly an afterthought. Bad Company 2 was the most bearable of these kinds of shooters. The scripted events in these kinds of games are annoying. Speaking of annoying, “Please return to the battle zone or you’ll fail the mission” makes me sad and angry.

Dishonored

This was more of an experience. A short game, but both the stealth and violent approaches were interesting to play. I had to watch a walkthrough to be able to complete the game using stealth because I am impatient and not very good at video games.

Metro Last Light

Great story, your gas mask gets dirty/wet/whatever and you have to wipe it off. It looks cool. Again, this isn’t a power fantasy. There’s a focus on survival and it goes well with the post apocalyptic setting.

You can use different types of guns. The currency is bullets. Post apocalyptic. The last level was annoying because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to shoot at and had to watch a walkthrough video.

Borderlands 2

Handsome Jack is probably the greatest video game antagonist in this list of games. The game has a unique and interesting universe. Different weapons, and one of them involves throwing the gun itself to reload it. It is a definitive looter-shooter, which means there’s a lot of leveling up and too many weapon drops, but I waded through all of it because I liked the story so much. It was funny and self aware.

For the final boss I just sat in a corner of the map and sniped for hours instead of actually doing it like the game wanted me to.    

What was the point of all this?

For a long time I’ve been feeling like I’m playing it too safe. I don’t write my own opinions on here anymore. I try to cover my bases at all times. That’s not a bad thing- nobody can complain, I do my research, and try to remain as objective as possible. But that’s not really very fun to write, or interesting to read.

Also, I really wanted to write about videogames, and I was too afraid to write anything at all. I looked at all these think pieces trying so hard, being so serious and thought provoking. I really don’t have anything to say along those lines. However, I wanted to say these things anyway. All this time I was trying to find something to write about and the only thing I cared about was creating something thought provoking. Every time I tried I found that it already existed. So I decided to look into my own experiences and talk about those.

I wrote this mostly for myself. I thought about all the games I’ve played over the years and saw how many of them were first person shooters. The reasons why were pretty easy to see, and further analyzing it didn’t seem compelling, and more importantly didn’t seem like a fun thing to do. So I took a meandering route through all these games, thinking about what it was that I liked about each and every one of them.

As Hoji would say- “Every hero needs this kind of thing. Call it a… catharsis. Think of it as a spiritual laxative.”

Thoughts and Opinions about Micro Fiction

Social Media has provided a global platform that people use to express themselves. It has also shaped the way information is disseminated throughout the world. Different platforms like Facebook and Twitter provide different ways to share information and communicate,  and at times impose certain constraints on how people communicate with each other. Sometimes, these constraints drive creativity.

Twitter’s 140 character limit for example, helped popularize micro fiction 1. Today, communities like Terribly Tiny Tales and The Scribbled Stories have thousands of followers and contributors. Trying to convey as much information and emotion in as few words as possible has been around since a long time, of course. But the micro tales format, its acceptance and widespread popularity is symbolic of the social media phenomenon and how it affects us all.

The widespread success of these communities and these works of micro fiction got me thinking about its origins, its rise to popularity, and like any massively popular meme or internet trend, and why there are so many people who think it has “lost its touch”.


What is micro fiction, and who are these communities?

The origins of micro tales can of course be traced to Twitter, founded in 2006, a social media platform that allows users to share short posts (140 characters or less) called tweets. The aforementioned “Terribly Tiny Tales” started of as a Facebook page in 2013 2. The about page on their official website, terriblytinytales.com, says

“terribly tiny tales brings together a diverse pool of fantastic writers to create one tweet-sized story, everyday. We invite readers to contribute a word from which the writer picks a word of his/her choice.”

Another popular micro fiction community is “The Scribbled Stories”, which started off in 2015, and seems to have a similar format, but describe themselves as

“… a collective of amateur writers and serves as a storytelling platform for writers across the globe.”

As such, the latter does not seem to be limited to micro fiction as can be seen from their website, thescribbledstories.com. However, their most popular content seems to be in that format, most often shared as an image with white text on a blue background 3.


Why is Micro Fiction so popular?

1. Easy to Share

The character restriction lends itself to the creation of short tales, snippets or even poetry, often with complexity and nuances that force the reader to “read between the lines”. As these works of fiction are short by definition, they are often shared as an image rather than in text format, which makes them easy to share. The combination of being easy to consume and easy to share can often create a snowball effect of viral internet success.

2. Easy to write, and your work gets validated

Writing, and creative writing especially so, is often perceived as being the domain of the creative. It is looked upon as something that you need to have an innate knack for. Terribly tiny tales started with a group of 15 writers, but it has since then been opened to the public. The Scribbled Stories also has a similar system, people can submit their creations via the submit page on their website. They even mention various categories based on word limits.

Once you submit your work, it’s looked at by a team, and shared on social media if it’s accepted. This is the modern equivalent of writing to a newspaper, a radio show, or your school magazine. The convenience of being able to submit your work online, and the validation of your post being read and accepted by someone and shared on social media for thousands of people to see is the ultimate reward in today’s world. The relative ease of writing something in the micro fiction format, combined with the anticipation, waiting to see whether or not your post will be selected, and the reward of having your post shared with thousands of people, and indeed even being “liked” and “shared” by people is a massive validation of a person’s writing capability.

3. In tune with our short attention spans on social media

This post by Mark Manson explains this very well. In the world of social media our attention is at a premium- and anything that grabs your attention is shared, and in most cases, forgotten about soon after. Micro Fiction communities generate so much content that spans across so many different topics, that any given piece of content has a chance of resonating with a certain section of the general populace.

Most people, when asked about why they share certain things, often reply with “I don’t know, it just felt nice at the time…”


If it’s so popular, why do some people hate it?

When something resonates with people, as is the case with internet memes and viral trends, there’s always a saturation point, where the interest begins to wane, or even turn into a dislike due to it being repeated many times. In this post I’ve mentioned only the two most popular platforms for micro fiction, but in reality there are a lot of such pages out there, and while Terribly Tiny Tales does touch upon the problem of curating so many entries 4, there are so many other spin-off communities around which perhaps look only for viral success via post volume, rather than post quality.

I think that this lack of curation is one of the key reasons why some people are annoyed. With so many people getting to post their micro fiction and get published, with little to no curation, these communities become less about getting your work accepted, appreciated and understood, but more about being cannon fodder that feeds the social media machine. This might sound cynical but it does seem like the move away from a small group to an open community with no moderation, no community feedback mechanism and no centralized curation is a deliberate move to gain followers, gain likes, shares, and perpetuate the aforementioned social media machine.

What do the owners of these pages stand to gain from this perpetual social media juggernaut? When you have a massive social media influence, it can be used to make money, and brands have already begun to utilize these communities as a platform to gain some traction.

hotspot

This image shows how blatant the brand tie-ins can be at times.

 


Objectively analyzing micro fiction

What constitutes good micro fiction is highly subjective. What some people might find appealing in a cute, smart or funny way, might not be looked at the same way by others.  Personally, I feel like good micro fiction should have multiple layers of meaning, requiring you to “read between the lines”.

However, looking at a lot of these works, I find that many of these “stories” have simple, linear narratives. They are often simple anecdotes which while a lot of people can relate to, aren’t really very complex. A lot of these are based on common events and are thus regarded as unoriginal. When a lot of seemingly trite content floods social media feeds, it leads to an inevitable negative reaction 5. Anecdotes are easier to write, as they are based on real life events. They are easy to read because of their linear narrative. They are easy to relate to because most of these anecdotes are based on very common events that occur in most people’s lives, such as getting bad grades in an exam, for example.

This brings us back to the broader issue of categorization and curation. The micro fiction communities have broadened their scope, and their definition of what they consider “tiny tales” or “stories”, for the reasons mentioned previously.

What can they do to improve?

I feel like the key component missing in this whole micro fiction “community”, is the lack of any feedback. There is no community moderation. A sign of a healthy community is discussion, and constructive criticism, which I find completely lacking in any of these Facebook pages. People are expected to submit their work, and hope that it is published. There is no feedback from the people who run the pages, and there is no way to garner feedback from the other members of the community 6.

One of the ways to provide constructive feedback is to connect these prospective writers with established ones. Of course, this seems like an idealistic solution, but I do believe that social media is an extremely powerful tool that can make this happen. If a community focuses on the core group of people that actively want to improve, and aren’t just there to feed off its popularity for personal gain, I believe that it could be a great tool for people who want to be better.

A few points in conclusion:

  • The topic of micro fiction and it’s popularity is full of nuances that I wish to capture, and I’ve just scratched the surface. I would love to have a hear from others about their opinions and experiences, so I can see things from all possible points of view.
  • I would love to be able  to know how these pages/communities are run to get a better understanding or appreciation of the challenges involved in bridging the gap between the current and ideal state of the community.
  • Feel free to criticize, but keep it civil. I may even create another post where I respond to your comments.
  • While criticizing, poking fun at  or even hating these micro fiction communities is fine as a personal choice, having a “holier than thou” attitude is not. What I do not like, are people who try to act like the gatekeepers of “good writing”, which may demotivate people. Say what you will about micro fiction, but I like to think that there are at least some people there who want some positive affirmation, some validation of their creativity, people who just need someone to provide feedback and maybe even guidance. Don’t be like this guy.
  • It would be great to look at Micro Fiction in the backdrop of our social media culture as a whole and how it can be used to explain our behavior on social media.
  • Shout out to @thewisecrab and @twatterbaba on Twitter who listened to my ideas and provided feedback.

Footnotes:

A few good examples of micro fiction on twitter are Instant Fiction and @ThePatanoiac

  1. This Quora post talks about the origin story, and it is as follows:

“Terribly Tiny Tales started off as a Facebook page back in 2013, conceptualized by Anuj Gosalia, and later joined in by Chintan Ruparel. The platform consisted of a team of 15 writers who contributed regularly. 3 years later, we are a community of approximately 100 writers who work closely with us as well as over 50,000 writers who share their work with us from all over the world.”

Anuj Gosalia also has a Twitter page in which he describes himself as the “Co-Founder/CEO – Terribly Tiny Tales”, which gives credence to the above.

  1. As such, Terribly Tiny Tales also seem to have a distinct style of white text on a black background, but they have often deviated from that style for collaborations with various websites or for particular topics. This can be seen on their website under collaborations.
  2. On the topic of curation, Terribly Tiny Tales had this to say, to one of the commenters on their website:curationttt
  3. In fact, there are a lot of people who openly poke fun at this trend. One example is Stand-up comedian Sahil Shah who often shares “terribly tatti tales”, like this one.
  4. Perhaps getting feedback from others does not make too much sense in the case of micro fiction, as the amount of words used are too less, and it is not too easy to critique something that is meant to be interpreted in multiple ways. But I am open to more suggestions!

 

What the Indian Spice Box can tell us about optimal menu design

In my two years of living in the US and having to make Indian food for myself, I have learned the importance of the spice box. At first, cooking Indian food seems like a very daunting and labor intensive task. The oil that is used for tempering has to be heated to the right temperature, the spices have to be added in a particular order, and in precise amounts. In this scenario, having a box that contains the right spices at one place is the ideal solution.  As this article in the Boston Globe describes it:

“Timing is key in Indian cooking. Many recipes begin by heating oil first, then adding small amounts of spices in quick succession. The oil’s temperature has to be just right so mustard seeds pop, cumin seeds sizzle, and turmeric and red chile powders lose their raw edge without burning. The spice box is the most efficient and practical way of accessing the required spices easily: Open one lid and everything you need is right there.”

The spice box is a mainstay in every kitchen in every Indian household. The design is quite simple – a steel or wooden container (generally round) with smaller containers inside it. This simple design has been in use for generations, and it’s easy to see why. In its relative simplicity the spice box shows the importance of user-centered design.

The spice box holds the optimal amount of ingredients. The square or round box contains about seven inner containers, plus or minus two. Add more containers, and each individual container becomes too small, requiring frequent refilling. Too large, and there aren’t enough spices in the box, reducing its usefulness. The box was designed keeping the user and the aforementioned cooking process in mind, and that is one of the things that makes it such a great design.

The spice box is customizable. The user can add the spices of their choosing. Although some of the spices are common, there are certain differences in regional cooking styles, and the box allows the user to add the spices that they may require based on their preferences.

The spice box is easy to maintain. Replenishing ingredients is simple, and the frequency of replenishing the ingredients is not too much so as to dissuade the user from using the box.

What I like specifically about the round variants of the spice box, is that the shape both communicates and facilitates rotation- the user can move the inner containers around, or order them in a way that makes it easier to remember the order in which the ingredients are to be added. A square or rectangular box does not communicate or facilitate that as much, although I can see how even the rows and columns can help the user remember the order in which spices are to be added.

What struck me about the timelessness of the spice box design is that in many ways it is a triumph of user-centered design. It is a helpful to the user, and makes the task at hand, in this case cooking, easier by reducing cognitive load. One does not explicitly have to remember the order of adding ingredients- a quick glance at the box and the way the ingredients are ordered acts as a memory cue. It increases the ease of cooking, and the user does not have to read a manual, or remember complex steps before having to use it.

Imagine if someone were to design the spice box in today’s age- I would imagine designers and engineers getting carried away with the prospects, and potential affordances that modern technology brings. That would lead to “features” like a freshness indicator, a rotation device to hasten access to the spice you require, voice commands, recipe suggestions, and so on. It would have IoT connectivity options, a companion app, and perhaps even a crowd finding campaign. I digress.

While designing a menu based solution to a design problem, designers tend to get carried away with the design of the menu itself. The menu is meant to be a means to find the right tool or option to complete the task. It is thus imperative to understand the user’s workflow and identify potential breakdowns before adding design elements like micro-interactions. Of course, modern interfaces tend to have a multitude of features, and it is not always possible to make menus simplistic. But that’s not the point. The spice box isn’t just ubiquitous because it’s simple – it is because it was designed with the user’s needs and wants in mind.

Person with painted hands

Peeple, Self Presentation and Redefining “Weak Ties”

Peeple is an app that’s been in the news recently. It’s an app that would let people rate other people, publicly. There has been quite a bit of outrage about it on the internet, because of what it stands for, and the potential of disastrous things happening to people and their reputations. Let’s peel back some of the layers and try to see the implications of this concept.

What is Peeple

Peeple as I mentioned before is an app that would let you post reviews and rate other people that you know. You can post about others, and others can post about you. Just about anyone that knows you, your neighbor, colleague, etc. could simply give you a rating and write a review about you, like you would on Yelp.

You cannot opt out of this, meaning that if someone decides to post a review about you, it will be on the system. On the other hand, you would get 48 hours to contest any review that you have received.

And the internet responded

There has been considerable backlash on the internet over this app idea. (Not to mention they stole the branding of another legitimate business.) When it comes to presentation of self, nobody wants other people to control it. Our self image is something we are very conscious of, and we take immense care to maintain a particular public image. This image changes based on the context, or group of people as well. There are a lot of dynamics involved in social communication.

Presentation of Self in the age of Social Media

These days, most of us have profiles on numerous social networking websites. We use them to connect and communicate with other people, but that is a secondary purpose. The primary reason for these profiles to exist is to “claim your name”, to project an image of oneself on the web, via posts, communications, messages and so on. We connect with other people, and affiliate with groups and other such entities as a statement of intent. On a surface level, it is a communication platform. But beyond that, it is a means of generating and projecting a certain image of yourself on to others.

To this end, we are often careful of what we post, what we “like”, what we share, and with whom. We delete or modify posts in order to keep a certain image intact. We carefully curate our profiles, to varying degree. Some people take this more seriously than others, of course. But at some level, this curation of social profiles takes place.

Weak ties and Networking

Another purpose of social media is to create and maintain “Weak Ties” – as the name suggests, these are acquaintances, friends, etc. that are not “close friends” or family, etc. but are affiliated to you, often via other people. Friends of friends, acquaintances, people you’ve met at social events and so on, that you may not really know a lot about, but have heard of or met a few times. The “friend” metaphor on Facebook lost it’s significance a while ago, in this regard. We “friend” so many people on Facebook at times, that it is generally more like an extended network of people. Even LinkedIn is a connection based social network, which directly uses such metaphors as first second and third connections.

The significance of weak ties is that they are often very useful when it comes to gaining professional opportunities, or being a part of social and cultural events. Even more so than strong ties. The more people you know, the easier it is for you to “get things done”, so to speak. That’s why there are so many networking events and meetups where people meet new people and get acquainted with people for professional or personal reasons.

Peeple as a threat to Weak Ties and Self Presentation

Of course, the concept of a People rating app has obvious negative connotations. Most importantly, people that do not like you would be free to post negative reviews about you. People who are in competition to you might use it as a means to slander. Personal attacks could gain an even more potent dimension.

As I mentioned before, people spend a lot of time maintaining and worrying about their self image. The Peeple app would mean losing control over this deeply personal component of social engagement. There would be some that like the idea of things being thrown into chaos, and the added layer of tension that the proliferation of such apps would bring into society.

In the professional world, this may not seem to have a direct impact, however it may come up in employee and candidate background checks.

Creating new “weak ties” could thus become very difficult for people if there are certain ideological or preferential differences between people that would not have mattered if not disclosed. If your “character” defined by a star rating becomes public knowledge, it could lead to losing out on networking opportunities.

Peeple as an opportunity

As all of us have learned how to make social media work for us when it comes to presenting ourselves to the world, in time, people could also find ways to leverage apps like this for their own benefit. Tacit agreements between people regarding reviews is one way. Using these apps to heap praise onto prospective employers or other groups to influence their decisions could also be possible. This app could also be, therefore, assimilated into the pool of ways in which you project your own self image. Today we curate social profiles to create a self image, maybe in a future where these apps exist, we would have to curate these profiles through other people. People who know how to influence others directly or indirectly could use tacit agreements or discussions to mitigate the negative effects of any “bad reviews”. For example, if someone posts a bad review about you, you could ask someone to counter it by posting a good review, or posting a counter-review on the other profile. Perhaps, a reply to the negative review with some context, and leaving the viewer of the profile to make conclusions.

This is the side that the co-founders of the company would want us to see- a means of getting feedback from people you know, so that you can improve upon it and be the “best person you can be”. I personally don’t buy it, because it’s a pathetically simplistic solution to a complex topic of social interactions, which is inherently nuanced and contextual in nature.

Of course, this could get very messy very fast. This does have a “he-said-she-said” feel to it, kind of like some kind of high-school drama. If apps like Peeple do get into the collective mind-space of society, there would have to be tacit agreements as I mentioned before, not to use such applications. People could decide not to use this app, or to disregard any reviews left on them.

The idea of the Peeple app is inherently invasive. It could lead to proliferation of gender biases, race biases, and so on. It could lead to creation of inequality – an “elite” class and a “lower” class separated by their star ratings. It goes against the very fabric of modern civilization – the fact that there are certain unspoken rules, often called the social contract. A part of me really hopes people don’t fall for this obviously terrible idea of reducing a person to a number value, but another part of me is really intrigued to see how society would adapt and react to this if it were ever to see the light of day.

Meandering through thoughts about “The Future”

Some pressing questions on my mind right now. In a world of fast paced technological advancement, in the face of said advancement, are we leaving some important things behind? Current or past systems that were in place offered something more than just what the raw numbers suggest. Some experiences that can’t or weren’t quantified in terms of statistics.

In our relentless quest towards moving “Upwards and Onward”, “Above and Beyond”, sometimes like race horses with blinders on, perhaps we are ignoring or disregarding all the other directions?

Research needs to be focused in order to get some sort of tangible and significant development, apparently. If it isn’t focused on something, it apparently isn’t worth going for.

Maybe I’m just looking at things with rose-tinted glasses. Of course, the human tendency towards romanticizing bygone eras and ways of life is well known. However, the opposite is also possible. “The future” is more alluring to some, and to reach it, they would abandon every single system, every artifact, every thought of the past and present. Futurists sometimes build extremely bizarre and extravagant visions for the future. Of course, realistically there are a lot more factors involved, which makes the actual future much more messy.

Just think about the visions of the future depicted in movies and popular culture just a few decades ago. They would have us travel in fast cars, wear outlandish clothes, abolish lawyers and what not. Granted that was all fiction and fantasy, and exaggeration is an important part of appealing to an audience when it comes to such creative endeavors.

On the other end of the spectrum there are the scores of people who paint a dystopian vision of the future. Nuclear Holocausts, cataclysms, et cetera.

Thinking of and discussing the future always takes a meandering path, but it always begins with “maybe it won’t be as bizarre as they think”. Either our minds will accept those now seemingly bizarre things as the norm. Or the current status quo in terms of society, economics and culture will remain the same. It also all depends upon how far into the future we are willing to think about.

No matter what happens, I’ll always say,

“The more things change, the more people change, the more they stay the same.”

Expectations

An important part of being mature seems to be to keep your expectations in check and not to get excitement in check. Everyone overstates the merits of whatever it is they’re hawking, and you should expect things not to live up to expectations. Honestly, no matter how much I try to be a cynic and look at the world this way, I think it’s impossible to fully embrace this as a way of life.

Nobody is born a cynic. It is an acquired mindset. Everybody knows what I’m talking about right now. Most people accept it. Everyone lies on different wavelengths of the spectrum of expectations. Everybody starts at the same point, though.

Now I’m a jaded person. I like to think that I can see through vicious marketing tactics. It makes me feel good when I can prove that a new thing isn’t actually new, and it’s a weird feeling when I’m successful because a part of me dies inside every time things fail to meet expectations. Unfairly raised expectations are often to blame, but people who raise them are to blame for that.

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“New and improved formula!” Alright, so what was the swill you were trying to sell me last year?

This jadedness is a shard of broken glass I see things through, sometimes it makes things clearer, but the jagged edges cut me and that feels terrible. Carrying it with me always is also a pain. Preemptive jadedness is a recently acquired habit for me though. New things don’t seem new when you’ve been observing the undulations of a particular industry with a microscope. I’m talking about the mobile tech industry in my case, but after a point this permeates to all aspects of existence.

Including people, and dealing with what we should expect from them. I’ll admit it, it’s impossible for me to expect nothing from people. Which is hypocritical because I don’t do much in terms of expectation fulfillment myself.

For four years as a student of Computer Engineering I was taught about limitations, constraints, and how to make things “fail gracefully” when they just couldn’t deal with expectations, in this case requests or user commands. As a blogger I read about marketers and how people overstate things, products and services. As an end user of said products and services I saw that everything had its drawbacks, and I had to pick the software or hardware that was the least terrible. There was no “best”, there was just varying degrees of terribleness.

As a Masters student, I have to ruminate endlessly about the possibilities of cutting edge technology. Cool as it may be, time and again I’m reminded that things are messy and complicated, and things are not what they seem. I digress.

Why do we expect? It’s because having a mental image of someone’s behavior is a part of human behavior. We have our judgments of people, and knowing how to “read people” has its advantages when dealing with matters pertaining to social life. Expecting in a way reduces the uncertainty of daily life and helps reduce mental load. After all, the human brain can’t deal with uncertainty very well. Overdoing the whole judgment thing has its drawbacks as well, it leads to a tunnel vision and we don’t account for certain possibilities.

Today, I had chocolate milk. Up until now, every single instance of me drinking chocolate milk has ended in disappointment, because when I was introduced to the idea of chocolate milk it was shown to me as a heavenly concoction made of molten chocolate, but whatever I had sampled was more milk than chocolate if anything. This was different. I had one sip and I felt something I had not felt in a very long time. Something had lived up to my innermost expectations. Not general expectations of a milky mediocre mess, but the expectations I had as a child. Molten ambrosia. Nothing less.

This made me think about expectations in general. Should we live with lowered or no expectations at all, for the off chance of something being slightly less terrible than what other things are? Should we just have normal expectations, only for them to not be met and then going through a coping mechanism of regret and cynicism?

Parallels

Parallels. The feeling of knowing something all too well. Deja Vu? No, it’s not that intense. It’s more like a reboot, creative re-visualization, an adaptation, yes. Will I need to do the same things that I had to do before? Maybe. I haven’t given myself that much of a chance. The problem is there’s always an urgency involved with everything surrounding this, resolve immediately, or else. If I let it tide over me, if I let it consume me, I will not be the same person.

Am I obsessed? I like to think that I am not. It’s just that I’m totally out of fuel, out of patience and out of time as well. Luck and Karma are relative things that are secondary to these key primary factors that my state of mind depends upon.

Maybe there’s something very primal about drawing parallels. Adding context to certain actions based on experiences. Everyone draws parallels to make sense of something, or to see a thing in a new light. The light of familiarity. The brain cannot handle uncertainty, the nebulous mass of perceptions and memories that you might have.

The problem with parallels is that you really can’t go to the root of the problem or issue that’s plaguing you. The lines extend without intersecting, forever. Things are similar but not the same, separated by time. This means that you have to come up with new ways to combat the afflictions laid upon you.

Sometimes the parallels don’t even help. They are often misinterpretations, and one can waste a lot of time thinking about parallels that don’t actually exist.