Why online meetings work but not online conferences

Sitting through a “slip fielding meeting” this morning, I had an epiphany – on why office work and meetings have adjusted fairly well to online formats, but not conferences. It has to do with backchannel conversations.

In meetings where everyone is in the same room, there is naturally just one conversation. Everyone is speaking to everyone else at the same time. Unless the meeting is humongously large, it is considered rude for people to “cross talk” in the meeting, and hence there is just one conversation. Of course, in the last decade or so, people have taken to texting at meetings and stuff, but that is still small.

The advantage with moving this kind of a meeting online is that now crosstalk is fully legit, as long as you are doing it using text only. Anyway, everyone is sitting with their computers. All it takes is one simple alt-tab or command-tab, and you can chat away with others present in the meeting. In fact, this makes online meetings MORE efficient by increasing the information flow (since the main channel of large meetings are usually low throughput).

It is the other way round with conferences and events. In conferences and events, the whole point is backchannel conversation. Pretty much nobody is there to listen to the lectures or panel discussions anyways – all that most attendees want to do is to meet other attendees.

And off-line conferences are conveniently structured to enable such interaction. By having multiple parallel sessions, for example, it becomes legit to just stay out and talk to others. There is always a buzz in the corridors (one conference which was single-session-at-a-time only turned out to be bloody boring).

The other thing is that most backchannel and side channel conversations at conferences are between people who don’t yet know each other, and who are there for discovery. So you need to physically bump into someone to talk to them – you can’t randomly start a conversation with someone.

And this translates horribly to online. Online is great for backchannel and side channel conversations with people you already know well – like colleagues. When you don’t know most other people, side channel conversation is awkward. And the main channel content in conferences is largely useless anyway.

This is why it is important that conferences and seminars and other such events move to an offline format asap. For large work meetings we can continue online even after we’re all back at office.

PS: I’m firmly in the DJ D-Sol camp in terms of calling people back to work, at least to make them live in or close to the “home locations”. This way, you have the optionality to meet at short notice without planning, something that fully remote work makes it really hard.

In appreciation of Tom Vadakkan

The former Congress spokesperson had said on national TV that ‘a tweet is a very lonely man who needs counselling’. While he might have been misinformed on that count, I do think that social media nowadays overindexes on spreading mental illness. 

Let me get the most controversial statement out of the way right upfront – most activism relies on creating anxiety. Yes, I just said it. I must mention that creating anxiety may not be the express intention of the activism. However, it is an inevitable effect.

I had written about this a long time ago, specifically in the context of environmental activism. Basically, things like carbon taxes (and other Pigouian taxes) and other price-based measures of environment regulation mean that things have been priced in by the time an ordinary person comes across it.

“Should I take the plastic cup from the coffee shop?”. Has already been priced in in the price of plastic.

“Can I take shower for another 15 minutes extra today?”. If I’m paying fair price for the water this ceases to be a moral question.

“Is it okay to drive across the city each day by my own car? Wouldn’t it result in extra emissions?”. If the price of the extra emissions has been included in the price of fuel, again don’t need to worry.

On the contrary, you might see that a lot of activism (and left-wing activists are generally against the price mechanism) is about creating guilt. It’s about making you think at every point in time because the price mechanism doesn’t account for it. And it is not just about environmental activism.

Take political correctness for example. A lot of jokes from my childhood (and even from a few years ago) are not kosher any more because they hurt the sentiments of some minority or another. So, while we’ve been conditioned to make these jokes as if they are normal, now there is an extra layer of thought, leading to anxiety.

And activists won’t let you be in peace either. For example, one rational response to things being shit all around us (like it is right now, as covid cases are raging, and bodies have to wait for days together to get cremated) is to just ignore it all, get into our little bubbles and move on. Activists don’t let you do that. It’s not uncommon to see tweets of the nature of “how can you sleep soundly when <some unknown person you wouldn’t normally care about> is dying on the street?”. It’s about creating guilt.

A few days back, I put this tweet (of late, all my blogposts seem to be expansions of random thoughts I would’ve thrown around on twitter):

I guess this deserves an explanation. I keep quitting social media, and while I’m on it, I keep unfollowing (and muting, and blocking) people who post too much negative or “outrage-y” stuff. The reason I go on social media is to have some nice discussions, see some ideas and so on. For news, I have my morning bundle of The Times of India, The Business Standard and The Economic Times.

“Why do people outrage so much on social media”, I was wondering aloud to my wife the other day. I wasn’t talking about people giving their opinions on what is wrong or how it should be done (that at least adds SOME value). I was talking about tautologies of the like of “oh, Kumbh Mela is being allowed to go on”. Or “migrants are dying due to the sudden lockdown”. No opinion. No value addition. Just selective amplification of news that people will get from the next morning’s papers anyways.

My wife and I had a long discussion. One of the points that came out of the discussion is that people seek some solidarity on social media. People are anxious, have nobody around them to share their anxieties with, and if they can find like-minded people on social media who share their anxieties and empathise with them, it is rational to rant on social media. The downside, of course, is that you might lose the people who don’t share your anxieties.

One of my links above refers to Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life (another source of anxiety that activism creates – “what will people think of me given that I’m quoting someone they’ve ‘cancelled’?”. It results in self-censorship. And by not expressing your thoughts your mental health becomes worse). I think that was his Rule 11. I want to now bring up his Rule 1 (later on I might bring up his Rule 12. Most of the rest are not worth quoting).

In the first chapter of his book, he talks about anxiety and depression, taking the case of lobsters. The thing about anxiety (I’ve just about gotten off another round of medication for it) is that you get into a situation of heightened defences.

This is a natural reaction. If you are walking in the jungle and hear a lion roar, you better have heightened defences. The problem with chronic anxiety is that you are always in a state of heightened defences. You are always worried that something might go wrong. This means you have less mental and physical energy for more productive stuff. And so it hampers your life.

Being in a state of anxiety means you want to get early information of anything that might go wrong. This makes you an ideal candidate for “24×7 news” – since that sets you up and prepares you well in time for anything that might go wrong. Depending on your persuasion, you either get your news from television, or from social media. Thus, on the margin, mentally ill people are MORE LIKELY to be on social media all the time, and be on it for the sake of news.

Let’s put things together.

  • Anxious people are more likely to be on social media for news
  • They are more likely to get triggered by news, and become anxious about it.
  • They want some release from the anxiety, and that can come by way of empathy from people with similar anxieties. This means they tweet (or post) their anxieties. Sometimes it could just be tweeting tautologies.
  • At other times it is retweeting activism from people they empathise with. And activism fundamentally causes more anxiety (as explained above)
  • Thus, anxious people end up spreading their anxieties through social media. And when someone says they don’t care about these anxieties, the privilege card gets brought out.
  • And so, on the margin, spending more time on social media can make you anxious, by increasing your exposure to tweets that create anxiety.

Unfortunately I’m unable to find the video (it seems to have been removed from YouTube). So I’ll just link to this blogpost by Vadakkan’s then co-panelist Amit Varma.

And how do I plan to deal with all the shit happening around? By following Jordan Peterson’s 12th rule. I spend half an hour in the morning reading newspapers. Given what’s happening around, I feel depressed and worried. And then by the time I have moved to the business newspapers I am feeling better. And then I get on with life. And work. And keeping my family and myself safe. And I only use twitter one day a week.

PS: I learnt while researching this post that Tom Vadakkan is with the BJP now.

Clubhouse and Reputation Building

For a couple of weeks after I joined Clubhouse (about a couple of months back, I think), I was enthusiastic about the platform. Every evening, when I was bored, I would log on to see if there was some interesting conversation happening. I participated in a few. I even blocked one (particularly obnoxious) guy.

Now I’m beyond it. I still check the app out of habit to see if something interesting is happening, but most of the time nothing interesting is. I don’t know if people are using Clubhouse the way they used to.

In any case, I was just thinking of Clubhouse in the context of reputation building. The thing with Clubhouse is that it is truly a “social network” – to create anything you need a “society” to create it with.

Blog is individual – everything that comes here is pretty much my own effort. Twitter as well. Even Instagram. And TikTok. All these mediums allow solo creators to create stuff, get following based on that and then build a reputation.

A few months back I had written about “credentialed and credential free network“, in terms of whether “external credentials” are useful in making someone successful on a particular social network.

Blogging, as it grew through the noughties, was largely credential-free, and most people built reputations through the sheer quality of their content. TikTok is similar as well. As for Instagram and Twitter, while people have managed to build a following and reputation through their content alone, having credentials outside of the social network has provided a big step up. So the people with the most following on these platforms aren’t necessarily the best at the art of these platforms.

As I think about it, Clubhouse represents one extreme of credentialing – it is virtually impossible to build your own reputation on the platform.

It has to do with the way content is created. Clubhouse content is 1. ephemeral (conversations are not recorded); 2. socially created (you need to get into a room with people who invite you to speak to create content).

The combination of the two means that it is virtually impossible for a newbie to make an impression on the platform. Yes, you can create your own rooms and deliver fantastic monologues  there (that’s a great use case for clubhouse). However, unless you are already connected with the “right people” (in which case you’re “importing credentials”), there is no way for people to discover your awesome content.

The other way to get noticed on Clubhouse is if you are seen talking in rooms where other popular people are speaking. However, the format of Clubhouse means that you need to be invited to speak. If you don’t already have credentials, the likelihood that you’ll be “admitted on stage” when you raise your hand is low, and you get a small number of short intervals to make an impact.

Thus, if you are a “nobody”, unless you are incredibly lucky (and say some spectacular things in the few opportunities when you’re allowed to speak in popular rooms), there is NO WAY you can become a somebody. And that is a problem. And that means that Clubhouse will forever remain a “circlejerk” for people who have built their reputations elsewhere.

I’m not surprised that it has stopped holding my attention.

Sugar and social media

For the last one (or is it two?) weeks, I’ve been off all social media. For the last three weeks or so, until a friend baked a wonderful brownie on Wednesday, I was off sugars as well. And I find that my mind reacts similarly to sugar and to social media.

Essentially, the more frequently I’ve been consuming them, the more receptive my mind is to them. I’ve written this in the context of twitter recently – having been largely off Twitter for the last one month or so, I started enjoying my weekly logins less and less with time. Without regular use of the platform, there was no sense of belonging. When you were missing most of the things on the platform anyway, there was no fear of missing out.

So when I logged in to twitter two weekends back, I’d logged out within ten minutes. I haven’t logged in since (though this has since been coopted into a wider social media blackout).

It is similar with sugar. I’d written something similar to this eleven years back, though not to the same effect. Back then again (in the middle of what has been my greatest ever weight loss episode) I ran a consistent calorie deficit for two months, being strictly off sugars and fatty foods. After two months, when I tasted some sweets, I found myself facing a sugar high, and then being unable to have more sugars.

While I got back to sugars soon after that (massive weight loss having been achieved), I’ve periodically gone on and off them. I’m currently in an “off” period, though I’ve periodically “cheated”. And each time I’ve cheated I’ve felt the same as I did when I logged in to twitter – wondered what the big deal with sugar is and why I bother eating it at all.

Last Sunday it was my father-in-law’s birthday, and I broke my “no sugar” rule to eat a piece of his birthday cake. I couldn’t go beyond one piece, though. It was a mixture of disgust with myself and “what’s the big deal with this?” that I felt. It was a similar story on Tuesday, when I similarly couldn’t go beyond one piece of my daughter’s birthday cake (to be fair, it was excessively sweet).

On Wednesday, though, that changed. My friend’s brownie was delicious, and I ended up bingeing on it. And having consumed that much sugar, I continued thulping sugars for the next two days. It took some enormous willpower yesterday morning to get myself off sugars once again.

With social media that is similar. Whenever I go off it, as long as my visits back are short, I fail to get excited by it. However, every time I go beyond a threshold (maybe two hours of twitter in a stretch?) I’m addicted once again.

This may not sound like two many data points, but the moral of this story that I would like to draw is that social media is like sugar. Treat your social media consumption like you treat your consumption of sugar. At least if you’re like me, they affect your mind in the same way.

Twitter and bang-bang control

People who follow me on twitter must be aware that I’m prone to taking periodic sabbaticals from the platform. The reasons vary. Sometimes it’s addiction. Sometimes it’s the negativity. Sometimes it’s the outrage. Sometimes it’s the surfeit of information.

The period of the sabbaticals also vary. Sometimes it lasts barely a day. Sometimes a week. Sometimes even a few months. However, each time I end a twitter sabbatical, I promise myself that “this time I will use the platform in moderation”. And each time it doesn’t happen.

I go headlong into being addicted, feeding off all the positive and negative feelings that the platform sets off. I get sucked into looking for that one more notification of who has followed me, or who has said something to me.

And so it happens. In control theory they call this “bang bang control“. I’m either taking a sabbatical from Twitter, or spending half my waking hours on the platform. I’ve wondered why this happens, but until today I didn’t have the answer. Now I think I do.

As it happens I’m in the middle of yet another sabbatical. Unlike some of my earlier ones, I didn’t announce the sabbatical to the world. One night I simply logged off. However, it’s not a full sabbatical.

Once a week I log on to check messages and notifications. While I’m at it, I read a few tweets. Last weekend, I read tweets for an hour or so, and put out some tweets in that time as well. Earlier today, this process lasted ten minutes. I got bored.

I mean, some of the tweets were interesting. Some were insightful. I might have even read a tweetstorm or two. I surely clicked on 5-6 links, thus opening new tabs. But ten minutes later, there was nothing to the platform.

Maybe because I’ve tweeted sparingly in the last two weeks, there were no notifications. I’ve completely missed out on all the memes that have dominated twitter for the last one week but haven’t been big enough to make it to the Times of India (my main source for mainstream news).

I’ve possibly forgotten the personas I’ve built up in my head of people who I follow on Twitter but who I don’t know in real life – shorn of these personas their tweets have seemed inane.

Putting it another way, twitter has this massive feedback loop. The more time you spend on it, the more sense it makes. And so you spend even more time on it.

When you spend little time on Twitter, a lot of tweets don’t make sense  to you. Shorn of the context, they are simply meaningless. It is usually not possible to convey both meaning and context in 280 characters or less.

And that explains it. The positive feedback loop of the platform. When you use it sparingly, there is little base for the positive feedback to kick in. And so you can get bored. But spend a couple of hours on one day on the platform, and the positive loop starts kicking in.

And then addiction happens.

Signalling quality on Instagram ads

I have mentioned multiple times here before that I love Instagram advertising. I love that whatever Instagram learns from my likes (and not likes) on the platform, and through the various pixels that Facebook leaves all over the interwebs, gets used in showing me highly relevant advertising.

Rather, ever since I started using Instagram, I loved the advertising for its visual quality (that made it hard to distinguish if it was an advertisement or native content), and as things have gotten more relevant over time, I’ve started clicking through. And as I’ve started clicking occasionally, the advertising has become more relevant.

I’m sure some silicon valley marketer has some imagery about flywheels. I’m reminded of that hamster spinning this wheel when I’d gone to this animal farm near Bangalore last year.

In any case, I read this article about “the hard thing about easy things“. The basic theory, if I understand it right, is that by commoditising all the tools of production when it comes to direct to consumer selling, the business of direct to consumer selling has gotten that much harder.

The article goes on to say that unless the brand has a competitive advantage in manufacturing (or sourcing by any other means), it is pretty much impossible to make money off direct to consumer products – you struggle to repel the attack of the clones, and you have to spend increasing amounts of money on online marketing (through Google and Facebook).

While this makes sense (or not?) from an investment and entrepreneurship perspective, it got me wondering – as a consumer, how can I distinguish the quality direct to consumer products from those that have somehow simply managed to get into my feed?

Some advertising is like a peacock’s tail – it doesn’t signal any direct value about the brand being advertised. However, it signals that if the brand can afford to spend such huge amounts of money on this form of advertising, it ought to be a brand with sufficient spare cash flow that it is a good brand.

For example, when Vivo got title sponsorship of the IPL, it not only created awareness (which possibly existed thanks to its retail stores and advertising on Amazon) but also signalled that it is a “good brand” since it had bought prime advertising real estate.

Similarly, when a brand advertises on the SuperBowl, the actual dollars per eyeball may not make sense. However, when you add in the signalling value of having been there on SuperBowl (“if a brand can afford to advertise on SuperbOwl, it ought to be a good brand”), it starts making sense.

This works with a lot of mass media advertising. Front page of Times of India is premium because of peacock’s tail. Advertising in the IPL for the same reason. Perhaps similar with hoardings on the way out of airports. And booking prime time slots on popular television shows.

The problem with online advertising is that it is so targeted (and algorithmic) that this signalling effect goes away. Your instagram feed is like the Times of India where every page is similar to every other page.

From that perspective, it is hard to determine whether an advertisement represents a quality product when it appears on your Instagram timeline.

I bought Vahdam tea after someone recommended it to me on Twitter. I bought Paul and Mike’s chocolates after a friend wrote her appreciation for it on Instagram. When I started buying Blue Tokai coffee, I needed good coffee powder and was in the mood for exploration, but was helped by multiple friends and acquaintances vouching for it .

Marketing solely using digital means runs into this problem of not having the signalling effect. And that means you need to invest in “social” also, however you can imagine that to be. Then again, people have started seeing through “influencers”, like how they started seeing through “endorsements” a generation ago.

WhatsApp Export Chat

There was a tiny controversy on one WhatsApp group I’m part of. This is a “sparse” WhatsApp group, which means there aren’t too many messages sent. Only around 1000 in nearly 5 years (you’ll soon know how I got that number).

And this morning I wake up to find 42 messages (many members of the group are in the US). Some of them I understood and some I didn’t. So the gossip-monger I am (hey, remember that Yuval Noah Harari thinks gossip is the basis of human civilisation?), I opened up half a dozen backchannel chats.

Like the six blind men of Indostan, these chats helped me construct a picture of what had happened. My domain knowledge had gotten enhanced. However, there was one message that had made a deep impression on me – that claimed that some people were monopolising whatever little conversation there was on that group.

I HAD to test that hypothesis.

The jobless guy that I am, I figured out how to export a chat from WhatsApp. With iOS, it’s rather easy. Go to the info page of a chat or a group, and near “delete chat/group”, you see “export chat/group”. If you say you don’t want media (like I did), you get a text file (I airdropped mine immediately into my Mac).

The formatting of the WhatsApp export file is rather clean, making it easy to parse. The date is in square brackets. The sender’s name (or number, if they’re not in your contact list) is before a colon after the square brackets. A couple of “separate” functions later you are good to go (there are a couple of other nuances. If you can read R code, check mine here).

chat <- read_lines('~/Downloads/_chat.txt')
tibble(txt=chat) %>% 
separate(txt, c("Date", "Content"), '\\] ') %>%
separate(Content, c("Sender", "Content"), ': ') %>%
mutate(
Content=coalesce(Content, Date),
Date=str_trim(str_replace_all(Date, '\\[', '')),
Date2=as.POSIXct(Date, format='%d/%m/%y, %H:%M:%S %p')
) %>%
fill(Date2, .direction = 'updown') %>%
fill(Sender, .direction = 'downup') %>%
filter(!str_detect(Sender, "changed their phone number to a new number") ) %>%
filter(!str_detect(Sender, ' added ') & !str_detect(Sender, ' left')) %>%
filter(!str_detect(Sender, " joined using this group's invite link"))->
mychat

That’s it. You are good to go. You have a nice data frame with sender’s name, message content and date/time of sending. And as one of the teachers at my JEE coaching factory used to say, you can now do “gymnastics”.

And so for the last hour or so I’ve been wasting my time doing such gymnastics. Number of posts sent on each day. Testing the hypothesis that some people talk a lot on the group (I turned out to be far more prolific than I’d imagined). People who start conversations. Whether there are any long bilateral conversations on the group. And so on and so forth (this is how I know there are ~1000 messages on this group).

Now I want to subject all my conversations to such analysis. For bilaterals it won’t be that much fun – but in case there is some romantic or business interest involved you might find it useful to know who initiates more and who closes more conversations.

You can subject the conversations to natural language processing (with what objective, I don’t know). The possibilities are endless.

And the time wastage can be endless as well. So I’ll stop here.

I don’t know which 80%

Legendary retailer John Wanamaker (who pioneered fixed price stores in the mid 1800s) is supposed to have said that “half of all advertising is useless. The trouble is I don’t know which half”.

I was playing around with my twitter archive data, and was looking at the distribution of retweets and favourites across all my tweets. To say that it follows a power law is an understatement.

Before this blog post triggers an automated tweet, I have 63793 tweets, of which 59,275 (93%) have not had a single retweet. 51,717 (81%) have not had a single person liking them. And 50, 165 (79%) of all my tweets have not had a single retweet or a favourite.

In other words, nearly 80% of all my tweets had absolutely no impact on the world. They might as well have not existed. Which means that I should cut down my time spent tweeting down to a fifth. Just that, to paraphrase Wanamaker, I don’t know which four fifths I should eliminate!

There is some good news, though. Over time, the proportion of my tweets that has no impact (in terms of retweets or favourites – the twitter dump doesn’t give me the number of replies to a tweet) has been falling consistently.

Right now, this month, the score is around 33% or so. So even though the proportion of my useless tweets have been dropping over time, even now one in every tweets that I tweet has zero impact.

My “most impactful tweet” itself account for 17% of all retweets that I’ve got. Here I look at what proportion of tweets have accounted for what proportion of “reactions” (reactions for each tweet is defined as the sum of number of retweets and number of favourites. I understand that the same person might have been retweeted and favourited something, but I ignore that bit now).

Notice how extreme the graph is. 0.7% of all my tweets have accounted for 50% of all retweets and likes! 10% of all my tweets have accounted for 90% of all retweets and likes.

Even if I look only at recent data, it doesn’t change shape that much – starting from January 2019, 0.8% of my tweets have accounted for 50% of all retweets and likes.

This, I guess, is the fundamental nature of social media. The impact of a particular tweet follows a power law with a very small exponent (meaning highly unequal).

What this also means is that anyone can go viral. Anyone from go from zero to hero in a single day. It is very hard to predict who is going to be a social media sensation some day.

So it’s okay that 80% of my tweets have no traction. I got one blockbuster, and who knows – I might have another some day. I guess such blockbusters is what we live for.

Zoom in, zoom out

It was early on in the lockdown that the daughter participated in her first ever Zoom videoconference. It was an extended family call, with some 25 people across 9 or 10 households.

It was chaotic, to say the least. Family call meant there was no “moderation” of the sort you see in work calls (“mute yourself unless you’re speaking”, etc.). Each location had an entire family, so apart from talking on the call (which was chaotic with so many people anyways), people started talking among themselves. And that made it all the more chaotic.

Soon the daughter was shouting that it was getting too loud, and turned my computer volume down to the minimum (she’s figured out most of my computer controls in the last 2 months). After that, she lost interest and ran away.

A couple of weeks later, the wife was on a zoom call with a big group of her friends, and asked the daughter if she wanted to join. “I hate zoom, it’s too loud”, the daughter exclaimed and ran away.

Since then she has taken part in a couple of zoom calls, organised by her school. She sat with me once when I chatted with a (not very large) group of school friends. But I don’t think she particularly enjoys Zoom, or large video calls. And you need to remember that she is a “video call native“.

The early days of the lockdown were ripe times for people to turn into gurus, and make predictions with the hope that nobody would ever remember them in case they didn’t come through (I indulged in some of this as well). One that made the rounds was that group video calling would become much more popular and even replace group meetings (especially in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic).

I’m not so sure. While the rise of video calling has indeed given me an excuse to catch up “visually” with friends I haven’t seen in ages, I don’t see that much value from group video calls, after having participated in a few. The main problem is that there can, at a time, be only one channel of communication.

A few years back I’d written about the “anti two pizza rule” for organising parties, where I said that if you have a party, you should either have five or fewer guests, or ten or more (or something of the sort). The idea was that five or fewer can indeed have one coherent conversation without anyone being left out. Ten or more means the group naturally splits into multiple smaller groups, with each smaller group able to have conversations that add value to them.

In between (6-9 people) means it gets awkward – the group is too small to split, and too large to have one coherent conversation, and that makes for a bad party.

Now take that online. Because we have only one audio channel, there can only be one conversation for the entire group. This means that for a group of 10 or above, any “cross talk” needs to be necessarily broadcast, and that interferes with the main conversation of the group. So however large the group size of the online conversation, you can’t split the group. And the anti two pizza rule becomes “anti greater than or equal to two pizza rule”.

In other words, for an effective online conversation, you need to have four (or at max five) participants. Else you can risk the group getting unwieldy, some participants feeling left out or bored, or so much cross talk that nobody gets anything out of it.

So Zoom (or any other video chat app) is not going to replace any of our regular in-person communication media. It might to a small extent in the immediate wake of the pandemic, when people are afraid to meet large groups, but it will die out after that. OK, that is one more prediction from my side.

In related news, I swore off lecturing in Webinars some five years ago. Found it really stressful to lecture without the ability to look into the eyes of the “students”. I wonder if teachers worldwide who are being forced to lecture online because of the shut schools feel the way I do.

Yet another social media sabbatical

Those of you who know me well know that I keep taking these social media sabbaticals. Once in a while I decide that I’m spending too much time on these platforms, wasting both time and mental energy, and log off. Time has come for yet another such break.

I had a bumper day on twitter yesterday. I wrote this one tweet storm that went viral. Some 2000 plus retweets and all that. Basically I used some 15 tweets to explain Bayes’s Theorem, a concept that most people find really hard to understand.

For the last 24 hours, my twitter mentions have been a mess. I’ve tried various things – applying filters, switching from the native app to tweetdeck, etc. but I find that I keep checking my mentions for that dopamine rush that comes out of new followers (I have some 1500 new followers after the tweetstorm, including Chris Arnade of Dignity fame), new retweets and new likes.

And the dopamine rush is frequently killed by hate, as a tweetstorm like this will inevitably generate. I did another tweetstorm this morning detailing this hate – it has to do with the “two Overton Windows” post I’d written a couple of weeks ago.

People are so deranged that even a maths tweetstorm (like the one at the beginning of this post) can be made political, and you see people go on and on.

In fact, there is this other piece I had written (for Mint, back in 2015) that again uses Bayes’s Theorem to explain online flamewars. Five years down, everything I wrote is true.

It is futile to engage with most people on Twitter, especially when they take their political selves too seriously. It can be exhausting, and 27 hours after I wrote that tweetstorm I’m completely exhausted.

So yeah this is not a social media sabbatical like my previous ones where I logged off all media. As things stand I’m only off Twitter (I’ve taken mitigating steps on other platforms to protect my blood pressure and serotonin).

Then again, those of you who know me well know that when I’m off twitter I’ll be writing more here. You can continue to expect that. I hope to be more productive here, and in my work (I’m swamped with work this lockdown) as well.

I continue to be available on WhatsApp, and Telegram, and email. Those of you who have my email or number can reach me in one of those places. For everything else, there’s the “contact” tab on this blog.

See you more regularly here in the coming days!