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Ground Control to Major Tom

I am an introvert. And perhaps the only consolation to knowing that I am one was to realise it way early in life. I might have been 8 or 9 years old when I knew that planning and organising social gatherings is neither my forte nor my interest. I attended some but found myself analysing 5 minutes in, that without the right company I could be doing basically anything else. 

So I do remember what transpired when social media was born back in the early 2000s. It started with Facebook and Orkut, and it was new and shiny at the time. I created an account on both and it dawns on me there was a reason socialising was tough let alone when a man sitting in a garage seems to want to play mediator. It was odd as we went from a world where people introduced people to an application introducing people to us. Somehow and successfully so, we all joined the bandwagon and started using algorithms to make life connections. 

When I was much younger, making friends and being a part of someone’s life happened if their parents were friends with yours or if you were in the same school or same class. It would happen because you liked a sport or played games that you collectively enjoyed. You enjoy too, come along! It was complex even then as not everyone strikes that connection. If you don’t, you simply lose connection and for the most part won’t know what’s happening in their life. Today, the story is different. We might bump into people’s lives online while not speaking to them in 10 years. So we can have 500 friends whose lives are on display like a PEPSI commercial, but you speak to exactly 3 of them. 

What I was completely missing is what would happen in the decade that followed. Let me illustrate. 

For the process we have all embarked on, the supposed perks are few. To this, the social media platforms became creators' platforms. And yes, Linkedin too is taking part. Humans create, right? They create content, a tapestry of all human interests for the world to see and appreciate. Not really.

The content we create is pegged against each other, it is pegged against global conglomerates and their agendas, but most shockingly the very portal that is asking you to create is entirely against creation unless it fits a predetermined template.

Since stepping away from social media six months ago, I've identified the primary culprit that persists in all corners except TikTok, which we've happily left behind: short-form video content. It's a deceptive beast. This format has infiltrated every platform, engaging a wide array of creators—from acquaintances and strangers to those we idolise—each contributing their brief takes on everything from political viewpoints to Timothy Chalamalabingbong’s latest hairstyle. It's both exhaustingly omnipresent and frighteningly addictive.

A peculiar aspect of this new content form is its eclectic nature. It doesn't strictly adhere to your previous likes or interests. Instead, it offers a mishmash of content, akin to an all-you-can-eat buffet. And just like at a buffet, you indulge with enthusiasm only to find yourself oddly unsatisfied. The insidious part about short-form content, as opposed to settling in for a Netflix documentary, is the illusion of minimal time investment. Yet, before you know it, those minutes have swiftly accumulated.

This phenomenon reminds me of a now-defunct website called StumbleUpon. On your initial visit, you'd select your interests—a standard procedure. But what followed was captivating. StumbleUpon would whisk you away to various corners of the internet based on those interests, from a boutique bag shop in Barcelona to an engaging orca hunting video. The unifying feature across these disparate sites was the StumbleUpon toolbar, allowing you to bookmark pages that caught your fancy. It was a novel concept, revealing content and creators I never would have discovered through a standard Google search. This platform offered a level playing field, from giants like Amazon to independent creators invisible in the vast sea of Google search results. It was, to my recollection, a fairer world where content creators stood a chance.

Now, it seems the digital landscape is driven by a singular motive: money. Let's not kid ourselves; it has always been about money. But now, the pursuit is relentless, and I've recently parted with my rose-colored glasses.

On that note, I am sure most of us remember when Amazon came to India. It was definitely after the Amazon books era that was the start of the company in its home country. However, one thing that has always stayed with me is why books? Especially in a world which was moving away from reading as much as it once did or at least that was the aim.

The agenda was simple. Books are the innocent and age no bar item that sells globally. Even if it didn’t get Bezos out of the garage quick enough, it did one better. 

Throughout literary history, authors from JK Rowling to Mark Twain have navigated the challenging waters of publishing, where the fate of their works—and the financial rewards thereof—rested in the hands of publishing houses. Traditionally, if fortune favoured them, authors might enjoy royalties. 

Into this complex landscape stepped Amazon, wielding influence like a double-edged sword: it required publishers to pay for their books' visibility on its platform, promising unparalleled global reach. This, in turn, pressured publishers to impose upon their authors the belief that their futures lay within Amazon’s shifty definition of a 'bestseller'. Kindle disrupted the status quo by setting the price of both bestsellers and classics at $9.99, enticing authors, creators, and publishers with the promise of worldwide domination while they slowly realised that they will get nothing. This unfolding reality saw Amazon emerging as the predominant force, commanding up to 90% of the book market, both online and offline. Further entrenching its dominance, Amazon mandated DRM (Digital Rights Management) for its books, restricting readers to Kindle devices or physical purchases from Amazon, a move that legally limited book accessibility. The Kindle ecosystem—a notion as pervasive as it was controversial, doesn't get nearly as much flak as Apple's iPod when it revolutionised music ownership with a model based on payment and digital downloads, giving a deceptive semblance of legal possession. This strategy built the skeptical world we know now and do little about still. Once this model worked, Amazon worked relentlessly to affect the market from all other products between A to Z. How can you be sure of this?

Typing "" into your browser underscores Jeff's ambition with an almost smug certainty. 

Who suffers in this scenario? Writers, poets, artists, designers, photographers, and creators of all kinds have been facing challenges through the beginning of time and realising that AI is only the newest contender.


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