The Internet can bring instant fame, and no editorial checks in the way!

The dating site invites you to characterise the sludge of your personality as honey to attract the equally dishonest bees.

“ I grew with sounds of celebration in my ears
The temple bells, the aazaan's call to prayer.
Or were these expressions of human fears
Of oblivion and knowing there's nothing there?”
From The Precarious Acts of Balan Singh by Bachchoo

Pity the poor planet, all modesty gone from this sweet volcanic cone. The blog, the selfie, the ubiquitous, absorbing phone….. (Gosh, my poetic talents emerge in this decrepit age fd. Get on with it! -Ed.)

My versification, gentle reader was prompted by the adjectives-fail-me-fact that Iain Duncan Smith, the former minister for welfare in the British government, has posted a selfie which depicts him donating a packet of dried pasta to a food bank. This fellow, popularly known as IDS, was responsible for the Tory “reform” of Welfare, which has resulted in swathes of the British population not having enough food to eat and resorting for survival to these food banks run through charitable donations. The hutzpah, the shame!

Several other Conservative MPs, oblivious to the irony of their self-regarding charitableness, have tweeted pictures of themselves donating cans of beans or whatever to the Christmas collections of their local food banks. Season of publicising your vanity!

Or perhaps the technological advances of the last two decades have made the season perennial. On any underground train in London you see the majority of passengers either applying their eye shadow or face-paint looking into their hand-mirrors and applying spittle to their eyebrows, or they are talking through or staring at their phones. Not that in the recent or distant past, very many people on British trains approached you with conversation.

There is that moving fictional scene in the recent film about Winston Churchill, villain though he is to us Indians, when he is told by fellow passengers on the train to stand up to Hitler. He modestly takes their advice and sends millions into World War II.

Technological advance has put an end to modesty all over the world. “Me too”, apart from the phrase characterising people who identify as having been sexually coerced or abused, should be the epitaph of the age. How quickly things change. Bloggers, influencers, self-styled philosophers, self-published writers and of course people who think the world or even some part of it will be fascinated by the antics of their pets, by what they ate for breakfast or where they happened to be at the weekend. The concept of triviality has been banished and we live in a desert of significances.

There used to be a proverbial British reserve. Not that long ago (the years pass quickly as you get on), I went to a party for some significant anniversary of a BBC radio programme. A tall, white-haired distinguished gentleman approached me as I reached for a glass of wine at the bar and asked if I had come with Vidia Naipaul. I said, yes, I had driven him there. The gentleman then asked if I was a writer also and I said I was, of sorts. I was impelled to ask him the same question.

“No, no,” he said, “I'm a soldier.”
“Ah, “I said and before I could ask him anything else, he turned to other guests who came up and solicited his attention.
I walked back to where Vidia was sitting.
“What were you talking to Lord Guthrie about?” Vidia asked.
“Lord Guthrie, the commander-in-chief of the British armed forces!”
“Yeah,” I said, (I euphemise). “He said he was a soldier'!”

Such modesty is a thing of the past. Millions are asked to describe themselves on the numerous internet dating sites. Do they tell the narcissistic truth? Has there been ever before, apart from the Catholic confessional which demands a repertoire of one's failings, a forum of self-assessment? The dating site invites you to characterise the sludge of your personality as honey to attract the equally dishonest bees.

Is it derogatory to characterise the lonely love-hunter as a bee in quest of doctored honey? Perhaps, and I apologise. But what of the locusts who descend on historical sites with no inkling of, or curiosity, about who built the Qutub Minar, what it replaced and what it signified. They come to snap their selfies. The ephemeral moment with their smiling selves displaces the history that marks the spot. History doesn't endure. The selfie does.

Perhaps it's true that all scribblers through the ages, from Shakespeare to the meanest columnist (Ah! Self-awareness at last Ed.) write partly for the money and partly for the egotistic enterprise of having one's verbal creation out there. But all these, from the above-mentioned playwright to the reptilians of the daily press, have been conventionally subject to editorial scrutiny and approval. They have to pass some test of efficiency and relevance.

Not so with the blogger or the lifestyle guru. These may not do it for any money and are entirely motivated by gathering the gullible to their fold. Millions of these efforts are probably harmless and allow the blogworthy to boast about the 20 or 20,000 followers they have gathered. Others, urging people to kill and maim in the name of some cause and gathering just as many impressionable frustrates, are dangerous. Efforts to deny them access to publication through the ether have never been vigorous and have manifestly failed.

A friend of mine attends international conferences which discuss making the Internet, the greatest leap forward in the history of the dissemination of knowledge, safe from such criminal enterprise. He is sceptical about the determination with which the platforms that carry this venom want to stamp it out. There are very many other abuses of the new technology which are less serious: The erosion of the editorial function making no distinction between the pornography of Fifty Shades of Grey and literature, the invasion of individual privacy, the manipulation of voting intentions, the vulnerability of children to sexual exploitation, Donald Trump being freely allowed to tweet...!

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