Look before you leap!

Yesterday, I received the following email forward, which has also been circulating on WhatsApp:

SUB: TRUE STORY ABOUT RACISM

I’m sure many of you watched the recent taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show where her guest was Tommy Hilfiger. On the show, she asked him if the statements about race he was accused of saying were true. Statements like “If I’d known African-Americans, Hispanics, Jewish and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice. I wish these people would not buy my clothes, as they are made for upper class white people.”

His answer to Oprah was a simple “YES”, where after she immediately asked him to leave her show.

There is a suggestion emerging from this incident – Don’t buy your next shirt or perfume from Tommy Hilfiger.
Let’s give him what he asked for. Let’s not buy his clothes, let’s put him in a financial state where he himself will not be able to afford the ridiculous prices he puts on his clothes. BOYCOTT TOMMY HILFIGER. Stop buying any range of their products like perfumes, cosmetics, clothes, bags, etc.
Let’s pass this message to non-white people and see the result of unity. Let’s find out if we ‘Non-Whites’ really do play such a small part in the world.

If you are against racism, please spread this message to all your like-minded friends.

I was pretty sure that this was a piece of fiction, but for some reason, I decided to find out more about this matter. I searched for Oprah Winfrey Tommy Hilfiger on Google.

Memorable Guests Follow-Ups on oprah.com says:
“For more than 10 years a vicious rumor has circulated about Oprah and clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger. When it first surfaced, Oprah went on the air to deny the rumor and to say that he’d never even been on the show, and the rumor seemed to die.

But recently it has found new life on the Internet.”

After reproducing an email forward very similar to the one I received, the text of Oprah interviewing Tommy Hilfiger has been presented, in which Tommy Hilfiger states that, prior to the ongoing interview, he has never been on The Oprah Winfrey Show and he would never say such a thing. Fortunately for him, his friends, family and people who work with him did not believe the rumour.

It is not known who started this rumour and why. It is also not known to what extent Tommy Hilfiger’s business business was affected by this rumour.

Email, WhatsApp and SMS are often used to spread true information, jokes, etc.. However, sometimes they are used to spread rumours, like the one about Tommy Hilfiger, which is totally fictitious, or like The Tale of the Arab, which has facts twisted slightly to paint a completely different picture of the truth. These rumours could have an adverse impact on the organisations or groups which they target, but damage control is possible.

However, there could be situations where ordinary people are badly affected by rumours which are spread by emails, WhatsApp and SMS. Rumour is villain in Bangalore describes how nearly 15,000 people from north-east India left Bangalore for their home states on August 15 and 16, 2012 following false rumours spread by internet and SMS. These rumours may have been started by mischief-mongers, but ‘forwarders’ may have played a role in making them spread like wild fire. The ‘forwarders’ obviously gained nothing, but nearly 15,000 innocent people suffered.

If people have the time to read an email forward or a text message, surely they can spare the few minutes needed to verify the actual facts before forwarding the same email forward or text message. Surely, they can look before they leap.

Smart phones, stupid users?

A couple of weeks back, a close friend, who now lives abroad, telephoned me because he had suddenly realised that we had not had any one-to-one interaction for almost a year. While speaking, it struck us that the fact that we regularly received information about each other through Facebook prevented us from realising that we had not really communicated with each other for such a long time. My friend jokingly suggested that, if our one-to-one communication does not improve soon, we should ‘unfriend’ each other on Facebook!

Something more serious happened last Friday. At about 10.00 pm, a friend, who lives about 750 kilometres away, sent me and a few dozen friends scattered all over the country a text message, giving us the sad news that a common friend had passed away that afternoon. Less than 2 minutes from the moment he started composing the SMS, the information had reached all of us.

While marvelling at how technology has made it so simple, quick and inexpensive for people to share information, I was hit by the realisation that the friend who had passed away and I had never met each other for about 5 years, even though we had been living in the same city and our residences were only a few kilometres apart. We had bumped into each other a few times at professional or social gatherings, and had spoken briefly over phone maybe twice a year. On each occasion, our brief conversation had ended with one person saying something like, “It’s been a while since we’ve had a long chat. Let’s meet up one day at my place or yours,” and the other replying with something like, “Yes, we should do that sometime soon”. However, the good intentions remained just good intentions. Looking back, I realise that the fact that we were accessible to each other over mobile phone gave us the wrong impression that we were ‘in touch’. I recall that, some years back, when mobile phones had not been heard of, and neither of us had a telephone at home, this friend and I would meet each other at reasonably regular intervals. It appears that access to landlines and mobile phones had made my late friend and me inaccessible to each other.

I have often seen people at restaurants or at social gatherings engrossed in texting/emailing (or surfing the net or playing games) on their phones instead of conversing with their companions. Sometimes, I’ve wondered whether they’re texting each other!

Technology has made the world a smaller place, but have we inadvertently allowed it to create a distance between people?

I must clarify that I am certainly not against technology. Mobile phones, internet, email, Facebook, etc. have definitely helped improve not just communication, but the quality of day-to-day life. For example, many things, like booking air, train and bus tickets or payment of electricity and telephone bills, can now be done online at any time of the day, but till a few years back, each of these activities was a time-consuming process, which one had to do personally at the office concerned or pay somebody to do. To cite another example, I have myself used Google and Facebook to locate many friends with whom I had lost touch after our school/college days, similar to what is shown in this Google advertisement. This would have been impossible in the pre-internet days. In fact, this blog post has reached you because of technology!

However, I certainly think that many of us are so obsessed with technology, perhaps addicted to it, that we have allowed it to make an adverse impact on our lives.

A friend of mine once joked, “Phones have become smart, but users have become stupid!” I wonder if he was unintentionally stating the truth.