What is Blockchain Technology?

How This Technology Will Transform Our Society

If you have followed the recent surge in the price of bitcoin, even starkly, you may have come across the term “blockchain”- the record-keeping technology of cryptocurrencies. Since 2009, technologies characterized as blockchain technologies have received growing interest in the general public discourse.

Blockchain, as open-source technology, offers an alternative to the traditional form of intermediary-based financial transactions. The intermediary is replaced by the collective decentralized verification ecosystem, offering a great degree of traceability, speed and security. This new form of digital record-keeping could revolutionize our society in ways we had not thought of before.

What is Blockchain?

Let me give you an analogy of how blockchain works: suppose I (a “node”) have a record of a financial transaction on my computer (a “ledger”). Ten government accountants (call them “miners”) have the same file on theirs as well (so it’s “distributed”). When I make a financial transaction, my computer sends a mail to each accountant and informs them. These accountants, then, rush to be the first to check whether my transaction was legible or not. And the first one to validate the transaction sends out the logic for verification to other accountants. Once the other accountants agree with the verification logic, it gets updated on my and other accountants’ computers. The accountant who first validates a transaction will earn a small amount for his/her efforts. This process is known as blockchain technology.

 

How Does Blockchain Work?

Blockchain is a decentralized, distributed public digital ledger consisting of records called blocks – linked to one another using cryptography. Each of these blocks contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. Anyone with internet access can look at the information within: it is open for everyone. Everyone has collective ownership of the record, but nobody (really) owns it, controls it, and manipulate it.

It is maintained by thousands of computers located all over the world in a distributed network. Anyone can add their computers to this network. In return, you receive payment for the service you provide. All the information in the record is permanent – and cannot be changed. All the computers on the network keep a transaction record to ensure this. If you want to hack the system, you would have to hack every computer on the blockchain network. New information can only be added to the system when all the computers signal their approval, which they do once they are satisfied with the proof of logic. 

How Did This Begin?

Suppose I go to a candy store and buy chocolates. I pay the shopkeeper a sum of money in return for the transaction. It is a direct transaction where the two parties exchange values with one another. Now, I have some money in my digital wallet. To spend that money, I will have to go through a middle man – in this case, a bank, PayPal, or a credit card company. For decades, computer scientists have been finding ways to replicate the direct, frictionless cash transaction digitally. As early as 1982, cryptographer David Chaum proposed a blockchain-like protocol with “computer systems established, maintained, and trusted by mutually suspicious groups.” But the first blockchain was conceptualized by an anonymous entity (a person or a group of people) known as Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. Nakamoto wrote: 

“A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution. Digital signatures provide part of the solution, but the main benefits are lost if a trusted third party is still required to prevent double-spending. We propose a solution to the double-spending problem using a peer-to-peer network. The network timestamps transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of hash-based proof-of-work, forming a record that cannot be changed without redoing the proof-of-work. The longest chain not only serves as proof of the sequence of events witnessed but proof that it came from the largest pool of CPU power. As long as a majority of CPU power is controlled by nodes that are not cooperating to attack the network, they’ll generate the longest chain and outpace attackers. The network itself requires minimal structure. Messages are broadcast on a best effort basis, and nodes can leave and re-join the network at will, accepting the longest proof-of-work chain as proof of what happened while they were gone.”

Instead of a bank or a financial intermediary to process and maintain the transaction and the record, Nakamoto proposed the same work to be processed by thousands of computers distributed across the bitcoin network in an open-sourced collaboration. The payment information – the wallet address, the amount, and the time – is added to the collective database known as the chain of information.

Money requires trust. Over many centuries, this trust was legitimized by sovereigns, treasuries, and the banks in god’s name. With the emergence of democratic institutions throughout the world, this legitimacy was transferred to the government. Blockchain works transparently by the mathematical and cryptographic proof has removed the need for that trust. It has enabled people to spend their digital cash directly without the need for a middle man. The first blockchain was a database on which every Bitcoin transaction was stored. 

How Will Blockchain Transform Our Society?

Blockchain is an open-source distributed database using state-of-art cryptography that facilitates collaboration and transparency in all transactions. Don Tapscott, co-author of the Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World, thinks, the “blockchain is the biggest innovation in computer science – the idea of a distributed database where trust is established through mass collaboration and clever code rather than through a powerful institution that does the authentication and the settlement.”

Blockchain technology will revolutionize the financial system soon. As more and more countries and financial institutions have realized that banning a decentralized digital currency is incomprehensible, they are moving towards regulations – thereby, reap the benefits of blockchain technology. Traditionally, data was stored within a relational, centralized database – an advanced excel spreadsheet. These databases have been vulnerable to hacks, manipulations, and data thefts. With blockchain technology, there will be no centralization, no data manipulation, and reduced data redundancy to a whole new level. You can send digital money to anyone, anywhere, without the need to wait for days for the receiver to receive the payment.

In February 2021, MasterCard has announced that it will provide its merchants with an option to receive payments in cryptocurrency later this year. The company also holds a patent application describing a blockchain-based database capable of instantaneously processing payments. The financial services industry is up for disruption. Several banking institutions have been adopting various blockchain technology for quick transactions, database maintenance, and financial transparency. 

The rise of digital health – the use of information and communication technologies in medicine – has also given a significant boost to blockchain technology. Blockchain will make it easier to treat health problems by radically improving the accuracy and availability of historical data on patients. By creating an accessible, permanent blockchain record, owned by you, you could instantly store the information about your ailments, allergies, and lifestyle choices. It will enable doctors to diagnose and treat their patients better. Another reason for healthcare providers to turn to blockchain technology is security.  A recent report published by Risk Based Security revealed that the healthcare industry faced 484 hacks in 2020, accounting for 12% of all last year’s breaches. With blockchain technology, the patients, doctors, and healthcare providers will gain access to the information securely. Factom, a health-focused company, helps store digital records that can be accessed only by hospitals and healthcare administrators.

The property market is a pretty messy business. It would take months of paperwork for one to buy a house. This tends to happen due to a lack of trust between different entities. With blockchain smart contracts, this laborious task of property transfer has become simpler and transparent. In the United Kingdom, a company called ClickToPurchase has been using this technology. According to Gartner, blockchain technology has already passed the peak of the hype cycle. And it has entered a period of disillusionment that enables the usage of blockchain technology in our everyday life. The social impact of blockchain technology has already begun. It may just be about time we see a society based on the revamped social contract – based on collaborated ownership. But it is still a long way to imagine blockchain technology become a part of everyday life. 


Picture: Aman Mishra on Medium

Who Controls My Data?

Data Privacy and Big Tech - Adarsh Badri

Big Tech and Data Privacy: The Way Forward

There is a saying, “when we get something for free, then we end up being the products.” In the age of information, all the clicks we’ve left behind — and would leave behind in future — are being (will be) used to analyze us, rate us, package us, and sell it back to us.

In a 2019 article, the New York Times outlined how each of us has “secret consumer scores”: hidden rating that determines how long we wait on hold when calling a business, and what type of service we receive. A Tinder algorithm of sorts — a low score sends you back the queue, and the high score will fetch you an elite treatment. The society we live in today is witnessing an enormous amount of data flow, and with it, a rampant surge in algorithm systems that make decisions for us without us knowing whether these decisions are fair for us or not.

How Does The Big-Tech Collect Our Data?

Big Techs, also known by the acronym ‘FAAMG’ (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google), are competing with one another to harvest as much data as they can and sell it to third-party applications and businesses. Big Techs have acquired extraordinary amounts of data on individuals through internet browsers, email, weather applications, maps, and satellite navigations. These firms document how we browse, what food we enjoy, where we buy our socks, which music soothes us, what movies we watch, where we travel and how we let the world know about it.

Google contains 4.14 GigaBytes of data on me. (Those who wish to download their Google data may use this link.) When you download a copy of your Google data, you will see a folder containing multiple subfolders, each containing multiple .json files.  In a folder labelled location history, Google kept a history of my monthly location data since 2016 — with great details about whether I was walking, or running, or tilting, or cycling, or in the vehicle, along with timestamps of the activity, location name, latitude and longitude.

Another folder recorded the ads I may have seen based on the websites I visited. In another, the files contained the details of the sites I have visited, images & videos I have searched for, apps I have opened and for how long. Even the recordings of my Google voice search are listed in yet another file, along with the date and time. This is not just a story of Google.

In the New York Times report, Facebook was charged with holding a lot of personal data on their databases. Instagram, along with its parent company Facebook, holds data on removed friends, phone book, blocked contacts, pictures, chat conversations, photos & videos sent and received, among other things. Instagram, of course, retains your search history to show targeted ads.

Even, Alexa is listening — carefully. According to a 2019 Bloomberg report, Amazon Inc. employs thousands of people to help the Alexa digital assistant powering Echo speakers. Amazon, however, claims that they use the users’ requests to Alexa to train their “speech recognition and natural language understanding systems.” While we, the users of web services, maybe generating enormous amounts of data, we have no control over it. In turn, the Big Techs constantly monitor how we produce data and then recreate us – our choices – to make us better products.

We’re in an era of data collection and surveillance — whether we opt for it or not in several instances. Panopticon, that is what Michel Foucault would have called it. To gain a competitive edge over others, these companies have been hungry for hyper-personalisation of user data. As a result, they want to know everything about a particular consumer (his/her needs, desires, and behaviours) to make useful recommendations. It is this quest for hyper-personalisation, that leads to misuse of user data. A classic case of data misuse?

Cambridge Analytica Scandal

In the early March of 2018, two leading newspapers The Guardian and The New York Times carried out a chilling report on how political consulting firm Cambridge Analyticathat worked for the Trump campaign, had harvested personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent to “build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box”.

The data was collected through an application called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan of Cambridge University. Kogan, in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, had paid hundreds of thousands of users to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use. However, the app also collected the data of test-takers’ Facebook friends, leading to the accumulation of unprecedented amounts of data.

Cambridge Analytica, according to some estimates, had harvested the private information of the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their consent, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social media’s history. The Cambridge Analytica Scandal was a clear expose of how third-party developers easily accessed user’s data, who in turn, sold it to companies that misused this information.

Now, we are in 2021. And since the 2018 Cambridge Analytica Scandal, user data privacy has become mainstream. These data privacy concerns have put Big Techs under the radar of privacy watchdogs.

In the last few years, we have seen (in many instances) how the Big Techs have mishandled consumer data or mined data without the user consent. Data privacy concerns do not just stop with personal privacy but encompass a wide array of issues related to what data protection means to democracy and who owns our data.

What Can We Do About Data Privacy?

Data privacy is centred around how data is collected, stored, managed, and shared with other third-party entities. It focuses on the individuals’ right to know the purpose of data collection, privacy preferences, as well as compliance with the privacy laws.

There are three ways of dealing with data privacy concerns – each interconnected and overlap with the other. At first, the onus of data privacy lies on the individual data users. On the personal front, we need to know what is personal to us and share the data only when necessary with entities we know we can trust.

When we open our emails, we should not click on links embedded in unsolicited emails as they may open an unsecured and harmful webpage. Always pay attention to the URL and ensure that it begins with “https://”, as “s” indicates that the URL is encrypted and secure. Do not give unnecessary access to cookies — and delete the cookies from your browser from time to time. These are some of the precautionary measures you (the users of data) may take while securing your data.

Secondly, we need our governments to take the necessary steps to regulate Big Tech and protect individual rights to data privacy. There’s GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation) 2018, in the European Union that gives more control to the individuals over the personal data. According to the law, the data controllers must not collect any personal data without the consent of the data subjects. And that they must disclose any data collection, declare its lawful basis and purpose, and state how long data is being retained and if it is being shared with any third parties, or outside of the EEA.

In 2020, California State of the United States legislated a new data privacy law i.e., CCPA (California’s Consumer Privacy Act) to enhance privacy rights and consumer protection for its residents. The law empowers its residents to know what personal data is being collected about them and/or whether it is sold to third-party entities, and request these business entities to delete the personal data of its consumers. The proposed Personal Data Protection Bill in India seeks to regulate the collection, storage, and handling of personal data. However, there are looming fears about how these laws might turn the country into an “Orwellian state” — as a result of an exemption for government bodies to access personal data. There is more regulation likely to come in 2021.

Third, we need to innovate newer ways of dealing with data products, with primacy to data privacy. For instance, in 2018 Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank piloted a card with dynamic CVV, where the card’s CVV changed after every 30 to 60 minutes. The dynamic CVV technology is created to fight card-not-present fraud that has been on the rise for years. In another example, we can see that passwords are replaced with cryptographic keys and multiple layers of biometrics.

Signal, a California-based messaging application, run by a not-for-profit organisation, offers users end-to-end encryption. Signal’s “Sealed Sender” feature makes conversations more secure as the platform cannot access private messages or media, or store them on their servers. While WhatsApp provides end-to-end encryption for messages, it can access other private information — another good reason to shift sides.

In another such innovation, Presearch is a decentralised, open-source search engine with enhanced privacy features. Built on the blockchain, Presearch rewards its users with PRE crypto tokens. They do not track or store any information or searches, as a result, the users control their data. On the similar lines, Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, has led an exciting project called “Solid” (derived from “social linked data”) that aims to radically change the way web applications work today and empower users of data, their freedom to choose where their data resides, and who is allowed to access it.

Solid is all about PODS – personal online data stores. Here, an individual has PODS in which all the personal data is stored. And you may choose to host the data wherever you may wish to. Instead of uploading data to remote services, the services are granted permission to access the data that lives in one of your PODS.

Interesting, isn’t it?


Picture: Yang Jing on Unsplash

Can We Separate Art From the Artist?

separate the art and artist

As I was strolling around the art faculty of Delhi University, I encountered two of my coursemates — intensely — conversing about the dilemma in the separation of art from the artist. I joined along. One of them pointed out that Woody Allen is a gifted director and also a sex offender. In that case, “Would you still choose to watch Manhattan?”

To which, I said: “Yes, absolutely.” After much deliberation on this ethical dilemma, I’ve come to believe that there is no one absolute answer.

#MeToo Movement

The historical #MeToo movement, which gained momentum in 2017, has thrown a spotlight into the men-of-art and their unlicensed abuse of power to sexually molest and harass others. Roman Polanski assaulted a minor; Harvey Weinstein predated women; R. Kelly was videotaped having sex and urinating on a minor; Woody Allen was accused of molesting his adoptive daughter; Pablo Picasso has molested and hurled abuses at women all his life; and so forth. However, each of these morally-repugnant-individuals has produced works that marvel the spectators for ages. 

Polanski’s movie The Pianist is one of the most illustrious depiction of the world war and human emotions. Or Woody Allen’s 1977 release Annie Hall is an aesthetical representation of romance and comedy. Or Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica embodies the most powerful critique of war. As a result of complexity emanating due to the impact, the art has on the spectators’ emotions, and the unjustifiable actions of the artist, it becomes an intrinsic ethical dilemma. The question is: Can we separate art from its artist? The art-artist conundrum has found two — conflicting — poles of opinions. Those who believe that art could be separated from artist argue that art is something meaningful and it needs to be embraced. And the artist needs to be condemned or punished, not as a creator of the art, but as an individual who has committed the crime. They argue that you can be a bad guy and still create good art. So here, they believe, art isn’t an issue, but the actions of the artist are.

The Death of The Author

One of the most profound arguments comes from the postmodernist school of thought. For some of them, the artist wasn’t just separate from the art, but the artist was dead. Roland Barthes titled his declaration in the form of “The Death of the Author” in 1967. The author doesn’t create a text, Barthes argued, but the reader by reading it. Using his premise, one can argue, every time spectators encounter an art, they make it new, in a way that the artist no longer controls a definitive, final interpretation. One of the colleagues at my university explains: “The art provokes emotions and the artist no longer is a party to those emotions.” As a result, supporting/appreciating art is not equivalent to encouraging/endorsing the actions of the artist.

Art As The Product of Social Privileges

Those who believe that art cannot be separated from art, argue: “Art doesn’t exist in its own altruistic, alternate universe.” It is a product of societal privileges. As Maria Gracia, a senior editor of The ARTery writes, “The art that we uphold as genius or indispensable from human history is also of this world — tethered to and a product of existing systems of power, like capitalism and white supremacy.”

To put it bluntly, sales of the art directly benefit the artists. Watching Kevin Spacey directly benefits him. Reading William Goulding directly benefits him. Buying a DVD of a Woody Allen movie directly benefits him. Thus, individual artists and their art are a part of a collective whole defining our socio-economic transactions. Writer Roxanne Gay in her essay “Can I Enjoy the Art but Denounce the Artist?” argues that we should not overlook an artist’s sins and not separate the art from the artist. She writes, “We can no longer worship at the altar of creative genius while ignoring the price all too often paid for that genius.” As Jacob Kuppermann puts it: “By creating a culture that excuses the misdeeds of the powerful, talented or rich, we make it harder for their victims, from fellow celebrities to anonymous teenagers, to retain their dignity in society.”

Individual’s Proximity and The Art 

Broadly speaking, we elicit three divergent responses to the art-artist conundrum: Yes. No. And it’s complicated. I propose that each of these responses emanate from two parameters. One, the individual’s proximity to the victim and the cause. Two, the individual’s affinity to the artist and the art. Let’s suppose, I like listening to an artist who is also a sex-offender. Here, my three plausible scenarios would be: First, if I like the music and I do not have as much proximity with the victim, I would certainly choose to say, “We can separate art from the artist”. Second, if I have propinquity towards the victim, or am sympathetic to their cause, then, I would abandon listening to the artist altogether. In that case, one can argue that we cannot separate art from the artist. In the third scenario, where I like the art and am sympathetic towards the victim and their cause, I am more likely to be stuck in a dilemma. “How can the artist do this?” In a situation like that, I am more likely to listen to music while also feeling guilty about it. Therefore, it’s complicated. Thus, the answer to the art-artist conundrum is deeply personal. There is no way to produce a collective moral standard to arrive at a conclusive distinction between art and the artist. That being said, we can also not sufficiently establish that the artist is what provides value to the art. In the art-artist conundrum, it’s the individuals that hold a moral compass for themselves while arriving at an answer. And there may be no answer to this debate.


Image: David Giesbrecht/Netflix 

We Don’t Need No Thought Control

education-thought control

Pink Floyd, Education, and Modernity

— Adarsh Badri, Vivin Nair

‘We Don’t Need No Education’ — a catchy first-line of a Pink Floyd’s 1979 release of ‘The Wall’ became an instant hit spanning multiple boundaries and reaching an audience that had never heard of the band before. The popularity of the album reached new heights with the release of “Another Brick in the Wall (Part-II)” in the early 1980s so much that numerous schools had to issue a ban on the song.

Roger Waters, a lead bassist and lyricist of the band, wrote the three-part song lyric, expressing his personal experiences in the form of a story of a character called Pink. The song did not only capture the reality of educational institutions but also deep-seated human beliefs and the authoritative institutionalisation of individuals.

The essence of the song could be captured in “We don’t need no thought control,” which expresses rebellion towards the school education and its indoctrination and conformity towards a rigid, predefined path of learning and knowledge. And such an institutional indoctrination makes us just “another brick in the wall.” Much of these ideas echo Orwellian sentiment towards a system that constantly feeds you with what to think and feel.

In the work, Pink Floyd and the Philosophy, George A. Reisch succinctly puts forth: “It is not an attack on education per se.” It was an attack on certain teachers, who torment their students with ridicule. And it is an attack on education when it becomes indistinguishable from ‘thought control.’ For instance, in a subject of History, the teacher becomes a tool of production of correct citizens – the ones that hold ‘right’ opinions and ‘patriotic’ beliefs – that do not question the status quo. It is in this context, Norman Douglas wrote: “Education is a state-controlled manufactory of echoes.”

Modernity and Education

With the “Birth of Modernity,” the school system began to introduce a certain form of mannerism. It taught the students ways to express the most profound human emotions, developed a new standard of behaviour – where self-discipline over desires and emotions became a civilised form of conduct. The enlightenment project gave the modern world the pedagogy of learning, which established a uniform grading-system, a certain doctrine of teaching-learning, merit, and the examinations.

In the words of Dennis O’Keeffe, “Modernity is the combination of capitalism and democracy. Its economic core is based on property rights, which mobilise the organisation of resources. It also requires mass education to select intellectual talent for a complex division of labour.” As a result, our education system tends to create individuals that are suited to benefit the capitalist structure. In the process, the school system indoctrinates us into what makes a good student and a bad one.

All-day long, the students do nothing, but follow instructions – solve so and so questions, add these numbers, multiply the other, do your homework, and stop talking. The industrial-age mentality of mass production and mass control is deep-seated in our school system. At schools, one is awarded for doing exactly as you are taught.

As children, our aspirations are destroyed to fit in a system that our society deems us to be. In the process, a child is taught to learn alphabets as A-for-Apple, B-for-Ball, C-for-Cat, instead of A-for-Apple, B-for-Big Apple, C-for-Custard Apple, for an Apple loving child. The creativity of a child is suppressed in such an education system. The students have become products in a factory – with labels of a good product and a bad product –  that are evaluated by a standard grading system.

Educated Subjects of The Society

In his work, The One World Schoolhouse, Sal Khan refers to a phenomenon known as “Swiss-cheese gaps.” We are taught multiple subjects in our prime days of schooling that we never really learn anything inquisitively. When a child is taught multiple subjects at school, he might show interest in a particular subject more than the other. Since the evaluation is based on ‘a minimum score’ required to pass, the student may end up only learning things in bits and pieces. The students have been constantly pushed ahead regardless of their mastery over a topic. And when this process is continued for several years, all the knowledge that a student might have acquired makes little sense.

Examinations – a mechanism that evaluates what gets written, how it gets written, and how not to write something – legitimises such an education and the values associated with it. The education system based on inauthentic rote learning, staying up all night to memorising useless facts that are forgotten the next day, and evaluating children based on their test scores is an acutely inhumane exercise. Thus, some children are tagged as dumb and others are praised as intelligent.

We are all a product of such a system. A system that judges a fish by its ability to climb a mountain. It rigidly curtails one’s interests, their ability to critically think, and propose a pre-defined path that most likely result in ‘another brick in the wall.’

The society we live in is changing rapidly, but our education system hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years. It is mired by an industrial-age mentality of churning out factory workers. However, we live in an Information Age. In the era of rapid unabated information flow, our education system also needs to tailor to individual needs and interests.

In the years that follow, there is a need for an education that is digitised, automated, interactive and individual-centric – with the pace of the learner. There has to be an increased encouragement towards peer-to-peer learning in the school system. Ceteris paribus, we don’t need no education that controls our thoughts.


Disclaimer: Adarsh Badri is a Masters student at the University of Delhi, and an author of a forthcoming book, the ‘Republic of Reservation’. Vivin Nair is an alumnus of the London School of Economics, and a Smart City Fellow with Government of India.

Happiness in the Unknowns

happiness in strangers

We live in crazy times. These days, social realities are generated in the virtual world. An era of snappy chatter applications – Tinder, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and House-party – where one finds happiness in strangers. Today’s generation would not be able to imagine life without the internet. Life before Facebook and Snapchat has ceased to exist in our lived realities. Life without a gaze at mobile-screen would seem as dull as the glance at a starless gloomy sky.

An Era of Social Media

We live in an era where real space is shrinking like never before. A decade ago, if one were asked whether they would talk to a stranger on Facebook, the answer would have an induced element of scepticism. In today’s world, we meet people and un-meet them within a few seconds. Instagram grapples with our narcissistic-self and inordinate confidence. It is where lies become truth, relationships are prefect, family members are blocked, and everyone shows off the best of their lives. All through the day, we would scroll through the feed, and feel real.

As much as, we enjoy sliding into the messages of others, we are also dealing with our inability to access a reality. We are, therefore, attempting to feel happy in the virtual world. You know how it goes: you slide into a DM of a person that you would like to talk to and begin your wait game. Even as you expect a ‘hi’ from the other end, you do not feel a thing about it. Within those 10 minutes of exchange of words, you open up about your personal, detailed stories about how your life should be. Half an hour into the conversation, you are expressing your melancholy about how your partners cheated on you, and what you did about it. And so on.

Finding Solace in Strangers 

Realities have faded into an unexpected desire for the unknowns. In our quest to enjoy our virtual reality, we open up to the unknowns so much that we surrender our selves. To the unknowns, we convey our darkest fantasies, miserable ecstasy, and sad desires. We create stories for them about our lives that exist only in the imaginations. You convey to them, how much you hate your so-and-so friends. How much you would want to sleep with an erudite physics professor, who, you had until then restricted to your dreams. For the unknowns, we create realities and recreate them, just so they meet their perfect passion.

Why would we tell anything to the ones we do not know?

One reason would be that we cease to have any expectations from people that do not know us. We also feel secure for the reason that we do not know them or intend to know them. As a result, our insecurities are hidden in a toolbox that we would never wish to open. It is in this context, Malcolm Gladwell writes, “Sometimes the best conversations with strangers allow the stranger to remain a stranger.” The unknowns become our tool to deal with reality as it exists.

Keep Thy Stranger As A Stranger

Even as I began inquiring as to why one finds it easier to talk to the unknowns, someone on Instagram said, “Every new stranger will evoke a new identity in individuals. As a result, with every new stranger, a fresh identity of self is formed.” Someone else replied, “It enables you to explore a different surrounding and upbringing.” The stranger is like a clean slate. You can draw any version of yourself. A good friend of mine, wrote to me: “We find comfort in talking to a stranger, because, we can pretend to be someone we are not. And as humans, we have grown desperate and lonely. Thus, we will try and mould ourselves into someone that the stranger likes.”

It is crazy how much we love talking to the unknowns than our own friends. Unknowns don’t judge us; even when they do, we don’t care. If the Bible were to be reproduced, “Thou shalt love thy stranger as thyself,” would surely find its place. However, Matthew would have cautioned us in the next verse, “Keep thy stranger as a stranger.” With the unknowns, we always have an option of unknowing them. We could vent-out all day long, everything we want, and have a veto over the ‘block clause’. If the creeps come your way in the form of unknowns, which is far more likely, the block-option is a touch away.

We seek happiness in the unknowns. We tend to find another us in them. Or know how the other is different from us. Thus, a stranger always contains an element of surprise, rather a pleasant discomfort. We tend to portray our life as it exists or as we wished it to be. Through, such an exercise, we are put a smile on our faces and reserve our realities for the ones we know.