Book Reviews
Book Review of 'Contagious: Why Things Catch On'
Theory of Social Virality. Why certain ideas spread quickly
 
Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point came out in 2000. The book attempted to explain how social epidemics are spread by a small number of special people, who he calls mavens, connectors and salesmen. It was an instant hit. Except that, according to Jonah Berger, Gladwell’s thesis is not quite correct. More important than the messenger, Berger argues, is the message. Berger, who teaches marketing at the Wharton School, has identified six factors that make anything go viral for which he has created an acronym, STEPPS, derived from the first letter of each of these factors. These stand for:
 
Social Currency: Just as people need money to buy things, they need social currency to impress others or simply share. Snapple, a beverage, started putting surprising trivia under the bottle cap which would be visible after you open the bottle. (Fact#12 Like Kangaroos cannot walk backwards). The idea is to give user talking points of experience to share easily.
 
Triggers: Frequent, preferably timely, reminders of the product or the idea. For example: ‘coffee with Kit Kat’ reminded people of Kit Kat each time they reached for coffee, boosting sales of a flagging brand. Cheerios, the cereal, is boring. Disney World is exciting. But Cheerios gets more word-of-mouth publicity than Magic Kingdom simple because so many more people eat the cereal every day than those who go to Disney World. Contrary to conventional wisdom, interesting does not always beat boring. 
 
Emotion: This is the obvious one. Human beings, in fact, react with emotions first. But not all emotions lead them to share, making things catch on. Some studies have shown only those emotions that lead to physiological arousal led to greater sharing. For instance, sadness does not lead to more sharing but anger, humour and awe do.
 
Public: A highly visible item that advertises itself. For example: white earphones launched by Apple or the distinctive tubular cans of Pringles. When Steve Jobs put the Apple logo on the computer lid, he debated whether the logo should look ‘right-side up’ for the user or the onlookers. Putting it the correct way for the onlooker would mean that the logo would look upside down for the user when the lid was closed. He decided that ‘observability’ to the world was more important even if it looked upside down for the user.
 
Practical Value: This is another obvious factor. Features of great practical value lead people to share more. This is why five ways to lose weight and 10 dating tips for the New Year always get shared and clicked. 
 
Stories: Narratives are more engrossing than facts. We all know that ads carry a lot of information but are not credible. Therefore, you need stories which may provide the same, or even less, information but in a highly engaging fashion.
 
As expected, the book is full of examples of what works. Thanks to digital data being available, many are backed by objective analysis. For instance, what kinds of articles are shared the most? A study the author conducted of the most e-mailed articles from The New York Times showed that stories about health and education were among the highest-shared because of their practical value while, and contrary to what you think, it is not music, films or fashion that always goes viral. Even articles on science do because they “frequently chronicle innovations and discoveries” that evoke a feeling of awe (emotion). 
Contagious is not a new book; but it is one of those that explain a social trend based on individual and collective behaviour and, therefore, worth discussing. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (2007) has similar ideas. 
 
However, Berger is being disingenuous when he claims, “Anyone can use it (STEPPS). It doesn’t require a huge advertising budget, marketing genius, or some sort of creativity gene.” By following the STEPPS, he claims, “You can make any product or idea contagious.”
 
Ultimately, like all books based on inductive logic (cherry-picked evidence leading to theory), this book’s theory too faces the problem of failing to explain phenomena that it chooses not to explain. How on earth did the Korean pop star Psy’s wacky, tuneless horse-dance video, Gangnam Style, manage to rack up more than 1.3 billion views on YouTube? You wonder which of the six STEPPS worked here? None. Clearly, there is more to theory of viral-ity than Berger has hit upon.  

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Blackout days ahead? Power production may stop any time for want of coal
Coal Express must be given priority in the use of railway tracks. First, let us get the goods moving; pooling of price can be settled later! 
 
Coal inventory in most of the thermal power plants are running critically low with stocks that may not even last for a week. Some plants are on the verge of closing down, because of lack of supply of coal.  In the meantime, the employees' union of Coal India Ltd (CIL) has proposed to observe 18-20th September as "work to rule", demanding return of coal blocks allocated by the government, mainly to private firms and declared "illegal" by the Supreme Court. Final decision on this matter is expected on 9th  September, after which, the union may decide on their action.
 
Already, Mumbai has experienced power outage (though reasons were different), the problem of the lack of coal is looming large in the horizon. According to press reports, Coal India has now started initiating some emergency measures to prevent shutdown of nearly one third of India's thermal power plants, most of whom signed fuel supply agreements (FSAs) with CIL, by collecting the accumulated coal and sending these on priority basis to the critically affected power companies. Instead of wagons, they may authorise the use of even trucks to move the precious coal cargo.
 
Coal India, it appears, had planned to supply 408 million tonnes of coal to these power companies and due to the inadequate supply wagons; they may experience a shortfall of 30 million tonnes. This is the situation in the case of coal mined in the country itself. There is poor coordination in despatches, as more than 39 million tonnes has piled up and is awaiting "evacuation"!
 
In a separate development, we take a look at the status of imported coal lying in the ports. According to K Ramabrahmam, President of Vishakapatnam Chamber of Commerce, imported coal is piling up and clearance has not been possible due to the lack of supply of adequate rakes from the Railways. Against the demand of 16 rakes per day, only nine are being made available, resulting in the ships being held at the anchorage, incurring huge demurrage.
 
The situation is so bad that the Chamber has taken up the issue with Nitin Gadkari, Union Shipping Minister, so that he can push the Railway Ministry to make the urgent supply of rakes to Vishakapatnam port.  Or, for that matter, all the ports, where they have such issues with the lack of rake supply!
 
In order to make imports viable and economical, importers tend to get capesize and panamax vessels for coal imports, but non-supply of wagons would nullify the purpose of such imports!
 
In the meantime, Power Ministry has proposed a road map, including the pooling of domestic and imported coal prices and have taken up the issue with the Cabinet. If such a proposal is accepted and approved, this may result in power generation cost going up by 23 paise per unit in 2014-15, 17 paise in 2015-16 and 2 paise in 2016-17.  These may look nominal, but that may not solve the problems, if the inadequate supply of rakes remains a problem.
 
What is presently and urgently needed is action to be taken by the Railway Ministry, Coal Ministry and Power Ministry. A Coal Crisis Management Team should be set up to ensure that a Coal Express is started to move the available coal from pit heads and other stock points to power generating units that are in critical state.
 
This Coal Express must be given priority in the use of railway tracks and actual clearance should be given day in and day out. First, let us get the goods moving; pooling of price can be settled later! 
 
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)

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COMMENTS

Proloy Coomar Pramanik

2 years ago

Guys, beware. There may be a countrywide blackout in the coming days. Don't wait till the last moment -- blame UPA *now*. Mercifully, we have a strong and decisive PM now, who knows how to use the Gujarat Model to cure such ills. Unfortunately, he just kept too busy raising GDP growth this quarter (sorry, the last quarter). But now that he has solved the economic ills, eliminated policy paralysis, taken drum-beating from Gujarat to Japan, and also rescued 15000 Gujaratis from the floods in Jammu and Kashmir using 80 Innovas and 4 standby Boeing jets (like he did last year too during Uttarakhand floods using efficient Gujarat cadre IAS officers), and also now done with becoming Chacha Modi (or was it Tau Modi?), hopefully he'll find the time to use the Gujarat Model to resolve the power crisis too. Besides, when will Pashupati Nath's blessings come good? -- for which the Indian taxpayer contributed 2500 kgs of sandalwood and 2400 kgs of ghee at a cost of 5 crores, with total 'bhaktibhav'...!

Govt destroys over 11,000 historical files on PM's order!
Between 5th and 8 July 2014, over 11,100 files were destroyed without following any mandatory procedure on directions from the Prime Minister, reveals RTI reply
 
As most of us are aware, the Government of India has stringent rules for maintaining official files as well as for destroying them. So, when word went round initially that over 1.5 lakh files, probably of historical value, were destroyed indiscriminately by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), there was a ruckus in the Rajya Sabha between 9th and 14 July 2014, demanding the specific details by the members.
 
While, some members questioned as to whether files pertaining to Subhash Chandra Bose or assassination of Mahatma Gandhi were shredded to pieces, Home Minister Rajnath Singh replied that the files were destroyed at the direction of the Prime Minister (PM) to secretaries of all department and that, only 11,100 files were destroyed with unspecified number of pages. Minister of Law and Justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad assured that none of them were of any historical value. The two ministers though, did not back their claims with any proof of having followed official procedure of destroying filed and what exactly was destroyed and therein lies the suspicion.
 
As always, one can fall back on the Right to Information (RTI) Act to find out if the government had indeed adhered to the norms. In this case, RTI activist and researcher Venkatesh Nayak, has done commendable work by filing applications to the Home Ministry. The vague replies he received confirms that the government is hiding valuable facts from people and clamping down on transparency. 
 
Ridiculously, to Nayak’s request of providing him with a list of 11,100 files that were destroyed, the Home Ministry replied that it is still compiling the data (after destroying them!) To the query of whether the six monthly report of files destroyed have been submitted to National Archives of India, the reply is 'no', although it is mandatory for the government to do so. Regarding a query of the manner in which these files were destroyed, the Public Information Officer (PIO) informed Nayak that he can get the same on payment, despite the fact that the information comes under Section 4 of the RTI Act and should be freely available and despite the fact that the PIO replied after the mandatory 30 days, in which case information must be given free of cost.
 
Nayak narrates the RTI applications filed by him, the replies he received and what they connote.
 
Nayak filed an RTI application on 18 July 2014 to the Home Ministry. Following are the points on which he had sought information and the reply that he received:
 
• A clear photocopy of the list containing the subject matter of each of the 11,100 files and records that were weeded out/destroyed by your Ministry along with a clear indication of their categorization- such as Category A’, ‘B’ and C’’ accorded to them prior to such destruction;
Reply: List of files which are destroyed is being compiled. This can be made available in due course on payment of requisite fee. You may write to us if so desired.
 
 • The number of the Officer(s) of your Ministry along with their designations who authorised the clearing of the said files and papers (names are not required);
Reply: A copy of letter No. NIL dated 05.06.2014 from the Cabinet Secretary is attached. Para (f) thereof refers.
 
• The designation(s) of the representative(s) of the National Archives that were present at the time of weeding out of the said files as required under para #113 of the Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure (names are not required);
Reply: -do (i.e., same as above reply).
 
• A clear photocopy of the half-yearly report of the records weeded out during the latest clearing exercise, prepared by your Ministry for submission to the Director General Archives, as per Rule 9(4) of the Public Records Rules, 1997;
 
Reply: No such report has been sent to National Archives of India.
 
• The exact number and subject matter of files originally classified: “top secret”, “secret” and “confidential” that were declassified and deposited with the Director General, National Archives of India under Rule 7(3) of the Public Records Rules, 1997, if any;
Reply: Nil.
 
• The exact number and subject matter of files accorded with the security classification: “top secret”, “secret” and “confidential” that were weeded out, if any;
Reply: Nil.
 
• A clear description of the manner of disposal of the records that were cleared, namely the number of files incinerated (burned) and/or shredded."
 
Reply: Record Retention Schedule of MHA is available on the website of MHA (Website: mha.gov.in). This list can be made available on payment of requisite fee.
 
Venkatesh Nayak says, “the Public Information Officer's reply is vaguer than the Home Minister's statements in the Rajya Sabha.”
 
Nayak analyses as to why the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which promises transparency has indulged into a devious and suspicious game:
 
Even after more than a month of destroying the 11,100 files, the MHA does not have, in one comprehensive list, details of all files that were destroyed. Having looked at records management practices in some detail during my decade-long career of advocating for transparency in government, I find it surprising that the MHA went about destroying files without even preparing a list of files for review, first. The PIO's reply that the even the list of files that were weeded out has not been compiled till date indicates that the procedure for properly identifying files for weeding out was simply not followed.
 
Further, Section 4(1)(a) of the RTI Act states that all public authorities including the MHA must index, catalogue, computerise and network the records they hold in custody. If the MHA's divisions did not have a preliminary list of files to be reviewed for destruction, how exactly did the weeding out process take place? Did the 500 officers whom the Home Minister stated as being involved in the weeding out exercise, simply walked to the records rooms or the shelves where the old files were kept and started weeding them out one by one? The refusal to give details of this process both to Parliament when the issue was debated and now when a request is made under RTI, is shocking to say the least. What worsens the case is the audacity of the PIO's reply sent more than 30 days after the request was received in the MHA that the information will be given only on payment of fees.
 
The Home Minister informed Parliament that 500 officials were involved in the weeding out exercise. No further details were given. When I asked for only the designations of such officers because officers of all grades and ranks are not permitted to authorise destruction of official records, a vague reply is given to me. Para (f) of the Cabinet Secretary's letter only states that the entire process of weeding out files must be done in accordance with rules of record keeping including digitisation within 3-4 weeks. The PIO's reply to this query is simply not a sensible reply at all. Let alone the names, even the designations of the officers who authorised destruction of files is being denied under the RTI Act in a roundabout manner.
 
• 3) Para #113(2) of the Central Secretariat Manual Office Procedure (CSMOP) requires that records that are more than 25 years old be reviewed for archivisation in consultation with the National Archives. However the PIO's reply indicates that National Archives was not consulted at all during this weeding our process. So how old were the records that were weeded out is a serious question and this was not satisfactorily answered either in Parliament or in response to my RTI application.
 
Para #113(7) of the CSMOP requires that Category 'A' and 'B' records that are not weeded out be sent to the Archives for preservation, if not required for reference within the Department. These records are meant for preservation for 25 years or more. However the PIO's reply indicates that no file classified 'top secret', 'secret' or 'confidential' was sent to the National Archives in June-July, 2014. It is only obvious that files of shorter lifespan would also not have been sent to the Archives for preservation as they may not contain information of historical value that is worth preserving. What then was destroyed in June-July 2014 is a mystery that neither the Home Minister's reply in the Rajya Sabha nor the PIO's reply clarifies. The only saving grace is that no classified record (i.e., top secret, secret or confidential) was destroyed. Even there we simply have to take the MHA's word for it.
 
The PIO's reply to my query about the manner of destruction is also vague. According to the CS-MOP records may be destroyed either by shredding or burning. The answer to my query has to be "one of the two" or "both" depending upon the choice of mode of destruction made by the MHA. Nevertheless I looked through the MHA's website but could not find the record retention (RR) schedule anywhere on the website. The 3-4 line explanation given under Section 4(1)(b) RTI manuals under clauses (iii), (iv), (v) and (vi) is childish and shows scant respect for a law made by Parliament. These manuals have not been updated since they were first drawn up several years ago. (See:http://mha.nic.in/infoundrsec) However, if readers find the RR schedule on the MHA's website, kindly alert me and I will reconsider my views on this subject.
 
So much for transparency by the NDA government, which in reality is throttling the RTI Act, this being a stark example.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.) 

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COMMENTS

Dipakkumar J Shah

2 years ago

What at the stage of even High Court level we do not know. Milibhagat of Advocates in jungle raj and best known to them only. They are on higher seat also.....

TIHARwale

2 years ago

Glad to note from comments that our institutions including Judidiary have become dysfunctional and jungle raj prevails where might is right. Courts allow cases to drag on for decades and cases end with the death of litigants

Ramesh B Mhadlekar

2 years ago

Even the RBI follows the same pattern in providing information under the RTI Act 2005.For the majority of the information it simply says it has no information.To a query as to dishonestly affixing the Government of India Sticker on the officials vehicles,since RBI is a Autonomous body,it simply says that it has no information.The information is recorded daily on its CCTV on the entry of the official Cars in the premises of RBI carrying Executives of the RBI,yet it has no information.The dishonest use of GOI stickers is for dishonest gains.The Management of RBI is silent on such an issue.Dishonest act can probably termed as Corrupt act of the ones misusing the GOI stickers.

REPLY

Dipakkumar J Shah

In Reply to Ramesh B Mhadlekar 2 years ago

When you talk about Reserve Bank of India , this reminds me a well known case of State Bank of India ATM case I challenged Before Hon. High Court of Gujarat , A T M Card was issued as free of cost and started charging Yearly fees from customers!! It was on agreement Free of cost. Without having taken signature confirming debiting amount of charges . This is known to Reserve Bank of India. R B I was party to this case . Since then no action!! Hon. High Court has not passed any order closing the Case!!!! It was closed inn sense like , I had to give addresses of SBI Associates Banks addreses. If I do not file Addrese the case was automatically construed CLOSED / DISMISSED. See the working of Hon. Courts and manner!!!

Dipakkumar J Shah

2 years ago

What I have seen in High Court of Gujarat in Company Petition No 17 of 1996 the serial numbering file should be kept in tact . But many of the pages as referred in the Final order are missing. You know all the process. It is said that some of the Objectors have withdrawn their objections by way of filing Pursis. Since long time it is not on record!!!
No explanations have been given by any body. This file was also not available for more than 10 years!!!
Some part of the File is available only!!!

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