FF #619: Break the spell. Demote technology

March 29, 2022: The purpose of journalism; Sri Lanka’s problems multiply; Inflation

Founding Fuel

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Good morning,

In his book Sensemaking, Christian Madsbjerg, a professor of Applied Humanities at The New School for Social Research, New York, encourages us to be a little less impressed with technology. 

He writes: “Let us demote technology to a colleague or, better yet, a well-trained assistant or sidekick. When we claim our space as the sole interpreters of culture, we can emancipate ourselves and see technology for what it is: simply one more tool in the arsenal. It can help us to arrive at extraordinary places, but we still need to figure out what to do once we get there. The answers to that dilemma will only ever be solved by inspired acts of mastery that are drawn out of us by our context.

“So when you go about your day today, I invite you to break the spell. Look around you. Listen for the moments when the pervasive mood of the culture is telling you to marvel at the magic of a new app that can track your digital footprints or a start-up in the health care space that can give you a real-time diagnosis for your symptoms. These are neat tricks—and useful ones at that. But we must remain more circumspect. Steve Jobs used to say, ‘This will change everything.’ Instead, try breaking the spell with this mantra: ‘This will change some things.’ After all, any broad-based education in the humanities shows us that nothing changes everything. Whether it is power dynamics, family strife, the rise and fall of great empires, our relationship to the gods, or our experience of falling in love, the ideas and stories and artistic works on offer in the humanities are always relevant. Our own human yearning for love, for knowledge, for purpose, and for excellence is never new, which is precisely why it never gets old.

“Once the spell is broken, look around the world with fresh eyes. You might discover something extraordinary happening on our streets, in our homes, and at our schools every day. It is just as deserving of our wonder as the Hubble spacecraft or a Google-designed Go-playing algorithm.”

Here’s wishing you the space to appreciate the extraordinary things happening around you!

Have a great day.

The purpose of journalism

Good journalism is the first, rough draft of history. And that is why this reportage from Ukraine by Mstyslav Chernov at AP News had us hooked. “The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in. 

“We were the only international journalists left in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, and we had been documenting its siege by Russian troops for more than two weeks. We were reporting inside the hospital when gunmen began stalking the corridors. Surgeons gave us white scrubs to wear as camouflage.

“Suddenly at dawn, a dozen soldiers burst in: ‘Where are the journalists, for fuck’s sake?’ 

“I looked at their armbands, blue for Ukraine, and tried to calculate the odds that they were Russians in disguise. I stepped forward to identify myself. ‘We’re here to get you out,’ they said. 

“The walls of the surgery shook from artillery and machine gun fire outside, and it seemed safer to stay inside. But the Ukrainian soldiers were under orders to take us with them.”

It is worth pausing here for a moment to ask why would the Ukrainian soldiers do that? Why not just move and leave the journalists to their fate? The piece goes on to point out that when journalists are prevented from doing their job, information stops flowing. 

“The absence of information in a blockade accomplishes two goals. Chaos is the first. People don’t know what’s going on, and they panic. At first I couldn’t understand why Mariupol fell apart so quickly. Now I know it was because of the lack of communication.

“Impunity is the second goal. With no information coming out of a city, no pictures of demolished buildings and dying children, the Russian forces could do whatever they wanted. If not for us, there would be nothing.

“That’s why we took such risks to be able to send the world what we saw, and that’s what made Russia angry enough to hunt us down.”

Dig deeper

Sri Lanka’s problems multiply

Last December we highlighted a story on Sri Lanka that explained what went wrong with its organic food policy. In the last three months, things have only gotten worse for the country. Sri Lanka is facing one of its worst economic crises. As The Hindu puts it: “For citizens, this means long waits in queues for fuel, a shortage of cooking gas, contending with prolonged power cuts in many localities and struggles to find medicines for patients. In families of working people, the crisis is translating to cutting down on milk for children, eating fewer meals, or going to bed hungry.”

How did this come to be? “The first wave of the pandemic in 2020 offered early and sure signs of the distress—when thousands of Sri Lankan labourers in West Asian countries were left stranded and returned jobless; garment factories and tea estates in Sri Lanka could not function, as infections raged in clusters, and thousands of youth lost their jobs in cities as establishments abruptly sacked them or shut down. It meant that all key foreign exchange earning sectors, such as exports and remittances, along with tourism, were brutally hit.

“The lack of a comprehensive strategy to respond to the crisis then, coupled with certain policy decisions last year—including the government’s abrupt switch to organic farming—widely deemed “ill-advised”, further aggravated the problem. In August last year, the government declared emergency regulations for the distribution of essential food items, amid wide import restrictions to save dollars which in turn led to consequent market irregularities, and reported hoarding.

“Fears of a sovereign default rose by the end of 2021, with the country’s foreign reserves plummeting to $1.6 billion, and deadlines for repaying external loans looming. But Sri Lanka managed to keep its unblemished foreign debt servicing record. All the same, without enough dollars to import essentials such as food, fuel, and medicines, the year 2022 began on a rather challenging note, marked by further shortages and an economic upheaval.”

Dig deeper


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Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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