Friday, May 19, 2006

The blogospheric whispering game

When I was a little kid, there was this game we used to play called, what could be loosely translated into English as "ear-stories". The premise of the game was as follows : A bunch of kids sat around in a circle. The game would begin with a randomly chosen kid whispering a sentence into the ears of the kid to his left. This kid would, in turn, whisper whatever it was that he had thought he had heard from the previous kid and regurgitate it into the ears of the kid to his left. And so on and so forth, till the game returned back to the kid who had been the original source of the sentence. The huge entertainment value of the game lay in the hilarious metamorphosis the sentence would undergo as it was filtered through several juvenile ears. Usually, the end product was nowhere close to the original sentence that had initiated this daisy-chain of whispers.

The reason I bring this up is because today, with the countless number of blogs, self-appointed commentators and news dispersers, the media has turned into a huge game of "ear-stories" that metamorphoses the facts of the original story into something totally different. Take, for example, this piece of news which details Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's plans to incorporate guided propulsion, remote controlled weaponry and unmanned vehicles into army operations using robotic technology. This news was linked to by this blog, where the blogger actually stayed pretty close to the original story but titled his blogpost "Indian PM promises Robot Army" and at the end, attached his own addendum, saying

High tech weapons development to start a 'virtuous circle which benefits all'? Hmmmm. Could there be some unintended consequences of this plan?

This blogpost, was then, in turn, picked up by this blog, where the author not only named his post "India announces plan to develop robot army", but also added his own 5 cents worth of fictional commentary, saying :

In an announcement that you can probably expect to be repeated by rival Pakistan in the next few days, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has claimed that his South Asian nation will be the latest country to pursue technologies for developing a robotic army.

In addition, this enterprising blogger attached a picture of robots obtained from who knows where, and which are nowhere to be found on the original article.

And finally, this delicious black forest cake of misinformation was topped off with icing today morning on the radio channel WMMR Philadelphia, whose morning show anchors, Preston Elliott and Steve Morrison read this news on-air in their Bizarre Files segment as fact, along with a liberal dose of the customary ridicule that usually accompanies anything that makes it to that segment.

Reading this article, the image one conjures up in one's mind is that of an army of bronze clunky robots battling it out in the icy mountain ranges of the northwest, probably issuing orders to one another in a metallic funny Indian accent, the same one that has achieved quite a bit of popularity in the US comedy circuit. Plus, what could be more ridiculous than a third world country with limited resources opting to spend them on a science fiction project involving fighting robots?

But read the original article closely, and you'll realize not only does it not contain any reference to a robot army, but as a commenter pointed out, the Prime Minister enumerated various proposals for the modernization of the Indian army, a number of which have already been implemented by the American military. And no, I don't think I have seen any robots on television, engaging in hand-to-hand combat in the bloody streets of Iraq, so I'm guessing we won't see any robots fighting in the Himalayas either.

PS : As an aside, notice how the comments in the last blogpost steadily and puzzlingly deteriorate into a debate on reservations. It's actually quite amusing.

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