The internet has taken the pain out of the New Year — Google and Facebook have shouldered the burden of producing those snippety, snapshotty little year-end roundups of the year’s news, which is all that the drowsily cockeyed reader can make sense of on the morning of January 1. Google reports that more Indians sought Sunny Leone than Narendra Modi, leaving Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone trailing after. We have been practical and sensible in other matters, being more interested in IRCTC’s rail ticket booking service than in Flipkart and Snapdeal, and showing more interest in the general election than in the iPhone 6.
Tracking Google’s searches reveals an accurate image of reality. Searches mapped to terrain have followed the spread of infectious diseases almost in real time. Patterns of searches for flu remedies reveal the infection arriving in a city well before its medical services report unusual numbers of patients. But Facebook, being social, grades events according to the volume of discussions generated. In 2014, the FIFA World Cup triggered the most conversations. Ebola, the passing of Robin Williams, the ice bucket challenge and Malaysia Airlines figured prominently.
But when you see that the defeat of the Denver Broncos at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks is just as prominent, you have to wonder if the internet has actually annihilated geography, or merely violated it. Another oddity: race relations in Missouri gets the importance it deserves but a death in New York City, which also triggered protests, does not seem to figure. And though India is an incredibly important market for Facebook, buzz about the Mars Orbiter Mission trails after IPL and the World Cup. Predictably, Malaysia Airlines was ahead of the summer conflict in Gaza, but both stories were at the bottom of the list.
This week, TV was swept by enormous stories like the massacre in Kokrajhar, which left little space for anything else. Yesterday, however, a few channels were able to step away from the excitement over the questioning of Bikram Singh Majithia by the Enforcement Directorate.
For instance, News 24 marked Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 90th birthday with a rather good documentary chronicling events in the course of his journey “from the sangh to the PMO”. It included an interview with close aide BC Khanduri, who has been erased from the public space by BJP 2.0. India TV trumped the competition with footage from a long-ago Holi at Vajpayee’s residence, in which he is seen holding hands with Narendra Modi and dancing to a lusty rendering of Rang Barse. While it was no doubt intended to establish the proximity of the two men, at a time when commentators are pointing out what the elder statesman of the BJP would have done differently, it unwittingly recalled an incident in which Modi had rejected Muslim headgear. In this video, while Vajpayee is in a Rajasthani turban, Modi sports a cap of the sort that is favoured by qawwals.
Barring such sparks, it’s more interesting to see the year in perspective through the eyes of the internet rather than TV, where nothing ever seems to change. Arnab Goswami celebrated Christmas Eve by yelling at “all the other channels who messed up on the Jammu and Kashmir numbers”. Viewers deserve accuracy, he complained, “not numbers put out in a frenetic rush in the studio”. That sounds so much like the atmospherics of Newshour, which is being billed in promos as “a debate based on a sense of belief in what is right.” In regular English, that means religion and morality. These great human obsessions rarely leave room for debate.