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Moving Away From Facebook

I had originally wanted to give this post the title ‘Leaving Facebook’, but in reality, it may not be as easy to do so for various reasons outlined below.

But first, let me tell you what I initially thought of Facebook, all the way back in 2005 when it was still a platform only certain people had access to (you had to have a university email address, and only some universities were on the list).

Basically, I didn’t see the point of it!

Sure it was fun to check your friends’ brand new profiles, give them a ‘poke’, and see your friend count increase, but the novelty tends to wear off after a while. I mean, seriously, who on earth wants to know what you had for lunch three days in a row?

This is an important point because a site like Facebook can only survive if people spend a lot of time on it. It’s not enough that you go on it once a week, they want you to be on Facebook every single day for as long as possible.

Which brings me to the reasons why I’m moving away from Facebook: it pushes me towards narcissism, and it encourages me to care about trivial things.

Hey, Look At Me!

Let’s face it, nobody just posts everything that happens to them unfiltered on Facebook. Your profile is a carefully manicured lawn, a polished mirror, a room that’s been Marie Kondo-ed to perfection, because deep down everybody cares what someone thinks of them (even if they don’t care what everyone thinks of them).

When I post something on the site, it is with the intention of getting attention. Facebook, like its sibling Instagram, actively exploits this by tweaking a hundred and one things on its site. Now I’m not saying they’re doing it because of some nefarious plan to dominate the world or anything, instead they’re doing it because they want to drive engagement with the site. Engagement is difficult to define, but basically it revolves around the idea of making Facebook central to how people experience the Internet.

Looking for news? Go on Facebook.

Something good happened to you? Tell your friends about it on Facebook.

Starbucks barista misspelled your name? Moan about it on Facebook!

Stuck in a boring meeting? You know what you need to do…

I’m not going to speculate how other people feel or use this (or any other) social media platform, but for me personally, the more I’m on it, the more narcissistic I become. Deep down, I do care how many people like or comment on my post. This is one of the main reasons for me wanting to move away from Facebook.

OMG Will You Look At This?

Another reason for my increasing aversion towards the site is because it makes me care/worry/rage/think about trivial things. On the Internet, someone is always angry about something. These days, more often than not, that thing ends up on Facebook. OMG some random uncle cut into the supermarket queue in front of you? Take a photo of him and post it to your friends and followers. Watch as the condemnations pour in! Revel in your superiority over these uncouth people!

Sure, that’s a slightly more extreme example, but social media really is full of unnecessary debate over trivial things. Your time should be precious to you, so why should you waste it caring over what some celebrity is doing? Why should it bother you that someone got into a fight at their office and is now rage-posting about it?

You may argue that this is all just harmless fun. But try looking around you the next time you’re at a restaurant. How many families are sitting together at a table without anyone making eye contact or talking to another family member, because every one is so engrossed with the little screen in front of them? Pick your poison: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, WhatsApp, YouTube etc. We’re all guilty of it!

Focusing On What Really Matters

Ultimately, these are MY reasons for moving away from something that is toxic in my life. Other people may feel differently, of course. Maybe Facebook is how you make your living. Maybe you do gain a lot of benefit from it, but for me, the negative aspects far outweigh whatever good comes out of spending time on the site. Even so, I haven’t deleted my profile, I’ve merely deactivated it. The sad reality is that some things just aren’t possible to do without being on Facebook. I get that, and I’m resigned to the fact that from time to time I may need to log back in to check on some information that’s ONLY been posted to the site.

I still want something better though.

I want to spend my time with my family. I don’t want to sit down for dinner with my kids only to end up scrolling my News Feed half the time. I want to care about more important things in life, like the question of what memory is, the nature of consciousness, how do we train better doctors and scientists, how to nurture good habits among our children. These are the issues that deserve our time and attention.

When Albus Dumbledore saw Harry Potter staring at the Mirror of Erised, this was the advice he gave Harry:

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

I fear in our time, this needs to be modified for when Dumbledore sees Harry furiously refreshing his News Feed:

It does not do to dwell on Facebook/Instagram, and forget to live.

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Aston Martin DB11 V8 Coupe

Aston Martin DB11

Location: Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur

Look, all I’m saying is that if ever someone feels like buying me a surprise birthday gift, I’d never say no to an Aston Martin.

Price: RM 808,000.00 (excluding duties and taxes)

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Friday Prayers

Location: Alam Impian Mosque

My first ‘solat Jumaat’ in four months, alhamdulillah. Thank you to the mosque committee members for making all the necessary preparations for congregational prayer.

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Productivity During A Pandemic

As more and more people start to return to work, I am beginning to ponder the issue of productivity during a pandemic.

The question of how productive you are is a difficult one to answer even at the best of times. Previously, I could perhaps say that I had had a productive day if I managed to see >10 patients in my neurology clinic, or finished writing a manuscript, or brought along multiple groups of medical students for their clinical supervision.

When everyone is under lockdown, however, trying to estimate how productive you are using conventional means is an exercise in futility.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering if I’ve ‘wasted’ the last few months at home. But then again, I look at what else has happened in these last few months, and remind myself: there is a time and place for everything. Sure, I have barely done any research work apart from learning MRI analysis, but I have also gotten the chance to spend a lot of time with my family.

I’ve taught my kids to ride a bicycle. Played basketball and football with them frequently. Helped them with homework. Supervised them while they’re having their online classes. I look back at all these things with happiness in my heart.

Sometimes we are too busy chasing ‘urgent’ achievements that we forget, or neglect, the truly important things in life. Medical training, to me, is one example of how something that feels urgent (as in I really need to finish my training and become a specialist) can come at the expense of things that are far more important in the long run e.g. family. The struggle to become a specialist is brutal, requiring long hours, mountains of motivation, willingness to tolerate abuse, neglect of family members, frequent sanity checks etc. It’s far from ideal, but having gone through the process myself, that’s probably the most honest way I can describe it. YMMV obviously! I don’t think it needs to be this way though, but more on that in a future blog post inshaAllah.

For now, I am just thankful that I’ve been given the chance to spend some quality time with my family before returning to Oxford to continue my DPhil. All of these things (family, memory research, clinical work etc) matter tremendously to me. May Allah make this journey a beneficial one not just for me but also for my family, colleagues, patients, and the rest of society.

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Besar 2.0

Location: Shah Alam, Selangor

I’m really happy with the Portrait Mode on my iPhone 11 Pro Max. Sure it may not give the most technically accurate picture, but the results are very pleasant to look at (which is arguably more important).

This here is Besar, or rather Besar 2.0.

When I was a kid, my family used to have a grumpy cat called Besar (which means ‘big’ in Malay) because she was considerably larger than the 2 kittens we also had at the time. The cat in this picture belongs to my mother-in-law, but she looks similar to my old one (the cat, not my mother-in-law!), so to keep things simple I’ve named her Besar as well.

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The Best Way To Think About Science

Check out this ‘Behind the Byline’ interview with Ed Yong, one of the staff writers at The Atlantic who’s written some really illuminating articles in the last few weeks about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s my favourite line from the interview:

…science is “less the parade of decisive blockbuster discoveries that the press often portrays, and more a slow, erratic stumble toward ever less uncertainty.”

Looking at how science is covered in the mainstream media, one can be forgiven for thinking of it as a series of phenomenal findings.

  • “Neuroscientists find the seat of empathy.”
  • “How your brain looks like when you’re in LOVE.”
  • “5G towers cause cancer!” (okay, joking on this one, stop attacking 5G towers people!)

In reality, scientific progress is often messy and does not lend itself well to simple headlines. Think about that the next time you read about some incredible discovery in the news.

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Starbucks

Starbucks cup

Location: Subang Parade, Selangor

Check out this beautifully-designed paper cup by Starbucks. I immediately asked if they sold a mug with the same design on it but unfortunately the answer was no.

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Black Lives Matter

First things first, if your response to Black Lives Matter is “ALL Lives Matter” then you’re doing it wrong. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what the slogan represents, but it is a very easy mistake to make. I made it too, when I first encountered the words Black Lives Matter.

I’m not going to pretend that I am anywhere close to understanding what goes on in the lives of African-Americans in the US, but to me it seems somewhat hypocritical to support this movement without commenting on matters closer to home.

One of the biggest dangers of racism is that it can be invisible, such that people can genuinely believe it doesn’t exist, all while continuing to prop up a system that promotes the differential treatment of people according to what race they belong to. In Malaysia, we have a slew of race-based policies that people continue to justify based on an agreement that was made many generations ago. To question this arrangement is to threaten the very social fabric that holds the nation together (some people say).

I find that line of thinking perplexing, to be honest.

The Islamic perspective

My main objection to these policies stems from my religious belief that all human beings are created equal.

People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognise one another. In God’s eyes, the most honoured of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware.

Surah Al-Hujurat [49:13]

For me personally, it is hard to justify how one can believe in the above, but also say that someone has to pay up to 15% extra for a house just because it is not a Bumiputera lot and they happen not to be ‘Malay’ at the time of purchase. One justification for these policies is that ‘the other side does it too’. Some businesses, for example, insist on hiring people who are able to speak Mandarin, as a way of ‘filtering’ out candidates from other races. I am not blind to this. But this tit-for-tat approach just doesn’t sit well with me. Imagine if the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had said the same during the Conquest of Makkah. These infidels mistreated us, oppressed us even, so let’s pay them back for what they did! Well, Islamic history would’ve turned out very differently indeed, that’s for sure.

Race as a scientific construct

My second objection comes from the fact that ‘race’ itself is often a cover for ignorance. It is, to quote a phrase that appears in the description for the YouTube video below, a ‘pseudoscientific taxonom(y) of humans, almost exclusively based on pigmentation’. That’s quite a mouthful. The real situation is more intuitive. If a Malay person marries a Chinese person, then their offspring, even by the simplest of standards, should really be Malay-Chinese. And yet, we often force people to dichotomise this decision, by labelling them as Malay OR Chinese, whichever way happens to be convenient for supporting our argument.

To be clear, I think this is nonsense.

If we can’t even decide who’s Malay or Chinese based on the simple situation above, what are we going to do with someone who is of Malaysian Chinese-Brazilian parentage but raised instead by a Malaysian-Indian family? Call them White? Come on man, what on Earth have you been smoking?

Oh yes, the video:

The polite guy in me thinks the title is more provocative than it needs to be. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant talk, well-worth watching, and I am indebted to Dr Sofia Toniolo who first brought it to my attention on Facebook.

Lastly, I think in order to address these issues properly, it is important to recognise that racism may happen even without any malice on the part of the perpetrator. This is systemic, or institutional racism, and you can be part of it even without intentionally setting out to be racist. I hope that by highlighting this fact, more people will be willing to have a productive dialogue about what it means to continue the practise of race-based policies.

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Leg Day

Leg day

Never skip leg day.

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Crowd Control

Crowd control

Working from home ain’t easy, especially with kids around! Had to recruit new bodyguards to try and impose some sort of crowd control…

Update (12.09pm):

None survived the encounter with a 3-year-old child. Puny minions!