Friday, January 7, 2011

Death of Originality and the CPF

 CPF- that is Cut( or copy) paste and forward. I am sure you know about this . I am also sure that like me you use it almost every day . Calling it a miracle would be an understatement. Whoever first thought of this feature of word processing was a big plagiarist …or may be he/she was just lazy . It’s a big convenience and a great tool to edit . But today it has turn into a livelihood provider for many, ice breaker for others and even popularity tool for some . Tell me how many forwarding mails/ sms you get everyday ? Have you ever found yourself connecting to a friend but without anything in particular to say…just send a couple of forward-mails . Do you want to impress someone- just do a wiki and some googling on anything under the sun and write a brilliant piece on it. Do you have to submit a paper by tomorrow morning and you are suffering from a creative block? Never mind , there are millions others who have uploaded readymade solutions for you to CPF. It does sound magical . But how many times we face what can be called a cut-paste faux pas . I am sure we all know some of those too .

This 1st January I woke up with a sms from an old friend B . A very poetic message wishing me a happy new year , I was marveling the words till I reach the end where I found “….from X” . I was puzzled for a second…who is this X . Right then I got another message from my friend B …who again wished me a happy new year and very coolly added “ this time from his side” . Apparently he just forwarded a nice message without editing the last part. My sister did something even worse. She had her signature as her name which gets added at the end of each message . So on one festival , all my aunts and uncles, grandfather and relatives received message – a real good one “from XYZ “ followed by my sister’s name. The faux pas created a mini scandal in the family for a day as everybody wondered who is this XYZ with whom she is wishing everybody . But then, these are just very innocent goof ups . Worth a laugh of course, but nothing serious.

Let me tell you a recent example where the magical CPF( cut paste and forward ) gave me a rare laugh during an otherwise serious workday . I was looking into an expensive report given by an international consultant for a project. This was one of those colourful looking documents which everyone admires (mostly for its graphs and printing ) but no one reads. But as an auditor, it was my job to read the bulky report, I somehow continued reading it beyond the preface. Suddenly it appeared that things were not adding up. The report seems logical but in between there were unrelated words. The report was about hygiene and food. So while it had Delhi featuring in several places , it was talking of organizations which are nowhere here in India. There was mention of City and borough government and also of Dal makhani . I gave it another careful reading and I found the key. It was a classic CPF from a foreign report. Not only that , the author replaced the key words e.g. name of organization with the Indian counterpart through find- replace ( another magic mantra of word processing ) . The result was hilarious. But as it happens in government, no one ever read that document and everybody was happy. When I narrated this story to a colleague, he was not surprised. He told me that her brother cleared most of her strategy papers, dissertations and presentations through CPF. My dear brother in law exclaims that in his field (software and banking) it happens all the time . Oh yes, I should have known better.
Internet resources have made plagiarism really easy. While in earlier days we used to write down our favorite quotes and poems to remember them at the right moment , today we do a search and in a click we have opinions, thoughts, reactions and even appeals ready for us. The more ethical ones change a word or two and if possible use liberally from more than one source . The real masters copy it as it is and make it their own.

For those of you who thought despite everything else around us changing, we bureaucrats are still the same, here is some news . In Mussoorie academy we had some very prestigious essay competitions . One of these was sponsored by Indian Army . In the year when I was doing the foundation course, the evaluation committee found it difficult to select the shortlisted entry as many of the entries were very similar. Thanks to internet resources and the magical CPF , many of us came up with “very similar” thoughts . Training courses are another example of changing times. On how many occasions I found myself looking at an old presentation being repeated by multiple speakers with their name. We even had one speaker who stole the jokes and cartoons as well from the presentation available on internet and passed it off as his own experience . In support of his obivious CPF , one such speaker once quoted john Milton who said “ Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research.”

There is an old saying that whatever you throw at the world it comes back to you. Believe it or not, this is aptly applicable on the CPF as well. I have received back my own forwards a couple of times and on files I often find my own notes copied and presented with a different formatting and font. People have very differing views on this . Some consider it unethical others take it in their stride. One even told me that it is just quotation without inverted commas . He argued that this is in a way, a praise of your draft – a compliment that you expressed it so well that there was nothing to do more. Someone recently gave me a very interesting phrase for it. He said it is not plagiarism , it is creative re-producing . I was impressed for a second and then a doubt occurred in my mind whether this phrase is orginal or well…taken from somewhere .

1 comment:

MARCH said...

CPF is a crime and is not a crime at the same time. It’s the intention and the way of presenting it that makes it unethical. Anyways, new generation seems to be least bothered about ethics. People used to do it earlier too but only after having backache and dirty hands due to mining of books and relevant articles in libraries. In those days this was termed as research. Internet has made a difference by making those expensive articles and materials available to greater number of users at any place and time they like. Fathers and forefathers of some of them did not have access to libraries earlier due to various reasons. As this does not require the ‘researcher’ to invest much time and energy in to this, this has been termed as CPF by you. Have you ever thought that those who have uploaded their ‘original’ articles on net may too have done the same using Libraries as their source? Hadn’t this been the case we could have great thinkers like Socrates, Aristotle, Gandhi etc in plenty.
To be able to present something in a new way, which is completely different from the numerous other ways in which it has been told by others, requires great deal of creativity. But I do not mean कहीं का ईंट कहीं का रोड़ा, भानुमति ने कुनबा जोड़ा ... by this. To be able to creative you have to behave like a seed. Go sufficiently deep in to the soil of the topic and you will be able to produce a plant in the form of a new article. It requires great deal of practice, reading and patience, which are rare qualities. If you find yourself bankrupt in expressing your views on some topic someday, you have no other option but to choose the best one out of the already available articles. It’s ok only if you give credits and acknowledgments properly. But then you don’t want your rivals to have access to them and don’t want to miss the feeling of being at the top of the world after being showered with praises. I still remember the school days when we used to prepare for debates and essays using ‘help’ from some elder neighbors, home tutor or some book in a library and bring home trophies and medals. The only difference is that we used to convey our thanks to the generous ‘helper’ as we were ‘innocent’ cute little plagiarist then. Those ‘helpers’ crippled our thinking machines and help us become a thankless, unethical but successful plagiarist.

If you find yourself at the receiving end of such plagiarists, you can always buy the argument that ‘it’s a praise of your draft and a complement’. At least to please yourself! But I personally consider it a theft if someone passes it as his/her own. I place most of the bosses in this category as I find them presenting articles and papers in seminars which were prepared by their subordinates. This is the job of the subordinates to do that for their bosses. Right! But It stinks if the bosses shamelessly claim the articles as their own by framing stories like how many nights they could not sleep, thinking over the topic and bla..bla..bla… The truth is, the only value addition made by them was a few changes like making sentences active to passive, direct to indirect or vice versa, a few spelling corrections etc. Anyways, you cannot expect everyone to be a सत्यवादि हरिश्चंद्र and who knows if the subordinate too was a चिन्दी चोर.