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  • A new variant of COVID-19, named Omicron, has set-off alarm bells across the world, with multiple countries imposing travel restrictions over the weekend.

    The variant, B.1.1529, was first detected in Botswana and then later identified in South Africa on 24 November. It is said to be the most mutated version of the virus and is reportedly more transmissible than the deadly Delta variant, which caused havoc across the world.

    Preliminary analysis and genome sequencing by experts in South Africa show that Omicron’s heightened mutations may mean that it’s more transmissible and even have immune escaping properties. Based on this evidence, the World Health Organisation has labelled Omicron as a “variant of concern.”

    A growing number of countries since the virus was first identified in South Africa, have reported confirmed cases of the new variant including the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Canada, Italy, Germany and Australia.

    With little knowledge about the variant, how concerning is Omicron and what do we know about it so far?


    Guests:
    Dr Shahid Jameel, renowned virologist.
    Dr K Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India.
    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramEditor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • 26 November 2008. There's perhaps still a lingering sense of disbelief as we talk about the day.

    Even 13 years after the attack, we continue to piece together all the tiny details of the events of the day through the words and memories of those who survived to tell the tale.

    In this special episode of The Big Story we get first-hand accounts of three journalists who covered the attack from ground zero. In this podcast you'll hear from Raksha Shetty, Mahrukh Inayat and Shai Venkatraman talk about how they went around covering the attack.

    Along with that we also have with us Anjali Kulthe, Staff Nurse of Labour Room at Cama Hospital who showed extreme grit and saved the lives of several pregnant women when the hospital had come under attack.

    You'll also hear from Dr Shailesh Mohite, Former Forensic Head at Nair Hospital who recounts how he had to operate on the lone surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab.

    Tune in!

    Host and Producer: Shorbori PurkayasthaEditor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • For a country that has a lot to worry about the repercussions of its humungous population, we seemed to have hit a positive demographic milestone.

    According to the findings of the National Family Health Survey-5 data, India’s total fertility rate has declined from 2.2 to 2.

    Another finding from the survey that is being pompously celebrated is that for the first time in the history of NFHS surveys, the sex ratio is skewed in favour of women. The data suggests there are 1,020 women for every 1,000 men.

    So, the two questions that come up are:

    Do these number indicate that India is closer to stabilizing its population?

    And, given the continued prevalence of patriarchal attitudes in Indian society, gender preferences for children at birth, how we really read the sex ratio figures?
    Tune in!
    Host and Producer: Shorbori Purkayastha
    Guests: Sanghamitra Singh, Senior Manager of Knowledge Management & Partnerships at Population Foundation of India;
    Dr Srinath Reddy, President of Public Health Foundation of India ;
    Varna Sri Raman, Lead of Research and Knowledge Building at Oxfam IndiaEditor: Vaishali Sood
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • The entire cryptocurrency market in India had a bloodbath on the evening of 23 November as panic set in with retail investors over the news coming out that the government is tabling a bill in the upcoming Parliament to ban "private cryptocurrencies".

    By midnight, the entire market fell by around 15 percent, with Bitcoin down by 17 percent, Ethereum down by nearly 15 percent and Tether by almost 18 percent.

    The root of this volatility is The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, which “seeks to ban all private cryptocurrencies in the country, but will allow certain exceptions to promote underlying technology and its uses.”

    Along with this, the document also states that the Reserve Bank of India will be introducing its own digital coin as well. But, there is no knowledge so far on how this RBI coin will work or its purpose.

    An unregulated market so far, for the past few months, the Centre has been dropping hints regarding its intent on regulating cryptocurrency in India. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a recent speech at Sydney Dialogue said that the “democratic countries need to work together on cryptocurrency and ensure that it does not end up in the wrong hands.”

    But with reportedly 10 crore retail investors in the crypto market, how can a ban impact India’s crypto market? What is the Centre’s concerns regarding cryptocurrencies? And if you are an investor, what should you do with your investment?

    Guests: Subhash Garg, former finance Secretary of India and Naimish Sanghvi, the CEO of CoinCrunch, a crypto news platform.
    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramEditor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • After nearly two years, the much-awaited and long-overdue report by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Data Protection Bill 2019 was tabled on Monday, 22 November.

    Though the report has not been made available in the public domain yet, as many as seven MP’s from the Congress Trinamool Congress and the BJD have submitted dissent notes to the committee since some clauses give the Centre sweeping powers to collect and process data.

    While Congress MP Jairam Ramesh in his dissent note stated that the bill assumes that “constitutional right to privacy arises only where operations and activities of private companies are concerned”, TMC MPs Derek O'Brien and Mahua Moitra described the 2019 Bill as "Orwellian" in nature and raised questions on the functioning of the committee.

    Though the report reportedly has introduced a few positive provisions as well, including mandatory disclose if users' data has been passed on to a third party, the blank cheque of relaxations given to the Centre for collecting and using personal and non-personal data is a matter of grave concern.

    Guest: Vakasha Sachdev, The Quint’s Legal Editor
    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramEditor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 19 November, announced that his government will repeal the three controversial farm laws, against which lakhs of farmers for the past year have been protesting.
    The announcement, made on Guru Nanak Jayanti, came as a surprise to many since there was no indication from the saffron party or the Centre on any climb down on the farm laws. At first glance, the rollback of the laws is a major victory for the farmer's movement, and signals that old fashioned non-violent protest do have their way to find chinks in the BJP-led Centre’s strongman image armour.
    However, it would be naive to not see the political equations running behind this decision, with two crucial states-Punjab and Uttar Pradesh- heading to Assembly polls earlier next year.
    And with the most recent C-Voter opinion poll predicting a 100 seat fall for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, one would say it was imperative for the BJP to make good with the farmers if it wanted to stay in power.
    But what political impact will this move have for the BJP in the upcoming elections? Will it change the scenario in Uttar Pradesh or give it relevance again in Punjab?

    Guest: Aditya Menon, The Quint’s Political Editor.
    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramEditor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • The controversial deaths of two civilians in Kashmir’s Hyderpora have sparked outrage across the valley, with the next of kin asserting that their relatives were used as human shields by the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police during an encounter with militants.

    The two deceased civilians, identified as Dr Mudasir Gul and Altaf Bhat, were both local business persons and owned shops in a commercial complex in Hyderpora where the encounter took place on the evening of 15 November.

    According to police statements, they cordoned off the complex after receiving inputs claiming that militants were present at an “illegal call centre”. The two civilians then accompanied the police to the building. According to the police, they were killed in the crossfire as the search operation turned into a gunfight.

    The police later claimed that one of the civilians, Dr Gul, was an overground worker. The J&K police, citing law and order concerns, also performed the last rites of the two civilians and have not turned over the bodies to the next of kin.

    But their families are not taking no for an answer, demanding the bodies of the relatives to be released to them. They have also sought proof that their deceased loved ones were associated with militants, or were Over Ground Workers (OGWs) as the police have claimed.

    To learn more about the case and the situation on the ground, for today’s episode, we spoke with Srinagar-based freelance journalist Shakir Mir. Tune in!


    Guest: Shakir Mir, Srinagar-based freelance journalist.
    Host and Producer: Himmat Shaligram
    Editor: Shelly Walia
    Also listen:

    What is the Intent of Terror Groups Behind Recent Civilian Killings in J&K?
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  • What can a comedian in India joke about that is acceptable to the audience and the public? The debate on this has been stirred time and again and was sparked once again on Tuesday, 16 November.

    Stand-up comedian Vir Das has been caught in a storm of applause and criticism on his recent stand-up video recorded at Washington DC's John F Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts titled "I Come From Two Indias"

    In a six-minute video, Vir Das talks about the duality of India and speaks on topical issues the country is facing from the pandemic to the farmers' protests, and targeted attacks towards comedians as well.

    While many on social media have said that India can’t take criticism and applauded Das for his candid words, the other side has condemned the comedian for generalising incidents and projecting a negative image about India abroad.

    The negative comments and hate speech regarding his monologue reached such an extent that at least two police complaints have been filed against Das for “derogatory statements against India”.

    In a clarification, Das on Twitter stated that his intention was to remind people that despite the issues, India is “great” and requested people to not be fooled by edited snippets.

    But the bigger question here is, was Das wrong in saying what he did about India? If he was, do comedians need to start self-censoring before they bring their material out? What do comedians feel about this?

    We took these questions to

    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramGuests: Stand-up comedians Neeti Palta, Sanjay Rajoura, and Agrima Joshua.

    Editor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • Every year, like clockwork, the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) is blanketed in smog in the winter months and the Air Quality Index (AQI) levels in different parts of the capital spike through the roof.

    This year, despite there being strict enforcement on bursting crackers, Delhi woke up to a thick smog the day after Diwali and the AQI remained at a “severe” level for days till 14 November when it reduced to “very poor”.

    Even the Supreme Court (SC) had to step in and pull up the Delhi government. A three-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana, sought to know what measures the Union and the Delhi government were taking to control pollution. The SC also contemplated measures like placing the entire city under a lockdown or an odd-even system of managing vehicular traffic. But how significant are these band-aid-like measures?

    And fingers, of course, were also pointed towards stubble burning in the Punjab and Haryana. However, this time, the tables turned as contribution of stubble burnings to Delhi’s pollution was reportedly only 10 percent. But can we always place the blame on farmers when it comes to air pollution in the capital? Is there a win-win solution for all parties?


    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramGuest: Santosh Harish, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research

    Editor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • Billed as the “last, best hope” to save humanity, the COP26 summit ended on a bitter-sweet note after two weeks of gruelling negotiations and bargaining over language and provisions of the Glasgow Pact.

    Nearly 200 nations participated in the conference to make progress on slowing down global warming. However, it was in the last few hours of the conference that a handful of countries changed the entire atmosphere of the summit.

    A last-minute demand by India, backed by China and other countries, watered down the language in the pact which called for a “phase-out” of coal. Instead, China demanded the wording to be “phase down” and India wanted the pact to only cover “inefficient” coal.

    But with no alternative solution other than countries voluntarily agreeing to reduce emissions, where does the world go from here? Was COP26 a success or a failure? Have we made any headway in limiting climate change?


    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramGuest: Chandra Bhushan, environment, and climate expert and senior journalist Nabanita Sircar.Editor: Shelly Walia
    Audio of COP26 Speeches: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • China, a country that is so singularly determined to expand its territorial claim in the Asia-Pacific, has now built an entire village inside a disputed territory with India.

    You read that right. According to several media reports and satellite images, China has built a village that can house thousands in the disputed territory in Arunachal Pradesh. And though the news about the village being constructed is not new as NDTV had broken the story earlier this year, it got reignited after the US Pentagon published a report on 3 November, highlighting China’s growing claim along the LAC.

    In its annual report, the Pentagon pertinently notes that China has been taking “incremental and tactical actions to press its claims” at the LAC with India and that sometime in 2020, China built a “large 100-home civilian village inside a disputed territory”.

    Taking note of this report, the Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday, 11 November, stated that it does not accept “such illegal occupation” and the “unjustified Chinese claims”. But in a bizarre contradiction to both the MEA and Pentagon report, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat stated that China’s construction “were well within their part of the LAC” and that "they have not transgressed anywhere".

    To make matters worse and more confusing, China has also introduced a new land boundary law, which sends a clear signal that the country plans to use its civilian population to safeguard “territorial integrity”.

    With Sino-India relations already on a tightrope since the most recent core-commander talks reaching a deadlock, China’s recent actions at the border may have only soured the relations between the neighbours further.

    Their actions throw up the following questions: What is China trying to signal by upping the ante in the disputed regions? Does the new land boundary law state that China is no longer interested in a border resolution with India? And lastly, how worrying are these moves for India?


    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramGuest: Harsh V Pant, Director, Studies & Head, Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation.Editor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • The much-awaited IPOs of Paytm and Nykaa, the homegrown fashion brand, finally came to an end on Thursday, 11 November, with the latter having a blockbuster start on listing day with its valuation crossing Rs 1 lakh crore.

    The issue price for Nykaa was Rs 2,018 apiece, with a premium of 79 percent over its issue price. But the strong demand from all categories of investors resulted in the company making it to the top 100 mid-caps on the Bombay Stock Exchange, ahead of giants like State Bank of India and even Coal India.

    The rally in the markets also resulted in the company’s founder, Falguni Nayar, net worth touching USD$ 7 billion, making her India’s wealthiest self-made female billionaire.

    But while on one end Nykaa made out like a bandit, Paytm’s parent company, One97 Communications, struggled to garner a full subscription, with less than 50 percent of the stock being subscribed even on the second day of listing. And according to analysts, one of the reasons for the weak response could be the massive size of the issue itself.


    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramGuest: Niraj Shah, Markets Editor at Bloomberg Quint
    Editor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • On the heels of an early exit from the 2021 T20 World Cup, the BCCI has announced the T20 squad for the New Zealand series starting 17 November, with the baton of captaincy being passed to Rohit Sharma.
    Alongside as his deputy is KL Rahul and the new coach Rahul Dravid. But what has also been making headlines is the induction of fresh faces in the squad as with many senior players being put on rest, notably Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya.
    The new squad includes freshers like Venkatesh Iyer, who made his mark in the 2021 IPL in Dubai, Avesh Khan, and Harshal Patel.

    And one of the key reasons for these fresh faces in the squad is due to exhaustion faced by the players who have been travelling for 6 months and living in bio-bubbles without adequate breaks in between. Fatigue is also reportedly one of the key factors which contributed toward’s India’s losses at the T20 cup.
    But with a new captain handling the team, a new coach managing the players and several new players in the squad, how will India fair in the upcoming T20 series? Will this reset of players work? What can we make of the new squad?
    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramGuest: Sports commentators and analysts Amrit Mathur and Chandresh Narayanan.
    Editor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • The world for the past few months has been speaking a lot on COVID vaccines and how it is our way out of this pandemic. But it will be a long time before the entire world is vaccinated. So what do we do to prevent severe symptoms or hospitalisation till then?

    A new anti-viral pill for COVID-19 treatment from pharma giants Merck and Pfizer Inc, aims to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and even death. These new drugs – Merck’s Molnupiravir and Pfizer’s Paxlovid – are currently in their clinical trials but have shown promising results, especially the latter, which claims to reduce the risk of hospitalisation by 89 percent.

    And countries have already started recognising the significance of these pills, with the United Kingdom being the first country to approve Molnupiravir and purchased nearly half a million courses.

    So what are these new drugs exactly? How do they work and more importantly, are they safe?


    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramGuest: Vaishali Sood, The Quint’s Health Editor and Dr Rakesh Mishra, the former Director of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and an Advisor to CEBM.

    Editor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • On the heel of a mixed bag of wins and losses in the recently concluded bypolls, the Bharatiya Janta Party held their first national executive meeting since the start of the pandemic on 7 November.
    Though the meeting was largely devoted to applauding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on a range of actions, primarily COVID-19 and his intervention at the COP-26 summit, what was also front and centre was the focus on the upcoming assembly elections in early 2022.
    And this was pertinent from Modi’s reported exhortations at the party meeting, asking the BJP top brass and workers to become the “bridge of faith” for the common man. Party chief JP Nadda in his inaugural speech added to this, stating that the “BJP’s best is yet to come”. They also announced a “resolution for victory” in the upcoming polls.
    But a significant takeaway from the meeting was the presence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the only BJP CM to attend the meeting physically. Adding more to his profile was him presenting the parties political resolution mentioned earlier, indicating a rise in importance in the party.
    The saffron party also slammed the opposition on various counts like reduction in VAT on fuel and even went a step further, accusing them of “opportunism” and acting with a mindset of “extreme hate”.
    While the party applauded the Centre for its measures regarding farmer welfare and COVID, there was no direct mention of the contentious farm laws, CAA, nor the unclear border disputes with China.
    So what does this meeting tell us about the BJP’s elections strategies? What is this “resolution for victory’?
    To discuss this, joining me today is author and senior journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay and


    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramGuest: Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author and senior journalist and Aditya Menon, The Quint's Political Editor.

    Editor: Shelly Walia
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  • The T20 World Cup may not be going as we expected but there is light at the end of this tunnel with Rahul Dravid waiting for the Indian men’s cricket team to take over as the new coach.

    Dravid has come on board on a two-year contract and his first assignment with be the home series against New Zealand starting 17 November. But how did a man, who made it pretty clear that he didn’t want the job, get selected for it?

    Guest: Chandresh Narayanan, senior sports journalist and cricket commentator
    Host: Mendra Dorjey Producer: Himmat ShaligramEditor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • It was a bittersweet day for the Bharatiya Janata Party as the results of the bypolls held in 29 Assembly seats and three Lok Sabha seats were out on Tuesday, 2 November.

    The saffron party and its allies made a clean sweep in the northeast, winning all nine seats, which went to poll in Assam, Mizoram, and Meghalaya and won the Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa. But it was the surprise blow by the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, and Rajasthan, which became a major setback for the BJP.

    In the BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh, the GOP wrested the Mandi Lok Sabha seat and the Assembly seats of Jubbal. It also retained the Arki and Fatehpur Assembly seats. With the state going to polls next year, the loss is significant since it has now triggered the speculation whether the BJP will replace the incumbent CM Jairam Thakur.

    And in Rajasthan, the Congress won both seats-Dhariawad and Vallabh Nagar with comfortable margins, while the BJP was unable to make a dent and slid further down in the vote share ladder.

    To further rub salt in BJP’s wounds, the victory parade of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal continued as it snatched away all four seats that went to poll with average margins of 75 percent. This results in the TMC’s strength in the 294-member Bengal Assembly rising to 219.

    Along with these setbacks, the BJP also lost the Dadra and Nagar Haveli Lok Sabha seat to the Shiv Sena, making this the Sena’s first Lok Sabha victory outside of Maharashtra.

    So what caused this major rollback of votes for the BJP? Is this a warning signal for the ruling party before the upcoming polls ? And looking ahead, how will this affect the 2024 polls?

    Host and Producer: Himmat Shaligram
    Guest: Aditya Menon, The Quint’s Political Editor. Tune in!
    Editor: Shelly Walia
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  • The buzziest word over the past 24 hours has been “net-zero” and it is because India – in a significant first – has pledged that it will cut its emissions to net-zero by 2070, a target which may be far from ideal but still transformative.

    The announcement, accompanied by four other climate-related targets, was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 26th UN Conference of the Parties or better known as COP26 on 1 November.

    And the announcement came as a surprise to many, given that India, up until just a few days ago, rejected all global pressures to announce such a commitment.

    Along with the net-zero pledge, India has promised to increase its installed renewable capacity and the share of non-fossil fuel energy sources from 40 percent to 50 percent by 2030. All of these commitments do sound great as pledges but how substantive are they in nature?

    And with a significantly later net-zero deadline than many other countries, have we set ourselves an ambitious enough target or have we left enough just enough wiggle room to get by? Are these pledges another set of low hanging fruit or will they have a real impact on the climate?

    Host and Producer: Himmat Shaligram
    Guest: Anjal Prakash, Research Director and Associate Professor at Bharti Institute of Public Policy at Indian School of Business and an IPCC author.

    Editor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
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  • A 10 wicket thrashing at the hands of Pakistan followed by an 8 wicket loss to New Zealand and pre-tournament favourites India are staring at a dangerously early exit from the 2021 T20 World Cup.
    Yes, the Men in Blue are not yet out of the tournament, but their chances of qualifying for the semi-finals went from bad to worse on Sunday and what's more - their fate no longer rests in their own hands.

    Only two teams qualify from the two groups at the t20 World Cup and with Pakistan on a winning-spree, they are set to book the first spot. Meaning, it will come down to India, New Zealand and maybe even Afghanistan fighting for that second spot.

    For India to win that race, they not only need to win the remaining three matches with a significant margin but also hope that Afghanistan upset New Zealand.
    On Sunday night, Virat Kohli made two changes to the squad that lost to Pakistan and brought in Ishan Kishan in place of the injured Suryakumar Yadav and got Shardul Thakur to play in Bhuvneshwar Kumar;s place.

    Ishan opened, Rohit batted at three but all the experiments failed as the team was put into bat first and managed to only score 110/7- their lowest ever score batting first in a T20 World Cup. The team was also unable to secure any boundaries between 6th-17th overs.
    Several factors, from the batting order to the bowling performance may have worked against the India team, with top pacer Jasprit Bumrah stating that the toss becomes a very crucial factor in these matches given the nature of the pitch
    To speak on India’s performance in the match and the road ahead for the team, we spoke with sports commentator and analyst

    Host and Producer: Himmat ShaligramGuest: Chandresh Narayan, sports commentator and analyst.
    Editor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
    Listen to The Big Story podcast on:
    Apple: https://apple.co/2AYdLIlSaavn: http://bit.ly/2oix78CGoogle Podcasts: http://bit.ly/2ntMV7SSpotify: https://spoti.fi/2IyLAUQDeezer: http://bit.ly/2Vrf5NgCastbox: http://bit.ly/2VqZ9ur

  • Metaverse. Sounds straight out of a sci fi novel, right? Well, it is. From a 1992 dystopian novel "Snow Crash" by American writer Neal Stephenson that envisioned a digital universe as a 3D space that one can come in and out of.

    And, that sci fi concept that has been the plot of movies like Matrix or Inception, is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg is aiming for, as he announced that Facebook is rebranding itself as Meta.

    The social media platform will still be called Facebook but with the rechristening of the company name from Facebook to Meta it's not just a social media company anymore but hopes to be a "metaverse company"—something that wants to make this sci fi concept into a reality.

    But where is this reinvention coming from?

    Well, Zuckerberg the Chief Executive of the company explained the name “Facebook” doesn't fully encompass everything that the company does anymore, let alone the future. So, the rebranding in fact, is heralding a transition in the company towards building the next generation of the internet that'll blend the real and virtual worlds for its users.

    But what is Meta's futuristic vision going to look like in practice? Is this going to be the next big thing? As the social media company faces trust deficit over data privacy issues, what are some of the concerns that arises as this social media giant takes a plunge into the AR-VR world?

    Host and Producer: Shorbori PurkayasthaGuest: Udbhav Tiwari is a public policy advisor at MozillaEditor: Shelly Walia
    Music: Big Bang Fuzz
    Listen to The Big Story podcast on:
    Apple: https://apple.co/2AYdLIlSaavn: http://bit.ly/2oix78CGoogle Podcasts: http://bit.ly/2ntMV7SSpotify: https://spoti.fi/2IyLAUQDeezer: http://bit.ly/2Vrf5NgCastbox: http://bit.ly/2VqZ9ur