Bottoms Up: India’s Changing Internet, Compulsions to Click Whore & Responsibility

Some of us are idealistic about the Internet. We try and live up to the declaration of independence of the cyberspace. At the core of John Perry Barlow’s declaration, is the message that we don’t need to be policed by the weary giants of the Industrial world. That we, are creating a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace, naturally independent of tyrannies of weary giants of flesh and steel–the Governments of Industrial world.

When Barlow wrote the declaration, it was February 1996, the days when Internet was beginning to make rapid impact on popular culture in the United States. Much space was devoted to idealism. Since then, the Internet has gone mass in the United States. Out of every 100 Americans, more than 80 have access to the Internet. The idealists, like in the real world, are now a minority, albeit a powerful one on the Internet. They are fighting battles for Internet freedom, on behalf of the majority even as the rest are busy with cat videos. New age news organisations are carrying forward the legacy of American journalism.

In our country, the Internet is just about to become mass. According to the World Bank, for every 100 people in India, only about 13 people have Internet access. That is currently a small percentage of the country’s 1.2 bn population. With improving mobile connectivity & data services, when it goes mass, at a projected annual growth rate of 33%, there will be more cat videos.

There are over 82 mn Facebook users in India. We have the 6th largest number of Twitter users in the world. Television channels have started picking up feeds from social media, amplifying its reach. Blogs are the fastest growing category in India, the world’s 3rd largest Internet population. The distrust of mainstream media is evident online. What this means is that the Internet has started playing an important role in the national discourse. The Indian middle class is swelling. A rising English speaking middle class, will only mean that consumption of news will shift dramatically from print to digital. The truth is, the shift is already underway.Typewriter Journalist

As content creators, we will be compelled to play to the gallery, click whore, or target the lowest common denominator and grab eyeballs. Opinions formed on the Internet, will carry through, to the real world. In five years from now we all would have played an important part in dumbing down the Internet. But we can choose to do otherwise, that is, if we have faith in the Indian reader and our ability to match up to their expectations. We must, therefore, consciously set aside some space for idealism, values and ethics or put public discourse in danger of being hijacked by memes or moneybags.

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

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