Twitter comment by celebrity author Shobhaa De becomes prime time news hour debate and views on naming the proposed anti-rape law after the 16 December rape victim on Twitter; Shashi Tharoor makes the agenda of the nation wide political debate. L K Advani and Narendra Modi, etc., many leading Indian politicians make their political commentaries on social profiles such as Twitter, blogs, that attract commodious public attention.
We have transformed our sentiments in to the text we make in the smart devices we have and in the nebulous radical media platforms, we have inhabited. Connecting alone structures that the lone attempt at protesting, collaborating, publishing and networking from the tiny devices have resulted in the making of ‘alone together’ in Indian Internet. From atoms to bits, liberally we have reproduced and echoed the otherwise not possible usual life style practices. Of course, large and expanding sections of Indians, moving on to social web, are a political choice, personal dissent, individual resistance, personalised political action.
Following Anna Hazare led anti-graft movement and Delhi gang rape; social media began to address a ‘critical mass’. The emerging online social spaces for story telling have reflected the growing sentiments of middle classes, academic, the intellectuals, advocacies, activists and journalists that look at the west.
Cell phone embedded second People Power Revolution in Philippines, anti-government movement online following death of Neda Agha Soltan in Iran, YouTube video showing self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia, Egypt’s 2011 unrest consequent to video tape showing the death of Khaled Said; all show the power of social media in effecting political changes across a broad spectrum of countries recently. The Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, The UK Uncut have co-opted digital media, for protest movements that raised convergence-divergence debate by focusing on how network structures at the international level affect policy outcomes, activist propaganda, advocacy and politics in native society.
Illusion or certainty, a growing sense of delegitimisation of protest paradigm has resurfaced when our life gets akin to petition sites, email lists, online fund raising, social networking sites, blogs and micro blogs, video sharing sites, photo uploading and content sharing sites in the native context.
The popularity of Web 2.0 lifestyle technologies such as what-to-buy- blogs, how-to-cook-it-healthy portals, how-to-wear-eco-friendly blogs, why-I-am-against-nuclear-energy communities, etc., all of which tell us how to fashion our life to fine-tune planet for sustainable living. The style guide and shopping apps available for smart phones, good book read applications on social profile, the habit website bookmarked, news updates subscribed to personal computer, etc., demonstrate millions of people want the life style technologies to express their personal political choices.
The hidden networks of groups, secretive circuits of solidarity, meeting points, all that reformulate profoundly the image of a new political actor; YOU, i.e., the life style activist at Net.Life style politics such as veganism, bicycle and pedestrian culture, ethnic food activism, government schooling, love for mother toungue, thoughts about alternative energy, lamenting ‘Bandh’ and ‘Hartal’, arguing for hand made ‘Khadi’ clothing, and so on, we practice every day have teleported to the social web.
The complex social structure of India being inhospitable to ‘low’ cultures historically had always co-opted the high cultures in the communicative spaces. Discursive practices in social web, in fact, destabilised India's social structure that in the past represented privileged few at the cost of a majority at the fringe margins.
In fact, Internet provides sexual minorities space for share, network, and collaborate with like-minded people, which otherwise not possible in the offline world. Internet is a safe refuge of marginalised sexual minorities to search for new relationships that are out of scrutiny by the draconian laws and hostile social structure.
From chatting to blogging to posting, to Facebook, to Twitter, the solo dissenters of Indian Internet from marital displeasure, disharmony with family, dissatisfied with social structure, has began to find a new ‘self’ cross across potentially inhospitable social structure, taboo ridden social order and patriarchal world.
Greater the embedding of digital platforms in the political subjects in Internet, higher the illusion about cyber unreal. Even though, electronic device for political communication has exploited in electoral democracy, it amounts to brazen imitation of American electoral eco-system. India is facing the Americanisation of political communication largely fed up by social media platforms.
Here in India, too, discussion surfaces projecting social media as town square, India Against Corruption as Arab Spring and Jantar Mantar as Tahrir Square of India. Anna Hazare led anti-graft movement gave a new label to them. A significant component in the mounting hegemony in global homogenising culture is the dominance of the English language in computation, Internet and international electronic communication, American cultural products, etc., that provokes a flat public with digital media being a symbolic carrier.
In a time when politics becomes decidedly hierarchical and feudalistic, engaging with the citizen is almost an ancient ideal. Open Government is an indicator of democratisation of democracy and the incorporation of connective spaces for citizen engagement. The degree to which governments deal with social media is now part of how they deal with privacy, civil liberties, press freedom, and freedom of expression in general.
Elephant, Lotus and Bicycle, we know that political symbols of identity formations. The phantom advances in technology, in particular affect the social construction of identity. More often, identity enabled political sphere will take new dimensions since digitalisation of democracy and online political engagement in India.
Obviously, in the physical social world, sexual identities and deprived sexual minorities discriminated, silenced and marginalised, but Internet offers them, connective spaces to thicken intimate relations. We still live in a society where LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) people attacked in the street, unrepresented in the media, bullied in schools, and oppressed in many other ways.
Yet, the western notions of human nature reflected in the founding philosophy of social web mirrors its insufficiency to reconfigure, in Indian context, our cultural diversity. Our engagement with social media public sphere amalgamation has just an imitation and reproduction of Americanism.
A disturbing set of literature has grown up that both criticise and appreciate social media’s political potential. Yet, with gnawing gap and barbed continuity, social media and social change tie-up has not grown up of age in the womb of India’s digital mind but reproduced the ambush of good vs. bad binary debate prevailing all over the world.