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New Media, new leveller

As fast and cheap broadband becomes available, and access to the Internet reaches every home, every mobile handset in India, over a billion people no longer trapped in the cage of ignorance will suddenly flower and explode into a fervent desire to express and educate themselves, writes Shekhar Kapur. See full coverage.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2008 21:35 IST

How can you define the ambitions of a collective, especially when the collective is over one billion people? Driving towards 1.5 billion or maybe even 2 billion if the planet can support that. For far too long, India’s ambitions have been defined by the aspirations of the privileged few, almost as if at its center lay the ambitions of its feudal masters that demanded to be supported by the rest of the underclass at the cost of their own aspirations.

That is changing. And the change is going to accelerate so fast that those that have been used to privileges will be caught napping, as will the rest of the world. For this is India’s century and it will happen in spite of the politics of India and the politicians of India. Because they will become completely irrelevant. And their irrelevance will be caused by the spread of New Media.

As fast and cheap broadband becomes available, and access to the internet reaches every home, every mobile handset in India, over a billion people no longer trapped in the cage of misinformation and ignorance will suddenly flower and explode into a fervent desire to express themselves, to educate themselves, and to take part in the global culture, shaking off a century of repression and ignorance. Nation state boundaries in this century will in any case become irrelevant and will be redefined by cultural boundaries as the internet and social networking sites start to erode the very idea of emotional commitment to ‘set in stone’ physical/geographical boundaries.

So the India I am talking about is the spirit of its culture. Not its geography. It is the culture of India that will influence the rest of the world, and since culture defines how and what we consume and the way we consume and behave, it provides the very fundamentals of economic behavior and growth.

This is not something that economists like to agree with because it takes away their ability to make economic projections based on simplistic equations of ‘8 per cent growth and 12 per cent inflation, therefore an ‘x’ percent rate cut’ without taking into account all of human behavior. Economics is not a compassionate science and therefore can never be quite accurate a predictor of the future. Never has
Consider this. India will soon have 15 per cent of the world’s teenage population. This demographic has the greatest urge to partake in the ‘New Media’ as we term it for the want of a better word. For how else do we term a trend and technology that is changing so fast that everyday you wake up with new and faster ways to make your presence felt on this planet. To make your own statement.

To search for ways to stamp your individuality in a completely connected global society. These teenagers will be what we call the ‘tipping factor’. They will tip culture and aspirations towards their own culture and spirit. And in doing so, they will drive economic growth towards their own culture.

Just as people of my age the world over helped drive the economies of the West — by aspiring to and consuming anything Western. They now stand by to witness a kind of reverse cultural colonization that in the new digital and information age will happen far, far faster than it took the western world to colonize our minds and culture.
And for those that start to shout hooray for tradition and religion, you celebrate in folly. The new culture will be a modern hybrid that represents the consumerist and sexual aspirations of a restless youth, tempered by a belief in their own destiny and a deep respect for their roots, their mythic and ancient roots. Not the kind of religious moralism that many self righteously claim their own.

How will this transform itself? That is anybody’s guess, but sparkles of it are already evident in the changing face and behavior patterns of our young people.

Shall I pretend to be an ‘economist’ and put some figures to it — make predictions? India in the 20th century will be centre of the world’s New Media economy. Its vast technological resources, the suppressed desire of its people to freely interact with the world combined with its youth demographics will drive New Media revenues almost equal to the whole of India’s current GDP. That’s about one trillion dollars of annual revenue (yes, I did say a trillion) either generated in India or caused worldwide by Indians. That includes all film, TV, music, social networking sites, Youtube and it’s new variations, video games etc, and on any delivery system — be it computers, TV screens, cell phones or any other new technology that enables people to communicate with each other.

And just before those in positions of power start licking their lips, a word of caution. New Media is the most democratic movement there ever was. It is a system in which a kid living in India’s biggest slum can take over the establishment with one good idea and bring it down. Remember Napster? A 16-year-old kid essentially brought the global music business down with one website? That was almost 10 years ago. The world now is a far more technologically disruptive place.
And how will politics survive when information and thought will be driven by blogs with billions of people addicted to them and relying on them. How will politics in India survive when over a billion minds become free and transcend geography?

Time to celebrate.