Dr. Mangesh Karandikar

Dr. Mangesh Karandikar is the Director of Deviprasad Goenka Management College of Media Studies.

Invasion of the Internet and Mobile Space

Dr. Mangesh Karandikar

 

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The internet has instantly become popular across the globe, probably because it afforded two things – instant popularity of Internet across the world is probably because it afforded two things – ease of communication and interactivity. In India, like in many other parts of the world, the internet initially reached mostly urban and semi-urban communities, because of lack of uninterrupted electricity and the still prohibitive cost of computers. Though computers did get cheaper over the years, they still are out of reach of a large chunk of the population. In addition, the use of computers also necessitates a certain amount of computer literacy and at least primary knowledge of English, which is not common in rural India. Thus, mobile phones have gained immense popularity in countries like India.

There are several examples of how mobile phones have been used for empowering people who are normally bereft of information. The MS Swaminathan Trust has set up village communication centres and developed an application for mobile phones to supply weather forecasts and market price for agricultural produce to farmers. The trust has also developed a mobile app for fishermen, called Fisher Friend, to point them towards a good catch in the deep sea using the GPS and satellite navigation. The app also supplies them with market information to sell their catch at the best price. There are apps which instantly send your current location to the friends in your contact list in case of an emergency. There are several apps in the domain of education too, for children as well as adults.

Web_Fruit Seller with a Phone_ Source - BlouinNews

Source – BlouinNews

Lev Manovich, in his book, “The Language of New Media” discusses how new cultural forms are being shaped by new software and applications, and how we have easily adopted technical terms like ‘cut and paste’, ‘email me’, ‘copy me’, ‘forward’, etc. in our day to day language. It is quite possible that the mobile phone could become a catalyst in a new media revolution, especially when the majority of India’s population is young – between 18 to 35 years, according to the latest census figures.

Robin Jeffrey wrote about India’s newspaper revolution and how it enabled people to become politically aware and aspire for commercial inclusion. In his latest book, ‘Cell Phone Nation’, Jeffrey writes about how disruptive mobile communication has stirred up society.  Mobile phones have created a revolution in the manner in which we communicate and conduct our day-to-day activities, becoming an indispensable part of our lives. Mobiles phones are no more just phones, but cameras, photo albums, film making devices, radios and tape recorders, spying devices, management tools, and a source of religious images as well as pornography.

Political parties, religious organisations, NGOs, governments as well as commercial organisations have tapped into the potential to advertise and promote their respective causes. An excellent example is that of Unilever’s media channel, Kan Khajura Tesan, which provides entertainment free of cost, to rural Bihar, where villages and towns still face load shedding for about 12 hours a day, albeit with commercial messages.  This is also an excellent example of how commercial organisations can reach the remotest corners of the country, tapping into the domain of mobile communication.

However, it is not surprising that the potential for commercial gains and the inherent greed of the public to remain constantly entertained has been turning the mobile communication space into a vast entertainment platform. Commercial gains are harnessing the basic, primal instinct of society to resort to voyeurism and obscenity.

In his popular book, ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’, Neil Postman warns us of the decline in addressing serious, socially relevant issues in the mass media, and how we are exceedingly becoming over-dependent on technology to conduct our routine lives. He writes about how we are flooded with information we cannot digest. He also questions the need of society to be constantly entertained.

Source - Huffington Post

Source – Huffington Post

Robert Putnam, in his controversial essay, writes about how technology has led to declining social capital. McLuhan wrote, “Man shapes technology, and in turn, technology shapes us.” However, possibly the most damning writing is that of Jean Baudrillard, who in his article, The Ecstasy of Communication, says that each individual in society has become an independent unit hiding, behind the cool, smooth interface of the communication device s/he uses, connecting with society only when on a network. The network has become society, and without it, the individual ceases to be a part of one. At the same time, while on a network, s/he uses all means at disposal to write, show, expose the state of mind, revealing thoughts and desires shamelessly and blatantly and finding extreme satisfaction and ecstasy in this revelation. Being in a relationship or out of it, buying new clothes, eating out, going to a movie theatre, feeling happy, pensive, restless, sad and irritated have all become things to be exposed, shown to the world to receive appreciation and acknowledgement, and hopefully a remote, virtual standing ovation. Baudrillard says that this phenomenon of over-exposure has reached a level where it can only be called obscene.

Social media has become the life and blood of today’s youth. It would not be presumptuous to state that they buy mobile phones to not just make phone calls, but to be in constant touch with their peers. This phenomenon is not solely urban, but it is spread across all societies. IAMAI – the Internet and Mobile Association of India reports that the user base in rural India and usage of the Internet in regional languages are increasing rapidly. Moreover, more than 40% of mobile phone users access the Internet exclusively through their mobile phones.

With India becoming the largest user of Facebook and other social media, next to only the US, we need to introspect and find a way to address techno-dependency. Are we going to give away our personal space to commercial media? It is perhaps unfair to blame technology for all the wrong in the society. Technology, by itself, is neutral. That is why this author prefers to be optimistic.

It is necessary to accept that the internet and mobile phones are vital for conducting our day-to-day lives in urban and increasingly, rural India. Only acceptance will lead to the adoption of new media technologies for development rather than mere entertainment.

A very good example is that of how an episode of the extremely popular television show, Grey’s Anatomy was embedded with messages to shift viewers’ attitudes about HIV. It depicted how mothers, who have HIV, with proper care and medication, can give birth to children without transmitting the disease. The episode was promoted heavily using social media. Pre and post broadcast surveys revealed that the experiment was extremely successful.

Leaders in all fields today should realise that it is a false notion that youngsters, who form the chunk of India’s population, don’t like to read. It is just that many of them don’t prefer to read printed books and newspapers. This author is in the education sector. After trying many methods to make students read books, he decided to create a mobile app called ‘EduSanchar’ to help students learn Communication and Media Theory. The downloadable app has about 60 theories in flash card format, but at the end of each theory, there are links to free online resources where they can learn the theory in detail. In a study conducted by another student, it is reported that many students have started reading more using the app.

With literacy rates in India rising, especially in regional languages, app makers have been quick to create apps in several Indian languages, further expanding the communication horizon.  In another experiment conducted by this author, evidence indicated that even people who could read English preferred to access websites which had content in their native language.

It is a fact that though education in English is gaining popularity, majority of the rural population still gets it primary education in regional languages. The 2011 census shows that India is a young country with more than 40% of the population falling in the age group of 18 to 35 years.

Leaders today have to recognise this phenomenon keeping two aspects in mind. One, the population is young and techno savvy, constantly on their mobile phones. Second, a major chunk gets educated in regional languages. To harness the power of this young India, content should be delivered on mobile devices and in multiple languages.


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