That we are past the Industrial Age and already in the new Age of the Internet, is a phenomenon and a fact that we have come to recognize and reluctantly accept. The challenge now is how to understand and deal with the requirements of this age and how to harness and utilize its potential to further the betterment of mankind and to ensure sustainable human existence on this planet.
In the Internet Age will our governance structures and political institutions like democracy get strengthened, be fairer, more equitous, and mature? Could it indeed become truly representative? Or will it become another instrument to be manipulated for creating narratives and discourses that serve the interests of those who control the use of the internet?
Out of over 6 .6 billion people in the world, the internet has access to almost half of them. There are countries where this access is reaching a level that can be called universal while there are pockets where it is still in the realm of a distant dream and utopia. We have been calling this the digital divide for some time now.
The paradigm shift in the way we have been living and surviving in the last year and a half offers enough evidence to suggest that the challenge may be formidable but not insurmountable and it may be just a matter of time when this so-called divide gets bridged substantially. The basis for such a belief emerges from the fact that notwithstanding the untold miseries and hardships, we have remarkably survived in the times of corona, that the world has not seen populations dying of hunger, of want, of lack of food or water, or even medicine. And this has happened because we learned to use the internet to maintain our supply chains, our processes of production and procurements and distribution. We learned to work from home and to learn and teach and educate online without the shelter of a classroom or university building. We missed the ways we used to work but quickly adapted ourselves.
All concepts of an era, borne out of our advancement emanating from the Industrial Age and its gifts and legacies today stand on their head and shall only be reinvented, reshaped, remodelled and replaced, and substituted. It may take a while, but not too long.
Not too far in the future, shall we need a Parliament? Why do you need to elect 600 odd people’s representatives paying an astronomical price in terms of money, time, energy, and resources, just to debate on policy matters and take a majority view when each one of us can directly express our opinions and views on any issue under the sun? At a click of a key, we can directly and decisively opine whether we want or need a lawyer, or how a scheme of welfare for children and women should be conceived and created? We can participate directly in telling the government whether we need a law, a regulation, for whom, and what should constitute its contents and components? The new Age of the Internet will enable us to do so. So, do expect in the near future abolition of or at least a radical transformation in the way we think and conceive of making laws in this country or for that matter in any other countries and we don’t need MPs and MLAs to decide what law should be framed and enacted for us. These bodies, no doubt, will have some other useful purpose but we will not need them the way they exist today.
But there always exists another possibility- perversity and pessimism, destruction and disorder- being as natural an impulse, choice, and fascination as are creation and conception. What if some or many of us consciously decide and choose the technical manipulation of information and data to further consolidate control and authority- a weakness and vulnerability that nature seems to have endowed upon us as generously as it does the spirit of benevolence, altruism, and sacrifice. And such a possibility is not merely fear or apprehension, it is real, palpable, and experiential.
New World Order
Notwithstanding the uncertainties and attendant excitement of understanding the unravelling of imminent possibilities, one is inclined to be convinced on the course of the future democracies of the world set and destined to reinvent and re-engineer themselves. And this will only be a beginning. Institutions after institutions so assiduously and craftily built during the Industrial Era will crumble under their weights as increasingly they will find little utility, little value, and no justification for their continuing existence. Be ready instead to embrace and accept and own a new order of Institutions- in every sphere and dimension of human life, activity, and existence.
Views are personal. The author, Uday Kumar Varma an IAS officer, former secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of MSME is also an esteemed jury member on the SABERA 2021 Jury Board.
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