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Internet: Triggering the Democratization of Knowledge

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth – Then
Blessed are the geek, for they shall inherit the earth  - Now

No invention has been as groundbreaking and none as responsible for initiating a shift of power as was the invention of printing press. It undoubtedly contributed to the rise of Renaissance in middle ages which in turn gave rise to modern and progressive thoughts which ultimately resulted in the weakening of monarchy’s and church’s hold over masses. Printing press made possible the easy circulation of revolutionary ideas and played vital role in the awakening of masses. To cut short a long yet interesting story the words of ‘monarchy’ and ‘religion’ were soon transformed into ‘democracy’ and ‘secularism’. Prior to its invention, literacy was the luxury of privileged few, now it has wide reach cutting across all sections of people.

Little realized is the fact that we are now at the threshold of another shift of power very similar to that of which was caused by printing technology. And the one which is responsible is none other than INTERNET. Internet has enhanced and revolutionized the very way we used to perceive many things earlier. The fastest medium of communication was previously telegram and more recently fax. Telegram was at best a short notice and was hardly a medium through which one could have sent a pile of files. Fax of course is instantaneous, but consumes huge quantity of paper which is considered not so eco-friendly and cost effective.

But its peerless contribution to communications notwithstanding, it’s more overriding role has been in shifting the power of a select few over one of the most important asset of this century – Knowledge. Yes, internet has definitely diluted the hold of controlled and centralized organizations over knowledge. The only way one could get news of any incident few decades back was newspaper and magazines. And the possibility is more likely than not that the reports are likely to be influenced by certain motivations. Now any major event invites enormous response in internet and we atleast can rest assured that we hear from all perspectives and all the arguments put forward are given an audience.

Also the hierarchical structure of any organization makes it impossible for an amateur to get himself noticed. There’s hardly any surprise anticipated then, when we observe that internet is amateur’s paradise. The exponential growth of bloggers vindicates the above statement. And we’re already witnessing another source of income for these freelance and amateur writers, through advertisers. The person might as well earn in direct proportion to the number of visitors to his site.

There is another noteworthy contribution of internet: - the free availability of knowledge of any profession depth and intensity. The users of internet in its early evolution would recall that many paid subscriptions were in vogue then. Many newspapers used to charge some amount for its online copy. Many services including even enlarged email storage were to be paid for.
Now with the realization of the power of advertising dawning upon many, we suddenly see that what was once charged is now free. Strictly speaking ‘free’ not only means free of cost but also freedom of access to information. And it is the usage in the latter context internet has most significantly contributed towards. The revenue which earlier was generated by these charging users is now being collected from advertisers. And being free automatically entails more popularity and this in turn increases the revenue collected through advertising. Now it becomes evident why Google could work wonders with sponsored search links. The intelligent advertising technology it uses even in its email service (contextual ads) allows it to offer free of cost huge memory space and other unique features like in-built instant messaging system. 

Then, we have the most talked about innovation of recent times -social networking. To be honest, I was nothing short of ecstatic to be able to meet my long lost friends, more so because I had absolutely no way to locate them. Social Networking still has a long way to go in terms of sophistication but it can’t be denied that it’s a marvellous way to keep in touch with friends without any hassles. Suffice to say that if we’re to be asked by the previous generation the proof of how far we’ve progressed, one would without hesitation point out to Internet.

Technology instead of becoming an Orwellian threat to individuals through mass surveillance & suppression has become the vehicle of individual freedom & expression.

 There are however serious limitations to this newfound free access to information & expression. There virtually remains no perceivable standard which could be used to distinguish news from views. This is where organized sector certainly scores for there actually are some standard set of rules which give any work a more balanced and professional touch sans the extreme views likely to put forward by any individual. To certain extent internet seems to have adapted to this face this challenge. The perpetual increase in the popularity of which is can be edited by users (read non-professions or atleast unorganized intellectuals) over the traditional encyclopaedias clearly shows that it’s possible to make such free enterprises reliable. But it remains that in future we must be prepared to hear from multiple-perspectives rather than the usual authoritative uni-perspective. Here clarity takes a backseat to accommodate freedom.

With respect to social networking I feel that there must be some reworking on the terminology used. In an age where most of us have hundreds of “friends” (or is it thousands?) in our social network, I think it’s never useless to stop and wonder for a moment. Well, in remote childhood, I recall that I when I used to call a person a friend it was with complete sincerity and I was very much conscious of his personal likes & dislikes etc through persona interaction for a reasonable time. Now we deem it fashionable to call a new acquaintance a friend. These appear to be very irrelevant, but already many studies in this direction have proved that social networking encourages superficial & shallow relationships and can cause variable mental disorders. An almost delusional self-importance is often triggered through usage of these sites where utmost care is taken to update profiles as though the whole world has nothing better to do than viewing them. 

In the age of Twittering & SMSs, language has gone for a toss (that’s pardonable though) & instant gratification has become the buzzword giving the old fashioned morality & steadiness a run for popularity. Gone is the age of introspective & composed expression, its all reckless, thoughtless, range of the moment expression.

These are however secondary developments and can be arrested through proper analysis and counselling to youngsters. It would be wrong & regressive to pinpoint certain defects of the otherwise beneficiary affects of internet. But nonetheless since the future is in the virtual world, it’s highly recommended that we thoroughly understand it.

The ascendancy of internet is indisputably one of the turning points in history and the future generations would rate it at the very least as an invention as revolutionary as printing technology.


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