Twittercracy and Digital Divide in India
The controversial tweets of Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs, have thrown up important issues. One is that “all have to be on the same page” as said by S.M.Krishna , the Union Minster of external Affairs and the second is that we are getting into habit of knee jerk actions to be reversed sooner than later. Even before the controversy on two months cooling period on multiple entry visas was over, came the clarification that it will be reviewed in six months (due to pressures from US & UK). Perhaps Shashi Tharoor won the points there. But it simply shows that our politicians are out of depth on effects of globalization. The international travel has become like taking a local train in Mumbai literally. Just see this in the backdrop of fact that Rebecca Mark, CEO of Enron, traveled 36 times to India in a period of 18 months during 9294 period when globalization was just round the corner. How can one have two months coolingtheheels when situation demands you to be where the action is? Stringent checks, with no influences, while issuing visa and intelligence inputs is the need of the hour. Failure of our system can not be corrected by shutting off all the serious visitors. Tourism, medical tourism, social visits are all contributing to business of the country directly or indirectly and therefore we should bear this in mind. There is no doubt that certain policies at highest levels have to be discussed within the four walls depending on the sensitivity of the issues involved. There can be differences of views which can be aired and discussed but the circle of friends on social networks can not be the decision makers. Nevertheless, the most important issue highlighted by tweets of Shashi Tharoor is that the new media of social networking has made its impact on political scene in India even if with negative effect to start with. The power
of social networking, when unleashed, can have far reaching impact on the global society.
EGovernance: It is important to create awareness amongst the older generation of politicians about power of new electronic media tools evolving and changing the world rapidly. One can not wish away and ignore the powerful channels of mass communication available today. We can not be living in isolation for ever about use of technology for the benefit of better informed & quick decision making process. Our governance is still by & large driven by sixty years old manual systems. Computers are still being used in government offices only as glorified typewriters just because no one is manufacturing typewriters today. Senior officers in the government department do not use computers hands on. The younger generation of government officers and ministers are computer savvy. In fact I was impressed to see Mr.Rajiv Pratap Rudy personally using computer hands on in his office, when he was minister in NDA government. We are still far away from making use of the technology for the benefit of masses. It is unfortunate that a country which is known globally for the skills of information technology is not leveraging the same for e governance. It is a matter of maximum five years and the banking system of the country would have a significant share of mobile banking. Our masses have shown that they can absorb new technology as is evident from spread of mobile phones to the poorest. It is a matter of satisfaction that today Pune traffic police are using BlackBerry devices. The modernization of our political system as well as governance is overdue. We have not yet benefited from advantages of globalization for capturing and disseminating information, building databases and reaching out to the people. We still believe in appointing commissions on public issues and keep their reports on shelves for posterity. Why the reports can not be on government websites? We still have bills in parliament kept on shelves for
years (Lok Pal Bill, Women’s reservation Bill etc) and no one ready to tell people why there is no movement on vital issues of national importance. Is this what we call inclusive growth? Switch off for 5years: Our politicians rest assured in the cozy comfort of thoughts that they need not communicate with their constituency for next five years. They do not have database of their voters and do not feel obliged to bounce any ideas off their voters on programmes and policies. What Shashi Tharoor is perhaps doing is keeping in touch with his data base of people who matter. Forgetting the controversies his twitters generated, he has shown the way to keep in touch with the people. Our politicians used SMSes for one way communications on mass scale during recent assembly elections in Maharashtra. Some of them were also seen on You Tube. But now that they are elected, they just couldn’t care less. They do not feel the need to communicate even their achievements, however small or big, during the five years or seek views on important policy issues. Importance of Social Networking: I am Indian citizen living in India. I happened to send a copy of my blog on international issues to the office of US President, Barack Obama and since then I have been on his mailing list. He sent mail, among other issues, on his health care reforms bill and I quote from the same: “You can help by putting these core principles of reform in the hands of your friends, your family, and the rest of your social network. Thank you, Barack Obama” His recognition of “the rest of your social network” is noteworthy. That is where we are missing the point. I am neither a voter for US elections nor connected anyway to the president’s office and still I get the communication on important issues. Why can’t we get any communications ever from our system of governance at city, district, state or country level from any
functionary? If that is too sophisticated and cumbersome, we do not get even adequate information on the government or political parties’ websites also. Websites are generally outdated and have minimal information of no use. See my blog “Mass Communication, Internet and Our Political Parties” of May 7, 2009. Who’s who on the Twitter: It is worth noting that Barack Obama, 10,Downing Street, Bill & Melinda Gates, Al Gore, John McCain all have official twitters. If we want to empower people with true democracy, electronic media can play significant role to bridge the communication gap. We have to use the internet technology which delivers at lowest cost. 140 characters of a tweet can do wonders, if used effectively, with no cost at all. Twittercracy has arrived. I wish all my readers a Very Happy & Prosperous New Year. Vijay M. Deshpande Corporate Advisor, Strategic Management Initiative, Pune January 1, 2010 Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/VMDsyndrome Scroll down for my other blogs Or visit www.strami.com