The world of the world wide web changes fast. We havent yet figured out what an internet year means in human years,but for those of us who live immersed in the augmented virtuality of the internet,we know that is a time span in which communities rise and fall,relationships blossom and wither,platforms emerge and disappear,and new practices and languages of being human,being social and being political get reformulated. Here are five ways in which the world changed,with and through the digital,in ways that are going to extend beyond 2013.
The duck-faced pout,the tilt of the head,the camera that is inclined to hide double chins,and the ironic statements we want to make,have all become a part of the digital zeitgeist. And now political leaders (Obama,Cameroon and Thorning-Schmidt) have commemorated the selfie in history at the memorial to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of Nelson Mandela. The selfie (even though your word processor will not yet agree) has now an official entry into the Oxford English Dictionary,making it the word of the year. Amused? Quick,whip out that phone. Take that picture. Instagram it. The world is waiting.
There was a time when we went to YouTube to see strange videos and post comments on them. There was nothing more joyous than watching user-generated videos and talk of them,laughing at the idiots,pointing at the ludicrous,and crying when a cat kissed a puppy. But this has been the year of response videos. If there is a strange video,there is a video that imitates it. Some of them define the viral conditions of being the Harlem Shake made us all gyrate and go berserk to 30 seconds of music. 2 Girls 1 Cup shall scar us for life. Charlie has bitten more than anybody can chew. Miley Cyrus is no longer the only one on wrecking balls. As the digital camera becomes ubiquitous and we all watch each other watching each other watching each other watching phew,that was a sentence that did not know where to end.
You have never ever been truly angry unless you have gone and unleashed a diatribe on your blog. Twitter has become the space where the new information battles are fought,with hashtags as the arsenal. Tumblrs shouting loudly at anything that irritates us have become common. Facebook trolls have flourished. Everything makes us angry,and when we are angry,we find others who join us in our vitriol. We have learned to abuse politicians,berate celebrities,snub strangers and alienate friends,and the social media has facilitated all of it. However,the rage has also seen another side. It has united people to fight against inequity,inequality,injustice and oppression. When traditional news channels have blacked out or manipulated information,when governments have established draconian laws,when our fundamental conditions of being human have been violated,the internet has seen digital rage again,and it has been effective in bringing people together to build better worlds. Guerilla groups like Anonymous and Wikileaks as well as organised mobilisation platforms like Avaaz and Change.org have all shown us new ways to channel rage.
Digital technologies are a strange thing. We cant feel them,but we are enveloped by them. We cannot hold them,but we are in an intimate and perverse relationship with them. Machines have grown small,more invisible,becoming a natural part of our everyday experience. And whether we like them or not,wearable technologies that buzz,beep,pulsate,
throb,and record every living second of our quotidian lives,are here to stay. From Glassholes a term used for people experimenting with Google Glasses to live-record their everyday life to watches that double as phones,the world is quickly being recorded and archived.
Remember the time when we were still debating about information societies and what it means to live in them? Information reality has been replaced by data reality. We have realised that what we say is the least important part of our online activities. What we say,generates a huge amount of meta data who we are,where we are,what do we like,what do we shop for,which websites we visit,who do we know,how do we know them…. Big data is about quantifying our everyday practice step-by-step,monitoring our health,our well-being,our emotions,our interactions,our transactions,and this data is being analysed to produce profiles and information about us that is way beyond our control. And hey,you are not just being stalked by your neighbour but also by the US government,as well as your friendly internet service provider. Rest in peace anonymity,long live big data.
Nishant Shah is director (research),Centre for Internet and Society