From organising political protests and flash mobs to uploading their versions of Kolaveri Di,people brought about change with the help of the internet.
2011 was a year of connections. At the turn of the last decade,there were many qualms that we are all becoming alone together. There was fear that digital webs are building societies of isolated individuals. It was presumed that as cellphones become ubiquitous,broadband becomes affordable,and the digital realm emerges as a significant arbitrator of our everyday life,human connections will lose out to digital connectivity. However,the course of the year has shown that the wide and democratic access to digital and internet technologies has led to creative forms of connections between people. Researchers have proved that the social web has decreased the social gaps between people the six degrees of separation is now reduced to 4.7 degrees of distance.
Here is a look at five areas that changed dramatically in 2011 as digital proximities shaped closer human relations.
The Political: From the Arab Spring and the iconic gathering of people at Tahrir Square in Cairo,Egypt,to the unprecedented mobilisation of people who came out in support of Team Annas anti-corruption campaign in India,to the Occupy movements across the world,people reshaped themselves as citizens in 2011. The ability of social networking sites to pass messages,and to share ideas and inspire people to take to the streets has changed the world as we know it. Instead of being passive observers of political protests,thousands of people took to the streets,demanding their rights and expressing their opinions on the politics of their countries.
The Social: This was also the year of the flash mob. After the first excitement in 2003,when the first flash mob was orchestrated in Mumbai,the idea had fizzled out,facing legal opposition and social disinterest. However,in 2011,the flash mob came back with a vengeance from the slut walks which addressed public sexual harassment in our cities,to the organised and permitted dance performance at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai. Planned and executed through viral media,social web and cellphone messages,flash mobs allow people to explore new relationships with malls and roads.
The Cultural: Bollywood took to the digital world this year,with celebrity blogs and tweets about their personal lives (remember the craze around the Bachchan baby),professional relationships and upcoming movies. Movies like Ra.One experimented with social media integration,producing gaming platforms and interactive environments for fans. However,it was all eclipsed by the rage that asked the simple question: Why this Kolaveri Di? What started off as a promo for an upcoming film became one of the most shared videos of the year,leading to thousands of people uploading their versions of the song,recorded with cheap digital video devices.
The Economic: Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes has been the way corporate houses have started harnessing the power of the Web to go beyond just selling. While advertorials and commissioned bloggers are still going strong,there is a clear recognition that the social web might be one of the ways to influence people towards becoming more responsible citizens. Big Cinemas magnificent silent national anthem that captures children with speech and hearing disability performing to Jana Gana Mana stole our hearts at the beginning of the year,and was followed quickly by Aircels campaign,Save Our Tigers.
The Personal: 2011 was a year of crises: natural disasters that destroyed cities in the US,Thailand,New Zealand,the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima prefecture in Japan,or the bomb blasts in Mumbai and Delhi. No matter where,netizens emerged as heroes. They created Facebook pages to mobilise resources,built Twitter hashtags to offer help,organised information mashups to keep people updated and offered help to those who needed it. People of the year,this year,were people,who showed how their spaces of leisure and entertainment are also spaces through which they can reach out to strangers online.
If 2011 has shown us anything,it is that technologies in themselves are neither the problem nor the solution. It is the people who use them and inhabit them that shape the futures of our technology landscapes. And we might be spending more time behind an interface but that seems to make us only more human.
The author is director (research),Centre for Internet and Society,Bangalore