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A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

“I believe the future will judge ‘post-truth’ phenomena as the logical next step in the technologically fuelled evolution of our collective social consciousness.”

The world’s largest democracy (and soon to be the most populous country on the planet) is in the midst of a digital tsunami. India’s 4G revolution spearheaded by Jio has made internet access available to the masses. The cost of data has fallen sharply, from $2.12 per gigabyte in August 2016 to $0.04 in December 2018. To put the sheer scale of this shift into perspective: India had 190 million smartphones users at the end of 2014. That number rose to 390 million by the end of 2017, and current projections put that figure at 829 million by 2022. India is changing, and it’s changing fast, thanks to technology.

The most salient feature of this disruption, however, has been the seismic shift in the balance of power in social discourse. Once a closely guarded citadel of our urban power centers — our beloved city-state metropolises, where information was essentially a one-way street, flowing down to the rest of the polity — social discourse has now become a two-way conversation with the continuous growth of the digitally active and savvy masses.

Journalism, media, and communication at large are going through a much-needed process of democratization. This phenomenon isn’t restricted to India — it’s a global transformation taking place across all countries, fuelled by access to the digital world and accelerated by social media. Our social spheres are evolving at a rate unseen in our entire history.

The entry of these divergent and often incompatible views has begun the process of leveling the playing field in mass communication, which naturally unnerves its traditional occupants and dominant players. They in turn — as a strategy to avoid ceding ground — have suddenly developed a voyeuristic obsession with labels and counter-labels to differentiate the “us” from “them.” Globalists, nationalists, snowflakes, alt-right, alt-left, fake news — the list just keeps growing.

The one label I find particularly interesting is “post-truth.” Apparently, we live in a post-truth world where some people just inherently know the truth — they’re innately aware of right and wrong. Meanwhile, the rest of the lot, even with all the world’s information at their fingertips, just aren’t capable of finding it. They apparently lack the judgment to know right from wrong. They’re meant to follow those that know better. And if data is to be believed, most of the souls in that category haven’t yet made the jump from their rural lives to our urban universe.

The future, though currently molded by residents of city-states, lies with those outside of it, the masses — those who’ve recently, for the first time, acquired through social media and the internet, a voice in our collective discourse.

Their truths are challenging ours, knocking on our tiny little smart screens every day. Their realities, though very different from ours, are in fact their realities, shaping their everyday decisions and fears. While their tone may be harsh and their demeanor different, their fears are as legitimate as our own. But our first reaction, as always, has been to mock them — then to label it with something catchy, clever, and demeaning. And now we’re diligently working to build barriers to access and expression through censorship and social media bans — in the name of the greater good.

The need of the hour is for us to analyze these multiple truths with empathy. Give them time to be heard. Allow divergent thoughts space to coexist, grow, and evolve, to develop a new iteration of collective wisdom to drive our societies forward.

2019 will belong to those who harness this diversity of multiple truths to create a more robust “post-truth” society. 2019 will redefine our current understanding of this world and hopefully allow us to accommodate those who, outside of elections, have seldom had the means to influence our collective narrative.

I believe the future will judge “post-truth” phenomena as the logical next step in the technologically fuelled evolution of our collective social consciousness.

Shalabh Upadhyay is the founder and storyteller-in-chief of NEWJ.

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