Last week I watched a video of Bruce Sterling speaking at the 2013 Webstock web conference. He was getting his inter-net knickers in a twist about stacks, not the pancake variety, not even edible. Sterling was referring to the ‘vertically, integrated software structures used by millions of users’ which dominate the ‘contemporary social media side of the web’. You know the ones- Facebook, Amazon, Google etc and according to Sterling these megaliths are using us, monitoring and recording our daily online habits to aggregate data profiles. Once we were users, now we are used. Oh my golly gosh! Suddenly I feel used and a little bit angry. When did this happen? Apparently, the Internet oracles didn’t predict the arrival of these new super structures, not even Stirling who in 2009 said ‘I don’t believe Google is evil. I’m quite a fan of Sergey and Larry: they are the coolest Stanford dropouts ever’.
Anyway if we are internet fodder, we are very well equipped, with the latest mobile devises kept fully charged with pocket-sized charger kits so that we will never run out of talk time or the ability to Tweet. Twitter, writes Steven Johnson “will change the way we live“. Twitter is an ultra fast, ultra simple and ultra adaptive platform that allows end-users to design improvements all in the name of better communication. Humans are very social and as Johnson points out ‘[T]he weather reports keep announcing that the sky is falling’ and ‘millions of us [are] sitting around trying to invent new ways to talk to one another’. Johnson refers to this as ‘resilience’ which I think may be more akin to fascination with new communicative technologies.
Analogy meets reality. ‘[M]ore Indians have access to mobile phones than to toilets’. Scientific American reports approximately ‘1,000 children below the age of five die every day in India from diarrhoea and malnutrition’. Will the drive to connect India to the Global Network create a safe environment for the children of the new digital India or will will it prevent India from drowning in its own excrement? It is staggering to learn the World Health Organisation has reported that ‘more than half a billion people in India still “continue to defecate in gutters, behind bushes or in open water bodies, with no dignity or privacy”‘. However this does not phase Narenda Modi, India’s new Prime Minister who in his first Independence Day speech said;
I dream of a digital India. It was once said that railways connects India. Today I say IT connects India …I fully believe India can compete with the world.
The continuous adaption by users of new technologies may have a flow through effect to India’s sanitation problems and that once India becomes a digitally connected nation improvements may naturally occur. The adoption of the Twitter platform could be the beginning of a wave of improvements.
Dinnoo, S 2014, Why do millions of Indians defecate in the open?, BBC News India, 14 October 2024,
Sterling, B 2013, What a Feeling, vodcast, 30 March 2013, Vimeo, viewed 17 November 2014,