Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Tweet, Therefore I Am

It was the summer of 1995. My neighbour was moving to the U.S. To continue to be in touch and to get to know the news from the neighbourhood that he would soon leave, he gave me his new address. After writing the postal address in every detail, he explained the location in terms of geographical landmarks. Those were the days when email and Google were unknown, and partings were painstaking and mushy.

Cut to 2010. The neighbour visited India for a holiday. The day came when he was returning to the U.S. His seven-year-old son gave me his email address and his Facebook ID. These are the days when coordinates are mentioned in terms of the virtual world and one's location can be shown on Google Maps. With the integration of webcam features with chat, the other person is never far away. The maudlin romance of partings, then, has undergone a paradigm shift.

Not just partings, but everything else about human interaction has changed. Identities are defined by digital parameters, and being online is a personal statement of one's identity. If the photographs of your first day after birth are uploaded on Flickr, the video of your first rendition of rhyme is put up on YouTube. Blogs have replaced diaries and social networking sites have become virtual cafes. Postal addresses are redundant; email addresses do. If you are not online, you are as good as being non-existent. Communication is so dominated by the online medium that ignoring it is insensible.

While it facilitates faster, real-time communication among people across the globe, the online medium has become an easier and more appealing platform for human interaction. The U.S. president Barack Obama is doing a question-and-answer exercise with people on YouTube. So far as direct communication between a president and his people goes, this is the first of its kind. As it sets an example for other leaders and motivates them to try the strengths and features of the Web, it also sets new standards in effective governance.

Big B likes following the discussions on his blog, and Shashi Tharoor is a regular on Twitter. Grandparents pick up the nuances and tips of online communication to stay in touch with their grandchildren living in another country. Even as it has broken the barriers of privacy for celebrities, the celebrities themselves acknowledge the importance of being online and more reachable to the audiences.

From gossip to debates to campaigns, everything happens online. Psychologists evaluate one's personality on the basis of his presence on social networking sites. Aggregation of data from various search engines gives interesting insights about the sociological patterns of people belonging to different cultures. The virtual world, once a part of sci-fi literature, is now an inevitable and prominent reality and is the collective diary of human civilisation as it evolves further.

Move over the metaphysical statement, "I think, therefore I am". The new caption shall read: "I Tweet, therefore I am".

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