IMPHAL, May 19 NNN: The dawn of the dot com era, particularly the beginning of the 90s, activated a debate centered on the demise of newspapers in its traditional paper format. While many had written a solemn requiem on the sustainability of the format, there is no denying that newspaper business, across the third world countries and particularly in Manipur, has been bravely fighting on against the onslaught of internet and the proliferation of web enabled mobile phones. Newmai News Network (NNN) spoke to consumers of the pulp product even as grave implication of the business on our fragile environment looms large across the event horizon of human future.
Newspapers today are not merely a source of hard news. The pages of all decently circulating newspapers cater to a wide range of interests and needs with the implication that internet and its hardware have been reduced to mere gizmos of the geeks accessible only to technologically literate few.
Dr Dhanabir Laishram from Manipur University , speaking to NNN, reposed his faith on the sustainability of newspapers over internet given the persistence of social and economic disparities in Manipur and elsewhere in the third world countries.
He said that though internet is convenient and handy it is not cost effective for consumers in place like Manipur which is steeped in poverty. He is of the view that newspaper will retain its pride of place as long as rural-urban, literate-illiterate and rich-poor divide persist but quickly expressed his pessimism on the sustainability of the business if the socio-economic disparities are overcome.
Culture is something which is passed down by a generation to a generation, often through a process of trial and error. The race between material culture, here technology, and its social culture is one of unequal contest. But the fact remains that the momentum of material culture is incumbent on its social parameters. And poverty has emerged as a major dampener in the march of technology.
The core argument in Samuel Huntington`™s Clash of Civilization may have meant the tension between Western and Eastern civilization rooted in their own cultures and identities but the tension between material culture and social culture is implicit with the conflict between Western liberal democracy as a product of technology and Eastern society as a product of mysticism.
Social worker Victor Keishing said before the internet era, people used to see television and listened to radio news and got informed what the newspaper will carry the following day but still the mornings were not complete without reading newspaper. Likewise, Victor Keishing said the newspaper will be read by people in this internet era.
All Manipur Tribal Union (AMTU) general secretary Romeo Bungdon shared the view when he said that newspaper has since become a culture of social necessity while internet is yet to emerge out of its shell as luxury service for many. What he felt short of mentioning was that Western culture has rampaged over Eastern culture through the use of technology as a means of latent conversion.
Grace Jajo of Forum for Indigenous Research said poor power supply and the societal culture of including newspaper as one of the breakfast menu are one factor that newspapers are still popular. She further said that there are large number of people loyal to newspaper.
Adibo Newmei, senior lecturer of Modern College echoes Grace Jajo`s to certain extent. He said lact of facilities is one factor that internet is still not that popular here in our region. Adibo however said people love newspapers because it contains detailed information.
Social activist Thangkam Lupheng had similar opinion about the business viability of the paper format of news, even going to extend of saying that well established newspapers will not be shaken at the face of the proliferation of internet.
However, besides the social factor of the impracticability of newspaper in the long run, some people still vouch for its reliability and authenticity. Artax Shimray, the advisor to North East Students`™ Organization (NESO) and activist said that newspaper is here to stay. He said that even though internet has made an inroad into our lives, homes and offices people still, by and large, depend on newspaper because of its authentic reporting and affordability. Internet and mobile are for the elite, he proclaimed.
For people like W Khomei who is an artist, the claim that internet is a technological super highway sounds unattractive in India because the penetration of the service is still negligible. He also said that because it has not been widely used people still withheld their trust about the reliability of reports on the internet. Even though results of class X and XII are being webcasted, people still wait for the print version to arrive on newspapers, he said.
Rights activist Jenine said that at the global level newspaper circulation has dwindled to a threatening point but in places like Manipur the business of newspaper production and distribution will survived comfortably at least for the next five years. He is however skeptical that a hardcopy will replaced peering over the computer screen for news. A senior advocate Khaidemmani, however, contradicted saying that even in the West the initial threat has not caused any apparent sweeping change in the circulation of newspapers. On the contrary, the circulations of newspaper have since been stabilized after the initial hiccups.
Khelen Thokchom, a journalist, while believing that there is/was a threat to newspaper in Western countries; it remains firm in its root here in Manipur.
Similarly, Khaidem Mani said that the medium of print and electronic serves two completely different purposes and the role of print media can not be overestimated in Northeast India where electricity and illiteracy is still a fighting problem and the percentage of people living below poverty line (BPL) is still substantial.
There are voices that say that technology is a great leveler, but as far as affordability is concerned the poor do not have the wherewithal to have access to internet as they fall by the wayside even in terms of newspaper consumption and readership.
After everything is said and done, there remains one important factor which has been a speedbreaker for the fast running technology. While there has been a long and tedious debate about generation gap, it has now been extended to include technological gap.
As is said, there is an unequal contest between nature and culture, where nature being one`™s ability to cope with the outside environment which is shaped by technological advancement. Now since the speed at which technology changes its avatar is incredibly fast, a generation always struggles to catch up. This is what Khaidemmani may have meant when he exclaimed on behalf of all educated techno-handicap of the `uncle` generation: `look at me! I m highly educated but fumbles at the use of internet.`