The World Is A Stage: Rising dominance of the virtual world and its implications for policy

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By Amar Yumnam

It would be so wonderful to have a Shakespeare today and enjoy his outpourings collectively at individualized levels. The speed and scale at which connectivity has expanded with Internet, we can now talk of collective and individualization as if they are the manifestations of the same process as compared to the earlier eras when these two were just considered to be antidotes. This transformation has also impacted upon thinking and formulation of ideas tremendously. Ideas have always been paramount since the dawn of civilization and the rise of irrelevance of primitive accumulation as the only means for social advancement. But the way ideas play their social role are undergoing profound changes. Earlier ideas and technology were separate processes, but today the formulation of ideas, the innovation of new technology and the use of technology in idea generation are so intertwined. Further, technology and ideas used to possess limitations of physical geography and limited boundary identities. This is no longer so.

If we look back to the experiences of global development process so far, we would find that both articulation of ideas and innovation of technology have been localized processes. But today the winds of change are such that new articulations of social thinking are invariably on a global scale and global implications. What happens today are localized manifestations of globalised ideas and technology; the age of insulation is gone for good. This is evident from, I would say, two great books published this year; in fact, these two books would stand out as classics published in the second decade of twenty-first century. In the beginning of the year, we had the path breaking book of Acemoglu and Robinson titled Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, which is a sequel to their earlier 2006 book on Economic Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship; I had reflected on the implications of this book in the context of Manipur in an earlier intervention in this column a few months back. With the year coming to a close, another terrific book has just come out. This book titled The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business is authored by Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt and Director, Google Ideas, Jared Cohen. While Eric is Bill Gates to Google, Jared was earlier Advisor to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton while they were Secretaries of State. In this book, Eric and Jared speak of the impact of information technologies as “they help reallocate the concentration of power away from states and institutions and transfer it to individuals”. All these are leading to a kind of scenario where the future “is not predetermined. The future will be shaped by how states, citizens, companies and institutions handle their new responsibilities”.

While the future is no longer predetermined and profound changes are sweeping the world over with virtual world emerging in a very impactful way, Manipur can no longer remain in both ideas and policy formulation the way she has been since the dawn of planning in India. Manipur missed the bus in the heydays of the Planning Era because of the very orientation and focus of the centralized approaches during the period. Manipur has again missed the bus in the Economic Reforms Era because of the, once again, very orientation and focus of the centralized approaches during the period. This is exactly where I see the significance of the involvement, commitment and scale of the ongoing this year’s edition of the Sangai Festival; the political acumen of Ibobi is visible here. But the challenges from the Centre are salient for while the province and her people were getting excited with the scheduled participation of leaders and people from the neighbouring countries, a high ranking official of the government of India could come to the air blaming the Myanmar government with non-cooperation with India. This was almost like a warning to Ibobi that this far and no more. We would love to experience how Ibobi asserts and manoeuvres his way through to achieve the kind of translation of the social dynamics of contemporary Manipur to a globalised context. This is particularly important for Manipur for three reasons. First, the experiences so far establish that the country-wide policy formulation of India would never centralise the issues and problems of Manipur. Though a change in the centres of power of India is imminent in the 2014 parliamentary elections, it is in Manipur’s interest to assert and bring forth at this moment the Manipur model of development in the inevitably globalised context. Second, 2014 would be a very significant year globally and nationally for economic, political, social and technological reasons. In the political aspect, there is going to be a referendum in Scotland in September as to whether it should remain within Great Britain. The outcome of this would definitely have global implications from Quebec to Manipur. Third, as Eric and Jared write in their book, the “spread of connectivity, particularly through Internet-enabled mobile phones, is certainly the most common and perhaps the most profound example of this shift in power, if only because of the scale. Digital empowerment will, be for some, the first experience of empowerment in their lives, enabling them to be heard, counted and taken seriously – all because of an inexpensive device they can carry in their pocket. As a result, authoritarian governments will find this newly connected populations more difficult to control, repress and influence, while democratic states will be forced to include many more voices (individuals, organisations and companies) in their affairs. To be sure, governments will always find ways to use new levels of connectivity to their advantage, but because of the way current network technology is structured, it truly favours the citizens.” In this light the capability of China and her leaders to bring about reforms is admirable. In the November 15 document Xi Jinping has surprised the world and proven himself fully alive to the new winds of global change and global articulation by announcing reforms much beyond expectations. It says: “We should let labour, knowledge, technology, management and capital unleash their dynamism, let all sources of wealth spread and let all people enjoy more fruits of development fairly”. Far reaching reforms relating to involvement of NGOs in social delivery and judicial reforms are announced. While there could be many deaths and complaints about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in India despite the promises of the Indian political leaders (Manmohan Singh included), nothing has come out of that.  In an exemplary contrast to this in the case of China, in a very unexpected way, Xi has outpaced the global expectations by announcing abolition of ‘labour camps’. Such path-breaking reforms cannot be expected from the present Indian government. In the likely event of Modi coming to power at the country level after the next elections and the expected reforms forthcoming, it is to Manipur’s advantage that initiatives are put in place reflecting the focus of the people and the land in the globalised context. This is where the significance of the globalisation aspect of the Sangai Festival lies. There are many shortfalls and many steps towards the true globalisation, but steps have been taken to make the Indian government aware of the wishes of the people of Manipur. The feelings have been aroused and spirit enlivened among the people of Manipur. During the recent visit of Prime Minister Mamohan Singh to China, he could announce Kolkata of West Bengal and Kunming of Yunnan in China as Sister Cities, but could not recall the long lost brothers in the North East. This is where Ibobi’s Sangai Festival becomes significant for Manipur.

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