By Narain D Batra
25 January, 2012,
The 'Arab Spring' had its technological genesis in Silicon Valley-generated social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. But the same networking technology enables American jobs to be done by anybody anywhere. And so Arab authoritarian regimes see their bloody streets as nothing but an American conspiracy while many American politi-cians blame the continuous loss of American jobs on the rising tide of digital civilisation.
With the upcoming presidential election in the United States, every Republican White House aspirant has been promising to bring back lost jobs to America. Even President Barack Obama, in a recent speech to American business leaders - keeping an eye on the November election - said, "I don't want America to be a nation that's primarily known for financial speculation and racking up debt buying stuff from other nations. I want us to be known for making and selling products all over the world stamped with three proud words: Made in America'. And we can make that happen."
That would entail tax breaks for companies creating job growth in the US and, at the same time, withdrawing tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs.
Every human activity - from the self-immolation of a Tibetan monk in Kirti Monastery in China to physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking's most complex hypotheses regarding singularities and black holes, and to the making of smartphones and tablets - is nothing but information in a binary format. Every human activity that takes place in an analogue world can be turned into digital data and can instantly be distributed globally through online networks, thus extending the reach of human communication and ability to anywhere at all.
Digital data can not only be stored and retrieved instantly anywhere, they can also be transformed into predictive intelligence about human behaviour regarding banking, finance, commerce, national security or any other social or political activity. Banking data, music files, pornography or terrorist messages, for example, become indistinguishable as they converge in a digital stream and surge through cyberspace. They can be transmitted and distributed instantly and much less expensively than in the analogue world.
Convergence, instantaneity and feedback interactivity have made the internet the most powerful medium of communication ever developed. Outsourcing, for example, has given India a constant state of telepresence in the American political and corporate discourse. Unlike the offshoring of manufacturing, outsourcing of research and development - and other forms of intellectual and professional work - is bringing India and the US into a virtual domain where brainpower and creativity are shared and enhanced. "Made in America", yes, but how much?
The internet is lowering barriers for fusion and transfusion of cultures, which threatens some authoritarian regimes. China has begun to carry out a cultural cleansing of its popular media by banning 'digital pollution' from the US. Fearing an Arab Spring in China, the Central Committee now insists on "traditional virtues and socialist core values". President Hu Jintao, according to National Public Radio, recently wrote in a magazine, "Hostile foreign powers are intensifying strategies and plots to westernise and divide our country, the ideological and cultural sphere is the focus sphere in which they conduct long-term infiltration." He lamented, "The international culture of the West is strong, while we are weak." 'Made in America' encounters 'Made in China'.
Every new medium of communication changes our concept of space and time, with tremendous cultural, economic and political consequences. The invention of the telegraph in 1837 altered the geography-based metaphor of communication, which ceased to be synonymous with transportation. As the telegraph triggered the development of new technologies, communication became increasingly footloose, liberated from the constraints of space and time. The internet has further altered our view of the space- and time-bound workplace. A socially networked organisation or individual has a different idea of time and space than people of the pre-digital era.
Today, the networked world has become a multidimensional universe in which our telepresence creates activities that are as real as they are in physical space. Telepresence, for example, could enable a Boston surgeon to remotely control a robot to perform surgery in a Mt Everest base camp off Kathmandu; a group of business executives in Bangalore and Boston to design a self-sufficient green energy skyscraper; geeks in Mumbai to brainstorm a technological plan to combat cyber terrorism - all examples of space-time brainpower working in tandem. In this changing context, 'Made in America' makes no sense.
Among the rising global digital elite, there's a widespread awareness that the networked space that hovers over the geographic space is no less real. If you buy music online from a digital music store, for example, it's no less real than physically going to a local music store - or, for that matter, working for a New York law firm from Delhi, Kolkata or Chennai. As more and more people experience activities through an internet telepresence, they are unlikely to care about what is American, what is Indian, and what is Chinese.
To paraphrase Rabindranath Tagore, living in a world of shared values, work and know-ledge is a form of universalism.
The writer is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi