By Roozbeh Gazdar March 2003 Amidst a resurgence in spirituality in the print and electronic media, we are also witnessing the rise of the citizen journalist on the internet, whose pluralistic voice is countering the monopoly of media magnates We humans have always had an innate urge to communicate: to express feelings and thoughts, broadcast viewpoints and share information with others. It is one of the traits that distinguishes us from animals, and is what has contributed to the uncontestable prowess of our species today. Ideas, inventions, insurgencies have always needed a medium to travel through the vast ocean of humanity to be able to influence and leave their mark on the evolution of society. Human history is thus intimately linked with the parallel development of the trends and technologies of communications. From the primordial chatter and growls that evolved into speech and the tentative charcoal scribbles that provided the foundation for writing, we have come a long way indeed. Today, poised on the brink of the internet revolution that is, as surely as swiftly, sweeping the world, we examine the changing face of the communication industry. Democratization of MediaFrom scrolls of ancient papyrus unfolding into the palmtops of today emerges an interesting story of evolving social consciousness. Advancing technology, by creating newer mechanisms for information distribution, has consistently facilitated the opening up of the right to knowledge. For instance, the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, which completely revolutionized the development of literary sensibilities, in that age, and those to follow. A similar revolution in the making was brought to the fore during the recent tsunami that struck parts of Southeast Asia. Ordinary citizens and tourists, with cameras and handy cams, caught dramatic images of the mayhem wrought by the monster waves; flashed on our TV screens, they gave viewers the world over, intimate glimpses into the tragic event. Rescue aid workers and concerned citizens, through personal web logs, blogs posted on the internet, sustained an indepth coverage of events; a similar phenomenon was in evidence during the Mumbai floods of 2005, when personal narratives, widely published in print, and especially on the internet, again presented the human angle amidst tedious journalistic statistics. The internet, by opening up the right to publish, is thus leading to an amazing democratization of the media, thus completing the circle started by Gutenberg’s press. A cornucopia of blogs, wikis – web pages that allow collaborative creation and modification – and online forums heralds the rise of the citizen journalist, signaling the face of the media in days to come. Agreed, the internet’s reach is yet restricted. Also, detailed accounts of last night’s hangover, the state of one’s errant bowels and other such trivia, reflective of a lot of banal writing on the web, hardly make for inspiring reading. But the happy part is that amateurs, armed with no more than the passion to write, are imparting a refreshing eclecticism and diversity to the interpretation of news, which is completely freed from the need to posture to commercial and advertising interests. Take the case of D. V. Sridharan, a former sea-going engineer from Chennai, who, wishing to publicize ‘good news’ happening around the country, found that the media hardly helped. ‘TV was given to song and dance sequences, newspapers had their screaming headlines of disasters and failures, weeklies were pot-boilers rehashing earlier news with ‘scoops’ that often had no basis, ‘ he says. Realizing that, ‘running a dedicated magazine was justified neither by the quantity of material at hand, nor by the cost that it would entail,’ the internet gave him just the opportunity he had been looking for. ‘On the world wide web, the size of the beginning or the pace of growth are not dictated by anything that conventional hard-publishing industry is subject to. Here was freedom. It seemed an invention made for India! And an invitation to act,’ writes Sridharan about how his website, www. goodnewsindia.com, was born. Spiritual ContentTake a look at any bestseller’s list today. Titles such as The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Monk who sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma are sure to be on it. Scan the pages of a newspaper, and you are sure to find a section on spirituality as well as vastu and feng shui tips, articles on alternative healing therapies and so on; a sharp contrast to only a decade earlier, when Life Positive, pioneering holistic journalism in India, found itself entering a completely virgin market. WorldSpace, the world’s largest satellite radio providers, has come up with Moksha, a channel dedicated to the development of body, mind and spirit, with uplifting music, discourses, talks on health and wellness, parables and thoughts for the day. And on TV, you have a plethora of spiritual channels. No longer restricted to the monotonous bhajan-and-satsang format, these channels feature spiritual news, spiritual travel and even vegetarian cookery shows that appeal to a widely eclectic audience. A recent survey by TAM Media Research reported that it is the younger viewers, between 15 and 34, who form a sizeable proportion of their audience; channel organizers are hopeful that ratings will only go up with time. This phenomenon, in our stress-ridden age, is no doubt reflective of an emerging interest in spirituality, especially amongst the youth. But it is a two-way process that is at play here. Modern communication channels, as spiritual gurus and New Age and wellness prophets are discovering, provide an excellent medium for the propagation of newer ideas and schools of thought. A Process of EvolutionToday we live in an age that is buzzing with information. Waking up, we scan the papers, hear the radio or watch TV. The internet connects to a global database of information. On the streets, in trains and buses, the ubiquitous mobile is always beeping; even on the move we remain wired, receiving, analyzing and disseminating information. Civilized society, one would think, is perilously perched on the brink of an imminent information overload. Or is something else at play here? According to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit, paleontologist, biologist, and philosopher deeply interested in human evolution from the spiritual perspective, it is part of the process of humankind heading towards an Omega Point, a coalescence of consciousness that would lead it into a new state of peace and unity. Chardin suggests the evolution of a plane of consciousness called noosphere, ‘a planetary thinking network’, that would be a kind of intricately interlinked system of information, like a global network of self-awareness and communication. In Man’s Place in Nature, he says, ‘All around us and right under our eyes, a process of great importance is going on. It is favoured by the sudden multiplication of ultra-rapid means of travel and transmission of thought, and consists in the formation of more and more psychic zones or groups. In these the human nuclei are converging their powers of reflection upon one common problem with one common enthusiasm, and so organizing themselves into stable functional complexes. In these, surely, it is perfectly legitimate, as a matter of sound biology, to recognize the ‘grey matter’ of mankind.’ Years before the world wide web became a reality, Chardin even predicted, ‘…those astonishing electronic machines (the starting-point and hope of the young science of cybernetics), by which our mental capacity to calculate and combine is reinforced and multiplied, by the process and to a degree that herald as astonishing advances in this direction as those that optical science has already produced for our power of vision.’ Is it possible that the complex communication networks we experience today are actually the beginning of an evolution of the kind of super brain that Chardin envisioned? Could Chardin’s noosphere be the face of the promised New Age?
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