The ‘Radia Tapes’ and Wikileaks aggressively ask these questions.
Five thousand taped conversations of Nira Radia administrating the country and untold thousands of cables of diplomats sending their reports Stateside, many of which sent perhaps after a bloody good bottle of Red.
Does this unprecedented access to sensitive information make us wiser political citizens than those of the previous generations?
Eliot wrote those immortal words when the information revolution was barely at the smelly student, getting grumpy at the coffee house stage. During this era, (Independent India’s first Prime Minister) Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was writing considerably more than 140 characters, but only when his fellow convicts would return his stolen Parker pen.
His receipt of information was through smuggled newspapers and Chinese whispers. A drop of a drop of the bottomless oceans of zeros and ones that now entomb us. Did this make him less effective?
Mahatma Gandhi would have ruled Twitter. He would have made Stephen Fry’s disciple count look like a rent a crowd after the cheque had bounced.
His immortal sayings were well below 140 characters: “What do I think of Western civilisation? I think it would be a very good idea. Swaraj, Mountbatten, Quit India.
Devastatingly effective, even whilst largely starved of formal information dissemination, we can only speculate how all encompassing his power would have been with a Facebook account.
But was that the quality of the man? Was he a lesser political activist for not having high-speed broadband? Would (Mohammed Ali) Jinnah have backed down on his demands if he could have read the New York Times on-line? No! Because their subjective wisdom, with varying degrees of quality, was founded on knowledge, not information.
In this Information Age, we are terribly under-tooled to mine for this erstwhile wisdom in a swamp of information posing as Wikipedia knowledge. Mountain ranges of gravel, with every man and his dog with a shovel, but no plans to sift the elusive shining nugget. Not all wise, Google equivalent, search engine that instantly churns out a one-page philosophical analysis of a billion results.
The explosive Twitter reaction to the Radia Tapes is typical. The Twitterati became a million strong posse before Vir Sanghvi could even reach and draw for his Blackberry. He was shot dead standing. His slow and clumsy defence, made in the traditional media, was just too glacial and unfashionable for Twitter, and demanded some linear concentration without any toilet breaks.
Because of his attempt to take time and put wisdom in the information, even if he did not suffer from miraculous co-coincidences of opinion with Radia, (After asking her what he should write) he would have been strung up.
If you are older than 30 and spend five minutes analysing Barkha Dutt’s involvement in the scandal, you can only conclude that she was considerably less tainted by the corporate, media nexus. Tell that to a pimply citizen journalist sitting on the throne blogging, who has only known information.
Speed matters, not accuracy
Would Eliot pen another line if he were still alive?
“Where is the information we have lost in time?”
Time is the penultimate consideration for the new citizen journalist. Even more so for the matrix of Indian news channels. To get the information out before you can say “Tweet” is so much more important than any consideration of accuracy (knowledge); never mind a thoughtful analysis.
This surging compulsion to set free the flimsiest of information in the Internet Zoo, in a Mumbai minute, can be electrifying. Like the ‘Radia Tapes’ Wikileak’s Cablegate again set Twitter well ablaze.
Julian Assange was the best thing since the MacBook. But like the machine, he can miraculously store information, not process it into abstract thought.
A living illustration of the information, wisdom paradox. Commendably setting loose information that he believed citizens should enjoy but very unwisely further upsetting the volatile relationship between Iran and the US, not to mention Gulf neighbours.
In ancient times, ships leaving the Port of Alexandria would be searched to see if any of the precious scrolls from her legendary library were being smuggled to the outside world. The Greeks jealously guarded their written knowledge.
Well meaning, half-wits like Assange threaten the introduction of a contemporary equivalent. It may be necessary. Our unprecedented access to a web of information has not made us wise and better citizens.
It has made it drive thru easy to scream our stupidity. ‘Power to the People’ cannot be power to the twits.
Roy Lange is a New Zealander. His family has been involved with the community for more than 45 years. He met his Bollywood Producer-Wife Mitu Bhowmick during his ten year-stay India. He will write a regular column in Indian Newslink. We welcome reader response either as an online comment (www.indiannewslink.co.nz) or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org