November 16, 2005

A tool for social change

Blogging is gradually becoming the talk of the town In India. The number of Indibloggers is steadily on the rise and talking about the numbers while we are still far off from the Chinese count of 6 Million plus bloggers, we are only better off than, Brunei perhaps. This worldwide phenomenon may still be in a nascent stage here and there might be an upper skew as well, since the average blogistani comes probably from an affluent background with good “connectivity”. Yet, in a country where bijli, sadak and paani almost always collide with the dreams of bringing Technology to everyone, there are now so many blogs you would surely need some device to calculate the numbers.

The sheer variety in the desi-blogdom is sure to startle anyone. So there are the ubiquitous techies, there are students, professional authors, journalists, researchers and there are homemakers and occasional surfers. There are gossip blogs, cartel blogs, journals, splogs, bad blogs, good blogs, good-looking blogs, shabby blogs, celebrity blogs, popular blogs, abandoned blogs, English blogs, Hinglish blogs and Indic blogs, blogs as vivid as our country itself. Given all this and since it is the Indibloggies we can take the liberty of doing some introspection here. As they say, mauka bhi hai aur dastoor bhi!

Staring today Indibloggies features a short thought-series called "Hum Blogistani!" where various bloggers would do a guest-post for the Indibloggies with their views about the Indi-blogosphere, evoking its journey so far, probably doing the SWOT analysis and predicting the road-ahead. And who else but Amit Varma of 'India Uncut' to do the kickoff.

Hum Blogistani!A couple of days ago when Debashish asked me to write this piece, the first of this series called “Hum Blogistani,” I was intimidated at the thought. The subject – the Indian blogosphere – is rather vast, and I wouldn’t know where to start on a piece of that sort. One can’t contain an ocean in a thimble, and so on. Also, I’ve been blogging for little more than a year now, and India Uncut, my flagship blog, is not even a year old. But it has been an enormously enriching time for me, and I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve learnt, from a thimble point of view.

When I started surfing Indian blogs, the first thing that struck me was the diversity I encountered. Most non-bloggers think of blogs as just online diaries, which is a ridiculously narrow view of blogs. I often have to remind such people that “blogging” is as wide an umbrella term as “writing.” A writer can write novels, short fiction, political tracts, history, opinion pieces, reportage, travellogues, poems, promotional fluff, erotica and diary items. Bloggers can blog their way through the same areas, though with more flexibility (as I’ve elaborated here, in the context of journalism). And Indian bloggers cover all these areas and more.

There is one huge difference between writing in the traditional sense and blogging, though: anybody can find an audience by blogging. Many talented writers who have the potential of building relatively small, loyal audiences cannot do so in print because the costs of publishing are high, and publishers are averse to taking a risk with them. But there are no such entry barriers for bloggers. It costs only the cost of internet access to blog, as there are plenty of free hosting sites and user-friendly blogging software available. I’m pretty hopeless at tech stuff, and Blogger and Blogspot work really well for me.

As a result of this, many writers who would otherwise not break through into print manage to publish themselves and find an audience. These audiences may often be relatively small, but so what? There is a satisfaction to having a readership that may be geographically spread out, and that you wouldn’t have had access to before blogging was born. Blogging helps people reach out, and I can’t emphasise enough how rewarding that can be.

While blogging is thought of by many as a solitary activity – one person and a computer – it has enlarged my social life in ways I never expected. That is something that many other bloggers have experienced as well. As we write our blogs and read those of others, we get in touch with people we share interests with, and mutual respect often turns into friendship. I have made friends I haven’t yet met in the flesh, who are a continent away, and this would not have been possible to anything like the same extent ten years ago. As I wrote here, this is quite the most rewarding aspect of my time as a blogger.

But blogging is about a lot more than social networking: it can also be a tool for social change. Blog readerships in India are too low for that now, but as internet penetration in India grows, more and more people will become aware of blogging, and more and more people will blog. Readership will expand massively, and blogs will actually be in a position to influence events in the real world, or meatspace as some of us call it. In addition to the prediction I’d made in this post, I’d like to make another one: the most influential Indian blogs of the next ten years will be those written in Indian languages.
Most of India does not speak English, and for too long the elites have condescended to them. This will change. As internet access becomes ubiquitous, more and more people will want to read content in their own languages. And while the regional papers, set in their fixed ways, will largely disappoint them, bloggers will not. Language software today is easily available and easy to use, and a whole generation of free thinkers and fearless writers will emerge. They will write in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Urdu, Oriya and every other language and dialect of this country. They will reach out to an audience of hundreds of millions of people, not the mere tens of thousands we bloggers in English have access to right now. They will truly do what some us vainly and bombasticly speak of sometimes: they will change the country.

It will take years, but it will happen.

We invite all Indibloggers to share their thoughts with us. If you feel strongly about the theme of this series, don't hesitate to send us a short writeup at indibloggies at gmail dot com and we would be glad to publish it. Please note that the piece sent to us cannot be cross-posted to any other website, though you may link to here. Thanks!


DesiPundit » A tool for social change said...

[...] Amit Varma kicks off the "Hum Blogistani" series over at The Indibloggies. He pens a fine piece on blogs as a tool for social change within an Indian context. [...]

Avinash Subramaniam said...

Lovely site design. Delciious colours. Feels warm and...ok, I better stop gushing. Just in case you think I don't mean a word of what I just said. And Mr. Amit Verma thinks I'm unhinged. I'm not. Really. :-) Lovely post. Lovely blog. Lovely design. Lovely day.

Niti Bhan said...

Main bhi kheloongi! expect an email soon.

thank you, Amit, for a thoughtful post on accessing the blogosphere and language as a medium of communication.

ami bangla bushtey paro, too, having been born in ballygunge :)

अनूप शुक्ला said...

लेखमाला अच्छा प्रयास है। कोशिश करें कि पिछले वर्ष के सारे विजेताओं के लेख छाप सकें। हिंदी में अतुल से बोलें कि वे लेख लिखें और हो सके तो उसे हिंदी में ही छापें।