Here’s a twist to French philosopher Rene Descartes’ take on existence “I think, Therefore I am” with my perception of how the Internet blurs the world of imagination, dreams, reality and the unconscious in the realm of the Web
It’s always been about finding our identity isn’t it? “Who are we”? “Why are we here?” “What am I doing here?” Instinctively, the question of “defining” this “who” has always taken precedence over the questions of “reason” and “purpose”, and René Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” has never been an emotionally convincing anchor to confirm or validate the “truth” of our existence.
But all these humanly clichéd questions kind of took a backseat for me when I discovered the Internet at the age of 13. That age is a miraculous time to suspend reality and let anything surreal or metaphysical override your imagination. It was a milestone year for me as I discovered that there’s an uncharted world to be discovered out there – reality and imagination could sync together and dreams could be mapped and the unconscious mind’s poetry could be plotted. What I also realized was that without a moment’s notice, clichés could be dropped and Descartes could be made irrelevant.
In the early 1990s, when computer technology and the World Wide Web hit the Indian shores, youngsters with access to the Internet did some software rewiring of their own. They discovered that the “real” world could be replicated online and beyond that, reality could be altered, extended, transmogrified, twisted completely out of context and wielded as a weapon or as a defense shield in the virtual world.
Youngsters began to “own” online spaces as an extension of their classrooms, playgrounds, activity and hobby centers, support groups, leisure corners, learning areas and most crucially, as a new method of communications to befriend strangers. Virtual friends, chatting, video calling, networking, music sharing, blogging, and now Facebooking, Twittering, and YouTubing have changed the face of virtual interactions.
The Internet has allowed distances to be swallowed, work to be simplified, voices to be amplified, support to be cohesive and ideas to be viral. It’s the era of instant queries and equally instant responses; it’s also strange times where grandmothers “ping” their grand daughter on Facebook, all the while sitting three feet apart from each other in the same living room; we have reached a stage where youngsters receive solace from the non-existent existence of their virtual personas and the imagined influence of their online identities.
And coming back to identities – today, youngsters surely don’t follow Descartes’ reasoning. They simply choose to be what they want to be, picking and discarding virtual identities at the click of a button. However, rather than viewing it as a fad, phenomenon, trend or a certain novelty or naiveté with all things new and technological, I would rather see it as a coping mechanism embraced by young minds and the ability to evolve with the mutations of Web 2.0.
The Internet is home for me. It’s my security blanket. I am a virtual Hindu who crossed the seven seas and lost the right to belong to a religion. I too have left the familiarity of home and jumped into the virtual ocean. Here, the tripartite lines of imagination, dreams and reality collide and collude to create a hyper-reality that is tangible for me.
I have found new vocations to keep my mind stimulated. New images and visual stimuli to keep my vision enthralled. New voices and podcasts that are music for my ears. It’s all visceral in a sense. We are the children of the Web, instinctively wanting to speak its mother tongue, but strangely, never wanting to outgrow our life givers.
Cliches of course never leave us. They are just recycled and born to us again. Running away from the multiple identities of being an Indian, a muslim, an ethnic minority, a linguistic notation, a woman, a writer, a historian, a girl child, a scholar, a leftist or rightist – has only taken me so far. The Internet forces me to forge identities too. Constantly. Click. Click. New Persona Emerges. Double Click, Space, Click. New Name Created. Click, Click, Enter. Congratulations, you are now the 89,76334 member of Farmville. Http. Type. Type. Enter. Click. Welcome, you have 700 new messages.
My online identities have no contexts or larger milestone-defining moments in the tripartite lives of my dreams, reality and imagination. I am Nilofar Haja on Facebook, nilofar.ansh on google mail, spotthebluelotus on yahoo mail and culture_curate on twitter. Here, temporary relationships are created in a temporal space that come across as disembodied and run the spatial length of a Twitter minute. My identity is several. My sense of “who” is ever changing. However, the life of the mind seems to be on as long as the Net is. Beyond that, Descartes has to rescue me!
– By Nilofar Ansher