Being And Becoming in Cyberspace

Our definition of being a native has undergone a drastic change. Once upon a time, being a native of a place would imply belonging to that region and a practising member of that land’s customs, traditions and mannerisms. Adopting your region’s ethos and having an inherent, but vague sense of where you stood in the grand narrative of its community life was what gave you your sense of belonging.

Of course, a native never consciously identifies the politics or mechanics of WHAT makes him a native. He simply is. It has nothing to do with his will, his desire or his rationale, and everything to do with the astrology of his birth.

I guess, all this is ancient history. In today’s world, it would be dangerous to not question inevitability. It has slowly become acceptable to question obligations. We don’t belong to our native lands purely for the reasons of continuity, morality or obviousness – least of all due to the accident of birth. And belonging here doesn’t imply physicality, inherited surnames or matching gotras. Without the answers that the rational reasoning of WHY provides, our generation spits on an assumed emphasis of being a native just because of genetics.

The crown of digital native rests uneasily on most of us for the same reasons. The children of the 80’s grew up on video games and Sony Walkmans. I don’t remember using any other ‘gadget’ for a long time that was termed digital until we got a PC home in 1996. It wasn’t inevitable that we adopted the new technology; rather, it was a conscious decision to use it, probe it, understand it, and ultimately, master it. For a long time, owning a PC at home meant understanding the politics of middle class pride and ambitions, fixating over a box that only a handful of people in my neighbourhood had even heard of (forget owned) and doing cool stuff through it.

Gradually, the list of cool stuff that the rainbow coloured box-brain could accomplish dazzled us. Programming, animation and the World Wide Web took ascendancy and we set about conquering new paths of learning. It was a progression, from point A – admiring a new technology – to point B – harnessing it and manipulating it. It was natural. Inevitable once you got home a PC. We slowly began transferring all our homely work, play events, homework and tuition spaces and a host of other routine activities to the online world. This transfer was also a natural progression. But natural doesn’t necessarily mean, unconscious. It also doesn’t mean lack of control. And it certainly doesn’t imply a lack of insightful and thorough understanding of the politics of technology and how humans come to interact with it.

I am happy that today I navigate through cyberspace with ease. It comes out of years of practice, and is also marked by many personal revolutions of learning, failing, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable and not in the online world, and calling it a home away from home. This home has its rules, customs, traditions, ethos and rites of passage. However, the possession of this home is not something I was consciously aiming at acquiring.

So, am I a native of the digital world? Have I internalized this digital culture? Do I sit comfortable with the ‘cool’ tag of being a cyberspace sleuth? While the ethos of my native village in south India was thrust upon me due to the co-ordinates of my birth, the World Wide Web is a space that I embraced willingly. However, what I really can’t put a finger on is that spot, that dot, that moment that marked the change from where I stopped sub-consciously absorbing the tune that the Net played to me, to me becoming a conscious wielder of that instrument.

Wait, am I being arrogant? My daily actions betray the power I claim to have over this digital world. I do have doubts now. I wake up from my sleep yearning to listen to the pied piper’s music. I realize I no longer have the flute in my hand. It was all an illusion. Did I give up control somewhere along the way and surrender to the poesis of being weightless, anchorless and formless? I am more than a native. I am that which is one with this shape-shifter.

I ring the temple bell with my sign ins
I offer sacrifices to my god,
The unravelling time is my incense stick
The virtual words my blood.
It’s a sacred space for reflection
We perform to the silence of white noise,
The gaze holds me steady,
It’s the I of me, my God.

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