On the whole, this debate summed up arguments that have been heard across media for the last three decades or so, and have been echoed in the conference as well. No definite conclusions were reached by the end of the session, as is expected in such a broadly themed conversation, though it did provide a useful recap of some of the arguments we have heard before and need to be reminded of sporadically, to set the context for more in-depth thought.
Gurumurthy Kasinathan, who defended the motion ‘The Internet Promotes Sharing and Caring,’ pointed out that the internet allows a greater number of people to participate in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. He emphasised that the internet offers numerous open resources and limitless virtual connections. Also, the internet is accessible to a large variety of people across the globe, literate or otherwise. He also argued that the internet promotes political awareness and greater participation of individuals in the political sphere.
Prabir Purkayastha, who was against the motion, argued that the internet promotes alienation and encourages users to make contact exclusively with like-minded people (through filter bubbles and social networks). Social networks also, according to him, created the ‘selfie generation’ leading to a greater degree of narcissism among people. Prabir pointed out that pornography, known to be a highly exploitative industry, is one of the biggest commodities on the internet. One of his key arguments was that the internet is capitalistically skewed, which has lead to the formation of super monopolies (Google, Facebook, Twitter) and it is consequently a Western hegemony, thus engendering the destruction of multiple worldviews and of the possibilities of heterogeneity on the internet. This has created a new-age empire, run by huge corporations that are extremely powerful. He ended by conceding that the internet had vast potential, but that it is being misused in the present.
Both sides tell us what we already know – that the internet is far too valuable a resource to get rid of entirely, but that there is a pressing need for a regulatory body of some kind that could prevent the accumulation of vast profits in the hands of very few, leading to a distortion of the freedom and democracy the internet has the potential to offer.
Report: Esther Moraes
Photography: Samuel Buchoul
Editing: Chitralekha Manohar & Samuel Buchoul