Reflections: Vayam Aadhunika—We, the Modern Ones

It is interesting to note how bereft of human intimacy the “new normal” being defined globally in the post-Facebook data leak period sounds

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Mrinal Pande

It may or may not surprise you that the new generation displacing the older knowledge order and replacing it with “the new reality” is following rather ancient precedents.

In the 10th century, one Udayanacharya of Mithila (now Bihar) challenged pre-Abhinavgupta traditions of liberal thinking, calling himself and Abhinavgupta (who gave us the Rasa theory) ‘We, the modern ones’ (Vayam Aadhunikah). It was a new phenomenon at the time.

That may be as it is, but it is interesting how bereft of human intimacy the “new normal” being defined globally in the post-Facebook data leak period sounds. The terms mostly used are ideological and scientific and emphasise not ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of the leak but simply deciding how information is to be shaped and sent, given the new reality. As the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg said, the question is not whether there should be regulation or not but how it is to be done in future.

With that we step into the realm of government policy making. Interestingly a Ministry of Commerce task force report on leveraging Artificial intelligence (AI), says the government must collect, correlate, standardise and validate all AI related data and make it available, without compromising on privacy and ethics. It also says the task force is ‘sanguine’ about the overall impact of the increasing use of AI on the biggest elephant in the room, Unemployment. With that one guesses this particular ball also goes into the NITI Ayog’s court as do many others related to knowledge and information of all sorts.

Those like this writer, to whom knowledge is the most beautiful gift that comes with our life on earth, are naturally the keenest to safeguard this turf. But you discover to your horror that in matters like personal data and free and fair access to information and technology, those responsible for setting the norms for the new reality, are treating matters of science like holy Mantras handed down by “seers” where no word nor the rhythmic pattern may be disturbed.

To be fair, they are also displaying a considerable share of disgust at the world wide theft of knowledge, the uneven playing fields and the bullying tactics used by mega companies, but the tone of recommendations is only superficially positive. Underneath flows the dark river of lamentations : ah, the wonder that was India; ah, the holy extinct rivers like Saraswati; ah, our polluted burning lakes!

But don’t worry, we are seized of the matter. The Ayog is looking into it. We shall overcome!

Media reports quote farmer members from Bhartiya Kisan Union who ask: “We are farmers who feed 125 crore Indians. Instead of improving our lives and agricultural methods the government is pushing into the primitive era (with the ban on decade old diesel vehicles in NCR).

These are perennial problems, old as the hills . But after four years of deconstruction of the media and old institutes of knowledge, the government is quick to point out how most of our fondest-held principles are no longer relevant in the age of meta data and AI.

So each report, each Dharna now triggers off verbose cycles of mutual recrimination, denial and finally media-blaming. We the media, are the messengers, Sirs. You may shoot us repeatedly, address us with pejoratives but you must now rise above the elegiac and the hyper positive dole announcements and empower peoples of India , not make them into aid and freebie junkies.

Mrinal Pande is the Senior Group Editorial Advisor at National Herald

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Published: 31 Mar 2018, 3:35 PM