Reader 01 Intro Contd
What makes this long, unruly and eclectic list hang together? Why should the historian who looks at forms of community solidarity in early twentieth century urban spaces enter the same space of dialogue as the teenage hacker of the twenty first century? One provisional answer: because the city space that surrounds us, and its mesh of ways of being, which we at Sarai and at the Waag have reason to regard as the canvas of our curiosities, engagements, affections and disaffections, is a site that exists in more than one temporal location. We live in a mess made of times and spaces where pre-modern, modern and hyper-modern scripts play out their own stories in grand and little theatres in streets and cyber cafés. In the interval between several performances that tell stories about the city, the hacker improvises with the historian. The future and the past play new games in old cities. Sarai is only the meeting place where some of this is beginning to happen. There is ample room here for disagreement, for collaboration, for criticism and for partnership.
While we have tried to divide the contents into thematically arranged sections, very often themes and interests have ended up running into each other. This variety, and the intentional fuzziness of boundaries between forms, practices and themes, is signatory to the inter-disciplinary character of the Sarai Initiative and the range of issues and questions that interest us at Sarai. They also offer a glimpse into the things we are thinking about at present and want to work on in the future. Notwithstanding the variety, an underlying commitment to the renewal of urban public culture and the democratisation of media practices and communication technologies is a common thread that runs through the Reader.
We have discovered in the process of editing this reader that the thematic focus on the 'public domain' has led us naturally to highlight the Free Software Movement, which seeks to free information and software production from proprietary control and situate it squarely within the public domain. We feel that this has significant implications in India and in all other information hungry societies which have low degrees of access to computers and to digital resources. There is an emergent interest in free software in India, but not much by the way of easily accessible materials and information that can help frame a debate around issues of control of information. Further, the current media hype around the messianic role of Information Technology obscures the political economy of the digital divide.
We hope that the first Sarai reader can address some of these issues, and participate in the initiation of a long overdue debate on the culture and political economy of the new media and information technologies in societies and contexts outside Western Europe and North America. We aim to bring to an audience around Sarai, in Delhi, snatches from conversations around us in the wider world, and we want to transmit what all of us are thinking, reading, looking at and arguing about in our space, to the world outside. We have made a special effort to locate contributions from and about places as far apart as Nepal, Australia, Pakistan and Yugoslavia, besides, India, Western Europe and North America in the hope that this marks for us the beginning of a sustained engagement with a truly intercultural new media space.
The patchwork that this collection represents is the result of an e-mail correspondence that has sometimes been more sporadic than it should have been. But both of us (Shuddha@Sarai, CSDS, Delhi and Geert@DeWaag - Society for Old and New Media, Amsterdam) believe that it heralds a sound foundation for the collaborations that SONM and Sarai have entered into and which mark the very inception of Sarai. Now we are an open space, eager for travellers. Welcome.