Bollyspace

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Inches & Centimeters…Megabytes & Gigabytes

This is something that has struck me over the last week that I've spent in Bangalore. During the day, I'm navigating Bangalore on foot, in a bus or an auto. I come back home and walk over to a cybercafe right opposite my flat. Two kinds of movement...

It seems there are two scales of movement that drive a city like Bangalore. Everyday, when people step out of their homes and onto the streets, they move by inches and centimeters, often literally. Pedestrians, cyclists, two-wheelers, autorickshaws, cars, trucks and buses move on Bangalore’s choked roads, avoiding hitting each other by mere inches or even centimeters. During rush hour, in many parts of the city, traffic only moves by inches and centimeters. It is how you navigate the city…slowly, often with intense irritation, but knowing that little can be done. Appealing to local government has little impact...

Indeed, it seems as if most branches of government also move at this pace. If the road you live on is full of potholes and the entire neighborhood is sick and tired of it, then one day, you bring together a few folks and pay a visit to the Councilor (the local govt official at the Ward level). The councilor is usually a sympathetic man who listens to your complaints with great sincerity, visits your neighborhood, and agrees with your assessment of the infrastructure. He promises action and leaves. And then, the papers and the files - they move (if at all they do) by inches and centimeters, from one government desk to another, occasionally leaving one office to reach another, similar, bureaucratic cage.

Now consider a different scale of movement that drives Bangalore, in its high-tech offices and thousands of cybercafés that dot the landscape. Megabytes and gigabytes. Information and images zip through cyberspace at speeds that we don’t quite fathom in any tactile sense. At Electronic City and ITPL, thousands of engineers and managers work round the clock to keep Bangalore moving...and then they leave their offices and in a matter of seconds, are back to the world of inches and centimeters. Ditto in cybercafés. On a daily basis, hundreds of people (mostly 20-somethings) travel unimaginable distances that, while virtual, define their lived realities in very material ways. They log on to chat or surf the web for news, music, movies, porn, and of course, to blog.

Are there other life-worlds that criss cross these two highly visible ones? Sure there are…and they’re critical to reducing the friction that these two kinds of movement inevitably generate. Migrant construction workers who dig roads to lay optic fibre lines, the immense service sector that has emerged to support the high-tech sector, senior citizens who take care of the grandchildren while the parents work 10 hours days with 4 hours commutes, and on and on the list can go. But for a number of reasons, the kinds of movements that define these folks' isn't as visible...or alluring. I've thought about this in other ways, but never in terms of movement, both real and virtual. Interesting, no?

2 Comments:

  • Interesting. Combining the criss-crossing lifeworld with criss-crossing mobilities. Aswin, this passage reads really really well. Sounds like an intro to a chapter to me. Good to hear you're already so far into the research process, but you always have been able to hit the ground running!
    Ben.
    P.S. Will hand in a draft of the proposal to Michele tomorrow. Scary? Yes.

    By Anonymous Ben, at 10/23/2005 4:25 PM  

  • Fascinating... an interesting comparison.

    By Anonymous Mandira, at 10/24/2005 11:50 AM  

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