new media’s indian history
Shuddhabrata Sengupta is an excellent story-teller. He’s giving a keynote on “The Remains of Tomorrows Past: Speculations on the Antiquity of New Media Practice in South Asia”, and he’s telling us about how the Indian telegraph developed, bringing out the histories of people who have been downsized to footnotes, but were perhaps as important as the famous western names of the 20th century.
The metaphor of Indra’s Net, he argues, was closely tied both to Tim Berners-Lee’s ideas of the web and to the ideas of the man (whose name I didn’t catch) responsible for the spread of the telegraph in India in the mid-19th century – he developed a touch-based kind of telegraph rather than sound-based morse code. Tim Berners-Lee consciously copies the idea of Indra’s net, having written that, “in an extreme view, the world can be seen as connections, nothing else”. A dictionary only defines words by using other worlds. This is how the web – and the telegraph network – works as well.
There are advantages to realising you’re not the centre of the networked world. English language dominance is, to some extent, arbitrary. If we decided tomorrow that Finnish were the language of computers, the world would not end. We’d just have to learn Finnish. Computers would still connect. The advantage of not being in the centre is that you can see that in fact, the network has no centre.
Noah’s notes are more detailed than mine.