Sunday, December 28, 2008

Professor Ananda Mitra, visited Manipal University on the 17th of December to shed some light on the ‘Diasporic Identity in the Digital World’. Dr Mitra is the Chair of Department of Communication in Wake Forest University. Mitra joined the Wake Forest faculty in 1994. He earned his Master of Arts in speech communication and theatre arts from Wake Forest, and his Bachelor of Technology in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology. His teaching and research interests include research methodology and the impact of new technologies on society and culture. The seminar was quite an eye opener as the Professor elaborated on the pivotal role internet plays in diasporic communities. He explained how every individual in today’s day and age has a dual identity-a real life and a cyber identity, and how both identities are converging at a rapid pace. In his words "space becomes irrelevant on the internet”. Today one can choose the identity he wishes to portray on a personal and a professional basis. He exemplified this by stating how call centre employees have different identities at and outside of their workplace. Programs like Second Life only go to reaffirm the increasing importance of digital identities.
Dr Mitra explained how every individual faces an identity crisis at some or the other point of his life and how this could be overcome. One’s diasporic identity does not stem from digital media alone. It is also brought about by Globalisation, where cultures entwine to form a new global identity
He said that “Television is the best technological babysitter”, people being exposed to television from young ages, that would make television , in his words the “most powerful tool for cultural education".
One of the sinkholes of the digital world, is lack of an effective regulatory body; This leads to audiences being given an overwhelming bulk of content available, thus gambling the with accuracy of information. In Dr Mitra’s words, this issue can be tackled by “including media literacy in education systems world over.
Zaheen Hussain, a second year MAC student said "It was quite a gripping session, it changed my outlook towards my online identity". Having captivated his audience with this fascinating insights of the digital world, Dr Mitra left each audience member pondering about their own digital identities. He expressed pleasant surprise at being greeted with the warm welcome and respect that in his words "is a rare sight in the West".
text: Disha Laungani Blassy Boben


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