The Transformation of Knowledge: Manish Tewari

30 Apr

Manish Tewari, Minister of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India

In the past two decades you’ve seen a fundamental transformation in the information architecture of the world. The emergence of the Internet toward the middle of the ‘90’s – now there are a lot of people who take credit for that invention but be that as it may, I think has fundamentally and completely transformed the way we interact, the way we consume and the manner in which we disseminate knowledge.

I’ve often thought to myself that the Internet was perhaps the most audacious experiment in anarchy and it has succeeded. The cyber space represents the largest possible ungoverned place on planet earth. Never before in the history of mankind or human kind, so much of power has been available to so many people, concurrently at so many places. There’s possibly more digital content that is put out every two days than from the dawn of civilization to about 2003.

So what you’ve seen really evolving over the last two decades is a physical civilization, which took shape, root and form over the millennia, and a virtual civilization, which is evolving. And at the intersection or at the convergence of these two is really where knowledge communities or knowledge creators really reside. The difficulty is that we seem to take a lot of this development for granted. We do believe that the Internet, as the global commons that we know it, is something, which is here to stay.

But there is an inherent and fundamental danger – and the inherent and fundamental danger is that this truly epoch making and transformational experience, which all of us have gone through over the last two decades, may also be in the absence of the emergence of agreed rules of engagement – and possibly lead to or possibly have a demise or a collapse during our lifetimes itself.

China has very successfully firewalled the Internet; they have almost converted it into an intranet. And therefore the possibility of the Balkanization of the net based upon a shared value system of possibly strategic hegemony or even a convergence of economic interests is therefore not an unforeseen possibility. And that is why all of us who do believe in freedom of speech and expression, and who do hold that the freedom of this global commons is something which is uniquely essential for the further growth of creativity and for both the material and the mental development of human kind, must persevere to see that these common rules of engagement emerge. There are those who are advocates or who are absolutists, who believe that any conversation about agreed rules of engagement is really a subterfuge attempt to try and contain the freedom of the net, and I think they possibly could not be more far off the mark because the reality is that while the net is a very, very useful instrument of not only disseminating knowledge, of making friends, of building communities but there is also the dark net, there is also the spectate of the hidden people and there are all kinds of pernicious and subversive tendencies which need to be dealt with so that the sanctity of the cyber space in its pure absolutism can be maintained.

The reason why I started off with the net when we talk about knowledge, is that for centuries there has been the creation of knowledge, the transformation of knowledge or the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the other. For the first time we have got the opportunity to be able to horizontally proliferate it in real time. You had books, you had newspapers, you had other means of communication but each of them had its limitations. But the digital space has completely and absolutely broke the barriers of that limitation and I think that’s been the single biggest transformation, which has succeeded in possibly uniting knowledge communities across the world.

Manish Tewari, Minister of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India spoke at the Salwan Media One Globe 2014 conference held at The Imperial in New Delhi, in February 2014.

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