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Digital them about yourself?

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jan 03, 2012 11:07 AM
If you’re on Facebook or have a blog, you could be a digital native, says Akhila Seetharaman. The article was published in TimeOut Bengaluru.

In the offline world 23-year-old Srikeit Tadepalli is a media student; online he is among the first few Indian administrators for Wikipedia. Twenty-six-year-old Rajneesh Bolia is a media entrepreneur who carries his office with him in the form of his BlackBerry, usually spending only a couple of hours a day in his “real” office; in his online avatar he spearheads a Facebook page to promote adoption.

Given the way both Bolia and Tadepalli have embraced digital media and the internet, they were ideal candidates for an ongoing survey by the Centre for Internet and Society that attempts to map the behaviour of techno-savvy individuals who navigate seamlessly across online media, also called “digital natives”.

To truly be a digital native the internet has to be integral to the way you think, communicate or socialise. But even if you aren’t that seasoned a web navigator, an established pattern of behaviour online, a routine of going through different avenues of online media such as Facebook, twitter, email accounts and blogs (often in a particular order) could make you a potential candidate.

“It’s about being ‘native’ to or at home in the online world,” said Tadepalli, whose experience with Wikipedia helped him secure his college admission. “I’ve found internships through Facebook, and before I entered college, I formed an online group for prospective students and found my roommate there.”

With interactivity at its core, Web 2.0 provides more opportunities than ever before for identities online and offline to merge, said Tadepalli. “So at times you live an online identity in the physical world, and at other times you’re playing your offline identity online.”

The CIS survey is described by Nishant Shah, their head of research, as the first ever attempt out of India to get statistical data on how people across the world use the internet. “We’re going to be looking at time spent online, services people access online and how they identify themselves as part of groups and communities online,” said Shah. According to the CIS website, the findings of the survey will be presented at a “multi-stakeholder conference in the Netherlands later in 2010” and will also be “consolidated into a report which will be made available for free distribution and download”.

The project also includes a series of regional workshops in Taipei, Johannesburg and Santiago, aimed at bringing digital natives between the ages of 14 and 30 together, and making them aware of the possibilities offered by the platforms they use.

According to Shah, the proliferation of online communities has resulted in new ways of addressing grievances. As an example, he pointed out that when the city’s name changed from Bangalore to Bengaluru, there were fierce debates online about whether the name should be changed on its Wikipedia entry. The city’s name remained resolutely unchanged on Wiki. “Online communities are fiercely local and extremely global at the same time. And the internet paves the way for alternative voices to be heard, and for mobilisation and collaboration,” he said.

Twenty-six-year-old Divya Vijay Iyer, another participant of the survey, has been online since she was 13, and has had a blog for eight years now. She’s sworn off traditional media and believes the way forward is mobile internet. “If you know how to leverage Facebook as a networking tool, there’s very little you can’t accomplish,” said Iyer. She doesn’t read the newspapers; instead, she gets RSS feeds on her mobile. Iyer, who’s passionate about rescuing homeless cats and finding them domicile, believes social media can also pack a punch when it comes to promoting a cause. “It’s not that I think that you can find an animal a home just by adding yourself to a group, but you can definitely spread awareness and information more effectively than through traditional media,” she said.

But although, according to the CIS, most digital natives are people born after 1980, Shah clarified that it isn’t about a generation as much as it is about people of any age who are comfortable using digital technology and are aware of its creative potential for networking and bringing about social change.

Elaborating on the way digital natives make use of the reach of digital media and the internet, Bolia said, “We’re in an era when anything can be disseminated to a very large extent. Take the [success of the] Pink Chaddi campaign, for example. It goes to show how, for the right cause, people can be mobilised in large numbers online.”

Click on for the original story in TimeOut Bengaluru

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