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Diaspora 8:2 1999 The Politics of History on the Internet: Cyber-Diasporic Hinduism and the North American Hindu Diaspora Vinay LaI University of California, Los Angeles I: Democracy and Authoritarianism in Cyberspace Nothing has been as much celebrated in our times as the information superhighway. Everyone is agreed that never before has information proliferated so profusely, diminishing, as is commonly thought, the boundaries and barriers that have held people apart, though many voices have sought to distinguish between "knowledge " and "information," while others have railed at how the overwhelming surfeit of information has made some people incapable of thinking beyond trivia and the "factoid." We speak with unreflective ease of the "information revolution," and in this clichéd expression there is the most unambiguous assertion of confidence in the benign telos ofhistory. Some commentators, alluding to more recent developments such as "e-commerce," speak even ofgoing "beyond the information revolution," but there is something of a consensus that the "information revolution" has been to our age what the "industrial revolution" was to the eighteenth century (Drucker).1 The advocates of the information superhighway have been prolific in voicing the view that cyberspace embodies immense revolutionary possibilities for creating democratic polities and enfranchising those communities that have so far existed only at the margins of the tremendous information explosion of recent years. The Internet, argue its unabashed votaries, creates a polyphony of voices, allows the hitherto silenced to speak,2 offers forums for dissenting views, destroys the monopoly of old elites, disperses the sources of information and knowledge, empowers the dispossessed, and assists in the formation of new identities— constituted not only by such obvious markers as race, gender, and ethnicity, but also by religious and sexual preferences, linguistic affiliations, political ideologies, intellectual interests, customs, shared traditions and histories, and hobbies. The "imagined communities " of which Benedict Anderson spoke flower in unprecedented ways on the Internet; the shackles that chained the working classes, 150 years after Marx invoked the cry of revolution and urged them to take destiny into their own hands, now seem broken. 137 Diaspora 8:2 1999 In the hip voice ofMondo 2000, to quote from its inaugural issue in 1989, "The cybernet is in place ... The old information elites are crumbling. The kids are at the controls. This magazine is about what to do until the millennium comes. We're talking about Total Possibilities. Radical assaults on the limits of biology, gravity and time. The end of artificial Scarcity. The dawn of a new humanism. High-jacking technology for personal empowerment, fun and games" (11). Just when boredom appeared to be the most pressing problem for the affluent West, and the usual sources of entertainment seemed to have exhausted their potential to amuse, the Internet arose to offer a jaded people a new source of enchantment. Cyberspace has restored to the West that ludic element which was once so essential an element ofits being, to vanish when confronted with the unrelenting demands, whether upon the family, the workplace, or social institutions, of modernity. Meanwhile, boredom, a disease that is inextricably linked to Western notions oftime, is now poised to find its newest victims in the developing world. The enthusiastic advocates of cyberspace have stretched the case for its allegedly democratic properties much further. The futurist Alvin Toffler and his associates (Dyson et al.) speak of the postscarcity information civilization as a Third Wave of humankind. If in the First Wave civilization was predominantly agricultural, and the Second Wave ushered in the age of industrial production, so in the Third Wave "the central resource—a single phrase broadly encompassing data, information, images, symbols, culture, ideology and values—is actionable knowledge." Cyberspace is universal, it is its own ecosystem: it is "inhabited by knowledge, including incorrect ideas, existing in electronic form." As one might expect, that perennial American language of the frontier is incurably a part of the language ofcyberspace enthusiasts: thus Toffler and his cohorts speak of the "bioelectronic frontier," which has emerged just as the American dream of the limitless, yet again contracting, frontier seemed doomed to extinction. The bio-electronic frontier points to the death of that fundamental embodiment of centralized values, namely, the bureaucratic...


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pp. 137-172
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