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Mainstream media websites are obsessed with the outdated idea of not linking out to content. This is a tactic from the last decade and serves no useful purpose. The lack of adequate education of journalists fails to leverage the medium in some miserly reluctance to acknowledge. We also see it in the reporting of sources as "a news channel" rather than naming the source and crediting it.

Good digital journalism, on the contrary provides robust linking to sources for the story, relevant information that add dimension to it for the curious reader to develop a larger picture.

In an age when search engines and social networks are all set to control visibility on the internet, your voice is only as independent as the neutrality with which it will reach people and the government has undisclosed deals with those controlling the internet.

Even as alarm grows over the shrinking neutrality of the internet, I see very few efforts in Indian media to counter it.

My suggestion is that upcoming digital media - particularly news and opinion - with the highest risk of censorship through visibility molding future proof themselves with enhanced linking to each other, to sources, smaller blogs and creating a network of links between excellent content. Particularly content that is at risk of being silenced.

It helps the reader form a more comprehensive view if a dialogue can be built across opinion pieces, enhancing, refuting, adding dimension and generally refining and taking public opinion to more nuanced views than all sites publishing their own mandatory "one excellent opinion piece oncurrent national outrage" - or for that matter, building a dialogue within your sites too.

This above is particularly important to counter growing repression, arbitrarily curtailed rights, narrowed thinking and kneejerkism shrinking the space for depth and richness in public thinking. Naturally, this is stupidifying society and needs combating unless we want to spiral into oblivion riding frustrations and snap judgments.

This is useful today, but it will be desperately required in our future for survival itself. It is a heads up and a suggestion. If you think it has merit, you could use it as you see fit.

Don't remain at the mercy of gatekeepers of access setting up their shops.

It is probably a good idea to go back to good old blogging ethics of forming communities, building dialogue.


Even without adding #NetNeutrality to the mix, the relationship between the average consumer and any telecom services provider in India is a tetchy one at best. Irrespective of whether you opt for prepaid or post-paid services, you seem to be forever haggling over available services and the pricing thereof, and, later, about the quality of said services. What makes it worse is that most telecoms have been overzealous to cash in on a vastly viable opportunity without investing in consumer awareness. Thus, most consumers are left arguing with customer care executives who are themselves rarely well-informed about the products and services offered.

Into this already bubbling cauldron falls the fresh bone of contention which has been dubbed the #NetNeutrality debate. Before launching into it though, I must admit to not being an expert in this domain, and am only offering my own understanding as a consumer of these services. In essence, the debate has everything to do with the Internet, as may be surmised, and how it is packaged as a product. When we sign up for data services offered by a telecom company, we agree to pay a certain fee for a certain amount of data downloaded and/or uploaded to the Internet via that company’s network. Now, many of these data service providers threw in such freebies as offering free access to certain websites along with certain data plans. So if you purchased data services for your phone from Company X, you might not be charged for the data consumed on Facebook or Twitter or WhatsApp, for instance.

While this seems like a fairly innocuous marketing strategy – we are all suckers for freebies, this idea has its flipside, which is what the #NetNeutrality debate is centred around. Now, telecom services are suggesting they will charge more for data used towards certain services, specifically those using Voice-over-Internet-Protocol, (e.g. Skype, WhatsApp, Viber), which allow users to call each other for “free”. It is important to note that “free” is not actually “free” –you may not be paying for the call itself, but you are paying for the data transferred over the Internet, whether on your mobile or other Internet connection.

The rationale offered by the service providers is that, with consumers making calls through these applications, they are losing out on call revenues. This cleverly sidesteps the fact that consumers may be paying less for voice, but they are using and paying more for data services. Given that voice and video services generally consume a fairly large amount of data, it can very well be argued that the gain in data revenues will more than compensate for loss in voice revenues. But the argument is about far more than economics. As the adage goes, it is not about the price, it is about the principle.

And the principle is that those offering data services at cost should not be concerned with how that data is utilized, for the simple reason that it infringes on the personal choice of the consumer. This aspect is highlighted by the perversion of the freebie idea; telecom companies can support one product over a competing product for, say, online entertainment, and force their consumers to use the free product rather than pay extra for the product of their choice. This has the potential to create a cartel of services which can then monopolize consumer “decisions”, and, so to speak, break up the internet.

Underlying this debate are the varying perceptions about the Internet – for the consumer it is a medium, like television or radio, through which to access much more than just information or entertainment. But for the service provider it is a product that can be packaged many ways. Already, Internet packages are offered based on quantity of data (300 MB, 1 GB, etc.), type of data network (2G, 3G, etc.), and even time of access (night-time specials, etc.). As already mentioned, avid users of Facebook, etc. can even purchase data packs tailored to give them free access. Such packs also violate net neutrality, and perhaps consumers should have wondered about the catch before queuing up for the freebies, but then the Internet has always conjured up visions of Utopia.

So what happens now? Are consumers supposed to just bend over and let telecom service providers stomp over them simply because they forgot that there are no free lunches? Fortunately or unfortunately, there is a consultation happening in India, hosted by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, as a lead-up to which a public discussion is raging on – where else? – the Internet. For the average consumer, the issue may appear to be too overwhelming, but, unfortunately, it is the price for lunches already eaten without regard to cost. Hopefully, this will be a one-time payment that settles not just the debt but also the debate for the foreseeable future.

If you are still wondering what on earth is happening, here’s the low-down. The Internet has become the proverbial goose that’s laid far too many golden eggs and now those seeing themselves as its owners are salivating at the thought of cutting it up. You can raise your voice and prevent this from happening, thus preserving #NetNeutrality. The villains in this story include some very familiar names, like Airtel and Vodafone and Reliance. But unlike Bollywood movies, no one hero or heroine can step up and take on them all. On the Internet, we are all heroes and heroines; equally, we can all become the villains or the sidekicks. The choice is ours, to write a story that sounds something like that of Appu and the bus operators.

The term internet addiction has been around for a while. I have always found this term offensive. When I was walking two hours to surf fifteen minutes on the internet, and when I was virtually plugged in all day - booting the computer on waking up, shutting down before sleeping - sometimes not even that if I had a download on. Neither qualified as internet addiction to my mind. The internet was a useful thing, I was using it as I needed to.

As a person who has always been somewhat a loner, and then going through depression, my social contact in the real world was almost zero. The internet kept me sane. At other times, I managed my websites and blogs. Still other times, I spent time on the net for pleasure. The internet is a tool, and how we use it determines if it is functional or not.

As entities, functions, information get increasingly virtualized, it is a fallacy to consider the amount of time spent on the net as a measure of addiction. From reading your morning news, to connecting with professional and personal contacts, running a business, writing, researching, socializing, entertainment... you name it, it is available on the net. I have the computer running all day. Sometimes I'll quickly check on some information, other times, I'll send messages, still other times have a conversation, watch videos, attend a virtual conference.... As the number of possibilities on the net goes up, so do the reasons people use it.

Another side of the net that I see is the opportunity for like minded people to connect. In our daily lives, our social circles are largely limited by who is available, and who among them we like. Meeting requires taking time out and physically relocating, and thus limits contact naturally. Online, most of these restrictions melt away. Day or night, someone is usually around. I think the social world online fills a very real need for interpersonal contact. As lives get busier and people find less and less opportunities to meet like minded people, I think many of us are deprived of company. This need is filled by social networks. Many will remain connected with social networks through their phones - virtually online all the time.

There are other aspects. Interests from obscure subjects to common "vices" like porn, games, etc. I don't see either porn or gaming or anything a person can do without harm to another as evil, so I suppose this takes out a large part of the "evil factor" for me. And there is the dark side - like the real world. Cons, exploitation, child porn, piracy, etc. Pretty much like the real world.

To most people used to remaining connected online, it is as much a regular element of life as the desk that computer sits on.

Whether this can be called an addiction with any logic remains to be seen. Sure, some people have withdrawal symptoms if they cannot get online for long. But then, we have those about mobile phones too. Anything you come to depend on going missing will unsettle you. This doesn't mean that depending on that thing is bad.

I can understand that doctors and other professionals who make such diagnoses often have busy practices with real people, and neither experience the need for constant company, nor do they have the time to utilize it. This may make the dependence on the internet seem unhealthy to them, like the dependence on having own transport on hand seems unhealthy to someone used to using public transport all their lives. The person traveling by public transport may not appreciate the comfort offered by familiar, reliable transport fully under their own control to someone who spends a lot of time traveling. What we don't understand and don't need seems superfluous to us. Depending on something unnecessary may seem like a bad thing. Does not necessarily mean that what is not useful for one is not useful for all.

I have met different kinds of people who spend a lot of time on the internet. Most have a purpose. Even if that purpose is socializing or entertainment. It seems strange to me to render that meaningless by calling it an addiction - as though it is not utility, but compulsion driving the behaviour.

Sure, there may be cases where this gets dysfunctional, but that is no more or less than what happens in daily life. There are people who while their days away watching TV, reading, anything. I think more useful than creating labels like internet addiction, it would help all to research virtual behaviour, and possibly start a new branch of psychology that can actually help understand what is happening, and thus address dysfunction better.