From: Udhay Shankar N (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Wed Nov 01 2000 - 05:44:26 PPET
As many of you know, EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow <www.eff.org/~barlow>
delivered talks in Bangalore and Bombay earlier this month. (He is an old
correspondent of mine, and I was, in some way, responsible for him deciding
to come to India this time)
I forwarded the following note from him to several people, and I guess this
list might enjoy it as well...
>From: John Perry Barlow
>Subject: BarlowFriendz 6.7: Digital India, Burning Man, NYC Room-Mate
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii" ; format="flowed"
> /_ _\
> ---------> B a R L o W F R i e N D Z ----->
><A continuing series of occasional outbursts to 890 of my dearest
>friends. Please let me know if you wish to be removed from this list.
>But you'll miss some great parties if you do...
>Also, if this broadcast feels as spammish to you as it obviously is,
>I hope you remember that individual responses generally elicit
>personal replies from me. And whether or not I have time to write
>back, I always read messages from BarlowFriendz with careful delight.>
>------------------------------> -------------------> -------->
>1. Signals in the Ancient Noise: Wiring India
>---------------------->> -------------------->>>> ------>
>A MESSAGE TO INDIA
>I am in my favorite part of the stratospheric void just now.
>Our 767 is about to pass over the southern tip of Greenland. This
>"place" always feels dreamlike to me, but rarely so much as now,
>since I've been travelling for some 16 hours already, and more to the
>point, the place from which I launched this demi-global lunge is more
>different from Greenland than anywhere on this planet. At 1:30 this
>morning (local time), I was in India. The Mother of Messes and the
>latest, not to say most paradoxical, home of hope.
>For the last several years, I've been wandering the Poor World
>selling info-optimism and using, among other justifications, the
>purported Miracle of Bangalore as a supporting argument.
>I finally decided that if I were going to go on using this example,
>intellectual honesty required that I go there and find out whether
>what I had heard about the exploding digital economy in India was
>true. So, when a new pan-Indian Internet provider called BPLNet asked
>me to come speak in Bangalore and Bombay, I jumped on it.
>The timing was both perfect and unfortunate. I had already committed
>myself to gigs that boxed me into spending no more than a week in
>India. This was hardly enough time to assess any aspect of a reality
>so complex that, as V.S. Naipaul said of India, "anything you say
>about it is true."
>Nevertheless, at the end of that week (during which I was accompanied
>by Number One Daughter Leah), I have gathered enough intuitive
>evidence to feel comfortable in continuing to claim that a largely
>rural and destitute economy can leap-frog the Industrial Period and
>at least establish a major beach-head in the Information Age.
>There remain enormous obstacles. It will be a long time before the
>fountain of new wealth currently spraying on Bangalore enriches any
>large percentage of India's other billion people. And, like many new
>Indian lives, it may die in infancy, in this case, starved of
>bandwidth and strangled in red tape by India's magnificently inept
>government. But there is hope.
>I was last in India in 1969, when I spent the better part of a year
>there. I left there then with an inexplicable love of the place and a
>sense of profound hopelessness regarding its prospects. It seemed
>doomed by its fatalism, self-contempt, bureaucracy, chaos, filth,
>penury, and excessive multiversity. (There are over a billion Indias,
>each of them fiercely defending unique visions of what the collective
>abstraction -"India" - might be.)
>There was also the thorough and pervasive silliness of the place.
>India is plain goofy. If you don't believe me, rent yourself a
>contemporary movie from India's "Bollywood." You will be incredulous.
>Much of what made me hopeless remains, but seen through older eyes in
>different times, some of the sources of my earlier pessimism now seem
>like assets. For example, a lot of India's chaos not only works, but
>may work in ways that are naturally nutritious to the equally chaotic
>Leah and I took a long car trip around Goa the other day with a
>driver whose non-linear accuracy took me back to the days when Neal
>[Cassidy] was at the wheel. Moreover, everyone else on the road -
>whether cow, pariah dog, pedestrian, scooter driver, motorist, or
>truck-driver - was dancing with with fate with the same apparent
>sense of invulnerability., faith was universe
>The roads were narrow strips with jungle growing right up to their
>margins, leaving no place to dodge in a crisis. And they were packed
>with all manner of objects, some planted in serene detachment, like
>the cows, or blasting through the skein of potential catastrophe like
>our driver, who kept his bald-tired tin box floored as skidded around
>blind corners in an occasionally Biblical downpour, leaning on his
>horn and missing oncoming busses and trucks by nanometers.
>There were no lines on the roads, even in Bombay, and I don't recall
>ever seeing a stoplight. What few traffic control devices existed
>were universally ignored. It was a self-organizing system that didn't
>need no stinking rules. The rules were embedded too deeply to state,
>let along legislate or impose.
>Leah and I were terrified at first and then took refuge in the same
>groundless faith that seemed to protect everyone on the road. Despite
>more razor-thin misses than I could begin to count, we never saw
>blood on the blacktop during our whole Indian expedition.
>This is the flip side of fatalism. It also endows one with the
>ability to accelerate into the unknown without fear or hesitation,
>comfortable in the conviction that The Universe is Working Fine and
>that whatever happens will be what was supposed to happen.
>And, of course, this is precisely the right frame of mind with which
>to enter the come-a-ti-yi-yippie world of Information Economy.
>Outside of intelligence, there are no traits more useful to an
>entrepreneur than a high tolerance of ambiguity and a willingness to
>leap repeatedly into the abyss of fortune.
>The national Indian silliness also seems like an asset to me now,
>particularly since I now realize that the Indians themselves are well
>aware of their endearing foibles and, indeed, delight in it as much
>as I do. In this, they are very much like most of the computer
>wizards I know: strange but amiable and in on their own joke. It's
>orthogonally related to the way that nerds, having realized they're
>never gonna make Gentlemen's Quarterly, decide they might as well
>wear Spock-ears and socks that don't match. What the hell.
>Their opinionated independence of Indians, while making them a people
>that will ever resist any effort to organize them along industrial
>(or any straight) lines, generates among them an unending supply of
>the voltage that drives information economy: difference. What
>homogeneity is to industry, diversity is to information. The very
>characteristic that has heretofore rendered them essentially
>incapable of producing and quality manufactured goods beyond silk and
>carved ivory elephants, is now a huge source of energy.
>The poverty of India, while still stupefying, no longer seems
>invincible to me. Every place we went is clearly in much better shape
>economically than it was 31 years ago, but they still have little to
>lose by betting their entire future on a high-risk proposition.
>And they are doing it. In spite of statistics that indicate no more
>than 5 million computers for over a billion people, half the
>billboards I saw had a .com somewhere on them. The newspapers were
>filled with casual but technologically-deep references to digitalia
>that assumed a level of awareness that not even the New York Times
>This perception of media savvy was borne out by the fact that I found
>myself treated like a movie star or heavyweight boxer by the press. I
>had a press conference yesterday in Bombay where there were more
>photographers than I could count, three TV crews, and reporters who
>knew a *lot* about EFF, Napster, encryption, Echelon, Open Source
>software, the Dot.Com market crash, etc. In many cases, I found
>myself asking *them* questions.
>The audiences I addressed were similarly advanced in their technical
>mastery. I immediately had to re-calibrate my settings to a much
>higher level than I'd use with an American audience, so they wouldn't
>But some problems remain problems. The Indians, whom Queen Victoria
>once called "a nation of clerks" retain paralyzing bureaucracy. I
>encountered it on arrival. None of my hosts had bothered to tell me
>that entry into India requires a visa. Since I've entered about 40
>countries in the last decade only three of which required a visa of
>an American (The People's Republic of China, Brazil, and,
>inexplicably, Australia), it never occurred to me to ask if one might
>I suddenly found myself beached at the border. At least they didn't
>stick me on the first flight back. Rather they incarcerated me for
>the night at the Bombay Airport and, while they were incredibly
>solicitous and sweet - I had a never-ending supply of cold Cokes and
>piping hot tea - I was examined by roughly twenty different
>officials, each of whom required me to give him exactly the same
>information. It felt entirely ritualistic. Process without purpose.
>(It's a good thing that Leah had been held up for a day by car
>trouble. I doubt she would have had the patience for this pleasant
>little Purgatory. As it was, by the time, I had finally dotted all
>their i's and crossed all their t's, they were prepared to greet her,
>though also visa-less, like a visiting princess. She made it in
>quicker than the people who had proper papers.
>The scary thing is that this red-festooned government has now
>discovered the Internet and is quickly rushing to regulate it. Still,
>I'm hopeful that the on-line population, which in India is doubling
>every three months or so, will soon have sufficient numbers and unity
>to convince New Delhi not to gag the future on paper forms. Of
>course, I took every opportunity, in the press and in my appearances,
>to inspire the creation of a grass-roots effort to do just that.
>There is also a willingness to allow the well-being of a few highly
>connected individuals and firms to take precedence over the common
>good. For example, there is a sweet-heart deal in place between the
>government and a certain telecom provider that restricts the total
>bandwidth available to the entire Indian Subcontinent to 364 mbps,
>despite the prodigious capacity of the FLAG fiber cable that lines
>most of the Indian coastline. I know office buildings in New York
>that have more bandwidth than that.
>It is a marvel to me that that the Indians can sustain such a massive
>rush into Cyberspace through this digital soda straw. I found that
>getting my e-mail could take up to an hour as packets trickled in at
>the rate of one every five seconds or so. That they would still want
>something that comes to them at such a stately pace is evidence of a
>pioneer's hunger for change. And that is a good sign. On the other
>hand, these are people who seem to accept without a trace of road
>rage, 10 kilometer commutes that, in Bombay, generally take about two
>So it may have less to do with hunger than patience. These are, after
>all, folks many of whom find divinity in that most patient of beasts,
>the cow. And, while I consider patience a virtue that is surpassed
>only by kindness, it's not necessarily a desirable quality among
>But here's the bottom line: India's information future looks real to
>me. It is not a myth. I honestly think I will see a day when we are
>more worried about Germany's economy than India's. There are millions
>of Indians who "get it" and get it good. They are increasing on an
>even steeper exponent than we see in the US. The next time I'm trying
>to convince someone from the Poor World that they have a future in
>Cyberspace, I won't hesitate to cite the fact that wretched India is
>making it happen.
>And I hope I've just made myself famous enough there that they will
>invite me back to help.
>Lest you think that Leah and I spent our entire week in India doing
>nothing but cybermissionary work, I must say that our hosts,
>BPLNet.Com, also treated us to a great time. They put us up in the
>most lavish hotels everywhere we went, gave us a free weekend in Goa,
>where we did everything from visiting the surreal corpse of Jesuit
>founder, St. Francis Xavier, to riding jet skis miles out into the
>Indian Ocean, to spending hours being tossed around in its bath-tub
>warm surf, to getting Auyervedic massages, to having our charts done
>by Deepak Chopra's personal astrologer, to the aforementioned Wild
>It was far too brief. We can't wait to go back when we have more time.
-- ((Udhay Shankar N)) ((udhay @ pobox.com)) ((www.digeratus.com)) God is silent. Now if we can only get Man to shut up.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Wed Nov 01 2000 - 05:47:57 PPET