Sunday 10 April 2016

Virtual Reality- Netizens vs Citizens

What is virtual reality? In its simplest form, it means ’near-reality’. Reality is what we experience by way of our senses and our brain processing those experiences as information. It thus stands to reason then, that if we can present our senses with made-up information, our perception of reality would alter in response to it. Virtual reality, thus, is that version of reality which is ‘perceived’ as real. But let’s dig deeper. In a very technical and straight-forward definition, virtual reality may be described as a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. The person becomes an indisposable factor of this virtual world, performing a series of actions conducive to its development. And that gets me to the core of my leitmotif - Citizens vs. Netizens, who are more important?

Citizens are members in a political community (usually a country) and they possess rights to political participation. For example, I am a citizen of India and those who we call ‘green-card holders’ are actually citizens of the United States of America. Netizens on the other hand, are Internet users who utilize the internet networks from their home, workplace, or school (anywhere in the world) and usually have a self-imposed responsibility to make radical changes in its dynamics while encouraging free speech and open access. Thus, it can be noted, that the very existence of the ‘Virtual World’ or ‘Virtual Reality’ is dependent on the existence of its ‘netizens’.

Citizens, are now an old world concept. Though the physical world has not been completely lost, the lines between reality and virtual reality has blurred greatly. The word citizen also has a limitation to it. The moment we utter ‘citizens’, we are limiting their existence within a boundary but a ’netizen’ has validity in every corner of the world, no geographical boundary can restrict its continuance. You can be a citizen of India but you are a ‘netizen’ of the world. Thus, the power or freedom of a ‘netizen’ cannot be curtailed by boundaries. The connecting media - the Internet - plays a significant role in opening up spaces for citizens, regardless of their gender and social status, to participate in political, economic, social and cultural life. In India, the Internet took more than a decade to move from 10 million to 100 million users. However, it took only three years for it to jump from 100 to 200 million. According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the Internet user base in the country stood at 190 million at the end of June 2013. These are times of radical and rapid changes!

Governments of nations now chose to stay in touch with their citizens through the internet, thus consciously converting them to ‘netizens’. They are implying the internet to serve their citizens. As technologies continue to evolve, the internet is having a significant impact on all aspects of life-society, economics and politics. To further stress on the aspect of how ‘netizens’ have emerged to be more important than citizens, a very simple yet significant example should be stated. ‘Digital signatures’. Digital signatures have now been introduced and legalized to give digital existence and recognition to every human being worldwide. Slowly but surely, citizens are emerging as ‘netizens’.

Thus, who holds more ground in the present times? The active participants of the physical world or the cyber citizens of the virtual world? The answer is simple. We have stopped living in the physical world. Even though we are physically present here, we have been reduced to victims of digitization. Our existence makes sense to us only when it is validated on public forums and other such internet portals. The very day-to-day actions are governed by how they are or would be perceived by the world of internet.

Virtual Reality is a warped version of the real world and yet we are prudently getting engulfed in this realm of technology and innovations. ‘Netizens’, have thus gained a much more strong hold than Citizens and in the times to come, I can foresee the symbiotic existence of both.

Ankita Chatterjee

( PG MEDIA 2015-2017)

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