By bringing people together, internet is changing how we perceive public spaces.
Public spaces in Indian cities have been synonymous to chaos and liveliness. The common places include seasides, parks, tourist spots or markets. These public space provide cheap entertainment location for the large population in the cities looking for a quality time, or so they have till now. Recently, these spaces have become grounds for purposeful interactions.
The Digital India campaign and government’s plan to provide free wi-fi in 2,500 cities and towns across countries is an indication that internet connectivity is becoming more of a necessity than luxury in the current century. As of September 5, 2015, there were 345 million internet users in India as per a report published by the Internet And Mobile Association of India. With such a large majority of people on internet, the connectivity between people from various backgrounds and locations has made large networks. These networks usually use public spaces for physical interactions. For instance, the last food walk you went to with a complete set of strangers would not have been this hassle free without internet.
The increasingly used internet has created networks that brings strangers together in a very short notice. This feature of the internet has been played in various capacities. The tweets have been a medium for gathering large crowds during incidents like demonstrations at Cairo’s Tahrir square and the Delhi protests after 2012 Delhi gang rape case. The same medium is also acting as a catalyst for various interest groups to explore their cities and its pleasures. This has helped in shifting the crowds from the middle of the city centres to the relatively unknown ends of the city.
One of the drastic impacts of internet connectivity has been on tourism. John Jung in his article has explained how Cairo’s Tahrir square gained overnight fame after the 2011 incident. It has since become a common tourist spot. A similar impact has been seen by the Irish government, which has seen a sudden rise in the tourism after the fame of Game of Thrones, an American television series.
In the recent time, internet has become an integrated part of the a city dweller’s life. Be it booking a cab on Uber or finding a restaurant on Zomato, internet has become a common platform for all. However, it is interesting to see that its also playing a role in making public spaces relevant in innovative ways. The only question now is whether the impact will substantial enough to reduce the shortage of public spaces in India?
Devika Kher is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher. John Jung, ‘Internet in the public realm’, My Liveable City, Jan-March 2016, pp. 100