Imagining Digital India in City
The city is evolving every day. It is as new to the digital revolution as the revolution itself. Nevertheless, what used to be mere imagination in olden days has become the reality that creates the cushion for imaginations for the next step of evolution. The beauty of the city lies in its ability to manage both imagination and reality. It has adjusted itself to the ever-changing nuances of the digital realm. The massive organism that the city is, it makes it intriguing to observe the minute details of the digital revolution breathing inside its system. This paper is an effort to decode the processes that are operating in the city as a part of the digital realm and also making conspicuous changes to the cityscape and its working.
Key Words/Terms: City, Cityscape, digital revolution, digital realm, imagination, reality
- The Raw City
Urban Spaces have been the new cradles of economic growth and cultural intermixing for a considerably long time now. The cities across the globe have evolved through a variety of stages, although not necessarily the same ones. The first cities represented settlement units of hitherto unprecedented size (Childe, 1950). This, however, does not imply that they stood anywhere in comparison to the twenty first century cities in terms of population as well as complexity of processes at work.
The simultaneous processes of urbanisation, globalisation and industrialisation have reinvented the idea of a city in the contemporary times. However, it is widely understood that even though there has been a change in the character of the city, its raw nature remains the same. Cities are regarded as the powerhouses of economic growth, a melting pot for various cultures, the hubs of innovation and imagination, the carriers of a million dreams, and the leaders of the global settlements. Gordon Childe in The Urban Revolution pointed out ten characteristics that he deemed to be integral to almost all cities of the world. His paper included population, diversification of economic activities, standardisation of weights and measures, presence of infrastructure, trade and commerce as some of the ten characteristics. The contemporary city, however has grown beyond these basic ideas. However, it would be safe to assume that a huge number of the cities as they appear today do have the building blocks based on the ten characteristics referred to earlier.
- The Intercultural City
The city has become increasingly intercultural in nature owing to the fast paced churning of ideas and the availability of right tools to turn them into reality. The city in the contemporary world is a portal into ‘realised imaginations’. Everyday hundreds of thousands of people enter the city to make something out of themselves, to prove themselves and to create an association with the idea of the city. The city has come to be associated with success, growth, positivity, and opportunities, all of which are the attention-seekers for those deprived of them. It is also made apparent that the city hardly disallows entities to become a part of it. The intercultural city that lives with diversity is different from places that channel people into one worldview (Wood & Landry, 2008).
However, the image of the city as talked about above has also been emphatically pronounced due to a bigger reason. The advent of digital technology has secured a sure shot place in the life of the city. It can also be said that the intercultural city became so because of the digital revolution.
- Imagination in the City: The Digital Way
As said earlier, the city has long been the hotbed of imagination and hope. Imagination, however, has made a great deal of changes in the way the city functions and views the future. The digital technology has changed the face of the city. It has affected its daily life and also the way it carries itself. Over the last few years, we have seen a huge variety of familiar objects and surfaces – from televisions to bus shelters – transform into networked sensors that gather, process, store and display information (Anderson, 2012).
From dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn the city makes its way through the mesh of digital technologies to make life easier for its inhabitants. There is an alarm on the smartphone to wake it up, milk delivered to the doorsteps through a digitally placed order, cab aggregator service to book a cab in a few moments, navigation to help it steer through the large network of roads and lanes, real time traffic information to keep it punctual, online music to listen to on a smartphone while travelling, social networks like Facebook and twitter to post about how the start of the day has been wonderful, pictures to take from a camera installed on the smartphone and so on. The city deals with its finances sitting on a laptop. The digital revolution has set in motion forces that have so much to do with bridging of distances, simplification of problems, and reduction in troubles.
Browsing one minute, searching the next, we move seamlessly from private to shared information environments, offering insight into packages of urban experience (Anderson, 2012). In order to understand the level of impact, one needs to consider an errand as small as ironing of clothes. With the digital prowess, it is perfectly possible to “get the inside track on where to get shirts ironed fast and cheaply” (Anderson, 2012). The growing dependence on digital media can be seen in the growth patterns of the city too. The coming decades are being called the decades of the ‘digital city’. There are townships being established that are integrated internally through networks of information which is available for all their residents to use. The hi-tech planned cities coming up across the globe are looking towards digital media to try and create a perfect example of place branding and city imaging. The concepts are not as new as the context. It is in context of the digital world growing together with the urban world that these concepts have broken their boundaries.
The city’s daily life is being constructed everyday with the help of the digital revolution. The kind of fairs it will attend, the concerts that are going to be a hit, the street food festivals consisting of cuisines from unknown lands are all the examples of the dynamic characters of the city. The fact that the city entertains this amount of information and action made available to it by the digital technologies is in itself enough to understand their impact on its daily life.
The question of inclusiveness is the next when it comes to creating a future of imagination for the city. Is the imagination class-sensitive? Does it take into account the gender gap which still exists in the city? Does the digital advancement decrease the stereotyping the city tolerates every day by the means of its constituents?
It will be difficult to assume that digital technology has brought about a massive change in the inclusiveness in the city. However, it is visible that the diversity of the city has been regarded much more because of digital technology on one hand and discarded on the other. The latter is so because of the exclusion of many of the city’s constituents in understanding the ‘digital’ side of the city. The digital itself is being made into an exclusive object for the use of a handful of people. If this is not looked into, the exclusiveness will increase thereby defeating the purpose of intermixing of cultures and people in the city.
The imagination of mankind is brought to match with the reality in the city. The reality, in turn, creates a platform for more imagination to crop up and help the city rediscover itself. Imagine an arrow that appears on the pavement or on your sunglasses to tell you which way to go, or even a docking station that unfolds as you approach to lock up your bike (Anderson, 2012). The cities are brimming with quests and explorations for the future. This is why this paper has been titled From Imagination to Reality to Imagination, because the cycle goes on and helps the city establish new landmarks.
From reality to imagination goes the path to the city’s conversation with digital technology. The speed with which the city has been accepting the conversion to the digital media is unprecedented. It is an indispensable part of the social as well as the economic fabric of the city today. The digital realm has brought the city together like never before. In creating realities out of imaginations, the city has done itself a tremendous service.
The digital makeover of cities across the globe has resulted in a lasting impact on the daily life of the city. From running basic errands to getting factories set up, the tasks have been getting easier and the system more efficient. Not just this, the advent of social media has made the city more accessible and informative. Where there was nothing some years ago, the city finds information on its own history and geography today. From struggling to pay bills to booking travel plans on the internet, the city sure has come a long way in organising its everyday life.
- Digital media and urban spaces by Barbara Anderson on RSA, 2012 – https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/rsa-comment/2012/05/digital-media-and-urban-spaces
- The Intercultural City, by Phil Wood and Charles Landry, 2008 (Book)
- The Urban Revolution, by Gordon Childe, 1950 (Journal Article) – http://www.jstor.org/stable/40102108
Sanjana Kumari is a reader of Geography and writes from Delhi, India.