Centre for Internet & Society

The Habits of Living Thinkathon (Thinking Marathon) is being hosted by the Centre for Internet and Society in Bengaluru, India, from September 26 to 29, 2012. The event brings together a range of multidisciplinary scholars and practitioners. The workshop aims to generate a dialogue on the notion of surrogate structures that have become visible landmarks of contemporary life, and produce new conceptual frameworks to help us understand networks and the ways in which they inform our everyday practice and thought.

Deepak Menon welcomes us into his world by asking a very common question: Why is water in India of such bad quality?

He begins by pointing out that different groups with different ideologies have varying views on water in India, and very few of these multitudes of groups actually interact with one another to share their knowledge or work together. What is clear, though, is that water is integral to Indian life, and that the major problems associated with water are those surrounding drinking water and sanitation. Most of the drinking water in India is surface water, and most of the surface water is contaminated, which has spurned an interest in using groundwater. Fifteen years ago in Bangalore, apartment buildings were built close to groundwater reserves — now, even some of the most expensive housing is built without proximity to a water resource, so water must be brought in from other areas in large quantities. Groundwater is a large issue as well, as the deeper you drill into groundwater aquifers, the more contaminants are in the water — and they are dangerous to health. Doctors are constantly treating the symptoms of contaminated water without even knowing that the cause is bad water, and this lack of knowledge is widespread across India, except for those that work in the water industry.

The Ministry of Health is not connected or in regular dialogue with the ministry of water management — so no one but the water ministry touches water issues. This lack of knowledge sharing and co-operation is pervasive throughout many Indian spheres, which is why, for Deepak, the process of network creation becomes an important comprehension point. How do we create a network, especially one with the purpose of disseminating knowledge to multiple spheres of society? How do we coordinate multiple actors to mobilize these networks? How do we create both online and offline networks that engage multiple groups? Many associations or appropriate groups are uninterested in talking to one another, so how do we get these groups talking? If we are unable to connect groups within one sector, how will we do it between sectors or even regions?

Deepak is interested in a model of network existence and creation. It's hard to create a network if many basic questions (How much time does it take? How long will it last) have no answers. Issues of structure also complicate the inclusion or participation of particular actors into a network framework — some individuals and groups are not used to working in non-hierarchal environments. How do we form long-lasting networks between different groups? Does the process differ between online and offline networks?

One participant reflected on the over-drawing of water and its relation with corruption — does corruption enable over-use of water resources?  Deepak responded that this happens in both industrial and private use of water, as well as many other spheres in Indian society. The participant also put forth the idea of using mobile technology to collectively map water resources. Deepak pointed out that again, this is an issue of the creation of networks — if we were able to create the collective interest in creating this mapping activity, then it would be very useful, but so far, attempts to create the needed networks have not been successful. Crowd mapping was also suggested, and it was pointed out that thinking about crowd-mapping groups is a good exercise in envisioning the kinds specifics of the networks that need to be created.

Another participant pointed out that much of the dialogue about and interaction with water exists within traditional knowledge systems, so we must be aware of these systems of consumption and understanding when dealing with water in India.

Deepak finishes by asking us to consider the following three questions:

  1. When have you felt most networked in your life? When do you experience a network?
  2. List networks that you are part of online and offline.
  3. What are the few defining characteristics that you felt that these networks possessed?

While I do believe that networks often become apparent when you are excluded for them, as Nishant discussed on our first day, in my own experience, the identification of a network structure in an environment, I originally thought was hierarchical was when I felt the most networked. However, I have experienced my own belonging to networks before this point, but I believe that I viewed those networks that are relevant in my own life as being predominately social. I tend to see membership to most networks as being involuntary, but I believe that this stems from quite a narrow comprehension of network theory.

As for Deepak’s discussion, I believe that the search for a methodology for the creation of networks could be problematic. If it is true that the moment we see a network in its entirety is the moment that the network falls into crisis, what does this say about the essence of a network that was actively created with a specific goal in mind? Is it sustainable if the nature that connects the nodes of the network is not inherent or invisible, but constructed and clearly understood by all members? And what does this say about the orchestrator or architect of the network? When a tangible entity constructs a network, is this a hierarchical process? Can it result in a network, or is the structure created inherently hierarchical?

If you're interested in being part of this dialogue, please tweet your answers to these questions to #hol12!

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