The current situation in international politics is as much depended on the World Health Organisation as the United Nations is on Security Council, otherwise. Amidst a world torn apart to its core by a public health emergency, the pandemic is coming to a slow and burning end. However, several scientists still predict possible spillovers while tending towards ruling out the possibility of any new major epicentres string that this infection phase will be a long drawn, pedestrian one. In other words, although most affected nations including China, the source of this outbreak, begin to open up their markets and services, the number of infected persons is set to predictably increase manifolds. In India, peculiarly, the series of lockdowns have not particularly affected the flattening of the curve as the infection rate continues to grow every passing day.
This period of lockdowns has caused a global economic standstill. People lost their jobs, means of livelihood, homes, among other intangible social truths such as the freedom of movement, assembly and in extreme cases, freedom of speech and expression. The responsibility of the government has increased considerably towards the general welfare of the people as a major political priority to avoid a health crisis.
In the digital era, this has resulted in increased cybercrime and privacy breaches. There has been increased surveillance from the government’s end as well. The policies have been more restrictive and censorship almost brutal. Moreover, the major governments seem to keenly focus on digital media channels for the acquisition of data and information on the people and spread tailored content based on the insight gained through highly advanced strategic disinformation campaigns. This argument is instrumental towards understanding where our current counter-culture, the youth is imbibing through online sources, is heading considering not much dissent goes unnoticed.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned paragraphs, digital media has been a key component in the development of a particular type of culture accurately fits the definition of what a counter-culture might entail. There been a significant rise in the number of active users of several online media channels and websites. Live streaming and Movie-streaming applications have also seen a spike in subscriptions as a Velocity MR study revealed Amazon and Netflix witnessed more than 60% growth in their respective subscriber base during the lockdown. Many producers have shifted to the digital space instead of waiting on a probable release date for their movies. There is increasing uncertainty about normalcy returning to us anytime soon.
Counter Culture can be understood as a culture whose values system differs substantially from those of mainstream society, often in opposition to mainstream cultural practices. In history, counter-cultural movements have focused on literature, art, music and intelligentsia of that era. For instance, Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that spread across Europe until 1900. This period was marked by its renewed emphasis on individualism alongside a glorification the past. It brought in a focus on emotions and nature and led to preferring the medieval over the classical beliefs. It partly originated as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic socio-political practices of the Age of Enlightenment, and all components of modernity. This movement left a legacy in the diverse fields such as visual arts, music, literature, education, natural sciences, among others. It considerably influenced politics, especially in the intellectual development of liberalism, radicalism, conservatism, and nationalism as ideologies during this period.
In today’s world with the advent of advanced information and communication systems such as Artificial Intelligence, Data Sciences and Machine Learning, the entire digital world is reaching a new phase in modern-day politics. Technology has become publicly accessible and cheaper than a hamburger. The world is far more connected and exponentially high gigabytes of data and information is being shared and stored every day. This advent of technology has created a large impact on the way most art, music or literature is being consumed or produced nowadays. Modern-day artists are shifting to digital painting options such as Photoshop, Infinite Painter or Sketchbook by Autodesk while contemporary artists who are loyal their medium are choosing online options such as e-exhibitions, e-auctioning and e-retail to sell their artworks.
In today’s counter culture, one could debate on constitutes an artist far more than admiring one. There has been considerable use of digital media in modern sculpting and architecture. Visual arts has extended to encompass graphic designs and illustrations that are rendered digitally. Filmmakers are shifting to animators while influencers are gaining what is being lost by the out-of-work actors. Especially due to the current situation with the pandemic.
This era of ‘Digitalism’ has also had a significant impact on the way music is made. Major recording labels and music producers are shifting to Digital Audio Workstations instead of the physical studio for all their music. Furthermore, the preference for electronic music has shot up considerably as well. Musicians, as well as music festival organisers, have resorted to the online streaming services to propagate their music. Literature is being read and spread over digital channels since bookstores like other businesses continue to remain shut due to the lockdowns. There has been a significant rise in the number of public users invested in network-based streaming applications such as Tik Tok, YouTube, Twitch and Discord have risen alongside an exponential rise in the number of users of video conferencing services such as Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, among others. This is an important concern since these applications have reportedly been the platforms with grave security risks due to possible data breaches. Furthermore, it has been seen in the past that governmental organisations can use such data to manipulate elections, establish a public norm and propagate fake news.
In this regard, we could argue that yesterday’s concerns of ‘liberty’ have manifested into today’s concerns for ‘privacy’ at the individual level. While for the government this change has been from one of ‘law and order’ to one of ‘national security’. Several politicians and celebrities continue to use social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to connect with the public and influence public opinion at large. This shuts off the portions of the population without internet access. In a developing nation like India, which has a very poor internet penetration rate, this creates massive misappropriation, misinterpretation and misrepresentation of information.
Similar to the hippie culture during the 1970s in the United States, today’s sub-cultures involve the ‘gaming culture’ and so-called the ‘meme culture’. The former is a result of the incredible amount of time spent by today’s youth behind online gaming and streaming gaming related content online. The eSports leagues across the worlds are seeing again in their business revenues with more people becoming increasingly interested in gaming. The latter is far less sophisticated than the hippie culture or the gaming cultures but it is influential none the less. Memes refer to organically created visual and text-based online content that uses humour to propagate a certain opinion or idea. Memes have been time and again used by major political parties across the world to reach a more diverse audience with their ideas and initiatives. They are often derogatory and resemble challenging positions with a negative focus on conventional mainstream societal practices and beliefs.
In a paradigm that debates whether the world today is multipolar or unipolar, the counter-culture brought to our fingertips by technological advances directs us to argue that it is indeed a unipolar world where every section is interconnected via a multidimensional network of communication systems spread at a global scale but, with multipolar tendencies, as these sections often intensely identify with or against established social arrangements that trigger major protests and demonstrations leading to major political and socio-economic repercussions at the international level. The current paradox in this respect is the fact that the digital era has made public dissent more widespread while it has also curtailed our right to free speech and data security online. However, the truth that remains undeniable is the fact that this digital counter-culture or ‘Digitalism’ has had a profound political influence in our lives as an integral member of the global village.