Web 2.0 in Nepal and Time Magazine’s Person of the Year

time magazine person of the year cover“Congratulations,” says my Kantipur daily colleague Sudeep Shrestha. “YOU have been named Person of the Year by Time Magazine.”

“Congratulations to you as well,” I respond. After all, YOU are also included in that you. “But you really deserve the accolade,” he says. “Because you were one of those who posted content on the web. I rarely did that.” Still, I said, accept the congratulations yar. “After all, you are also an Internet user.”

As I get down from the office building, another note of congratulation comes from Shohan Shrestha, news chief at Kantipur TV. “Congratulations,” he said, firmly shaking hands as I was heading towards Jai Nepal to watch the movie Kabul Express. [The movie wasn’t really as per my expectation. You can see same old Pakistan bashing that you can find in any other Indian movies. The movie spends most of the time in proving that Taliban members are from Pakistani army. This is exactly why, I think, Indians can’t make any movie of international class. Because of load shedding in Kathmandu, we faced technical hitch in the theater but the sound of constant chit chat coming from behind our seat was enjoyable. The girls, apparently from a college in Kathmandu, were hilarious.]

So that was our way of receiving the announcement of Time Magazine’s person of the year award. That was three days ago. As soon as I saw the news of Time POY in the wire, I was excited and translated the item for my newspaper. I like the idea of declaring persons or things as person of the year but sometime get disappointed that majority of POY are Americans (an editorial, posted below, from Hindustan Times points out the fact). I enjoyed reading the article on the web when about Time Magazine’s choice of computer as the person of year in 1980 (I think). After the news about Time’s Person of the Year got published on the last page of Kantipur, waves of congratulations started coming in.

But the celebration and those congratulations might be exaggeration version of our reality. Interactive Internet services (Web 2.0) have gained popularity among net users in Nepal as well. There are quite a few blogs and interactive web sites where user generated content plays vital role. But we are still far behind in posting contents in the web as compared to many developed countries. We can say we are in progress but our economy is the main challenge for that. We have an economy that is growing in a very slow pace and many people, I am talking about the educated ones, are deprived of access to computer and internet. Still we are hoping that the internet will be cheaper in coming days and more and more people will be connected in the World Wide Web. The challenge for now is to increase Nepali or Nepal related content on the web as Internet has already become a starting point for almost every thing.

Here are two editorials about Time POY in two Indian newspapers:

Hindustan Times: It sounds highly flattering, but when Time magazine puts you on the cover, do consider the possibility of journalistic laziness as a reason for the news magazine bestowing you the honour. For you to beat the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and former American Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld could lead to a skewed understanding of how important you have been in the global scheme of things over the last one year. But then, making a character from the Axis of Evil-Plus get the coveted spot sends out even more dangerous signals these days.

But there could be another reason why you get to be on this year’s cover. Since 1995, all of Time’s Persons of the Year have been Americans, starting from former US Speaker Newt Gingrich right down to last year’s trinity of Bono (he’s as Irish as M Night Shyamalan is Indian) and Bill and Melinda Gates.

Making an easily recognisable (for the American subscriber, that is) non-American the Person of the Year can be devilishly difficult. This is usually worked around by putting Aishwarya Rai et al on the cover of the Asian edition of the magazine. While this gives every Time reader in India the idea that an Indian has finally become the global toast, that Ms Rai’s photograph doesn’t adorn a tabletop in Houston or in Zurich tells the real, smart picture. But you don’t, you can’t localise a Person of the Year. So it had to be you, anonymous blogger or user of sites like YouTube. But you don’t feel that feted, do you?

Times of India: You don’t get only 15 minutes of fame anymore; You get an entire year. Time magazine has hailed You as the person and phenomenon that defined 2006. The millions of people behind all the user-generated content on the World Wide Web, with its blogs, file-sharing portals, social networking sites and collaborative encyclopaedias, have taken the wheel of the world and the place of traditional great men.

According to Time magazine, there were certainly ‘People Who Mattered’, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, Pope Benedict XVI, Hu Jintao, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, but none of these quite compared with the average Joes, the citizens and architects of the new digital democracy.

The shift began at least two years ago, with the emergence of Web 2.0, the second generation of Internet services that emphasised collaboration and sharing between users. Whether it is reporting news, sharing camcorder footage of wars or terrorist attacks, reviewing products on Amazon or simply telling your own story on video blogs, a million voices are creating new dissonant and fluid realities.

History is no longer about what those in power choose to do and, more importantly, choose to reveal. History is now about what You have to say. So over to You.