When John Guare first wrote about six degrees of separation, the very idea of a being chained through six people to anyone and everyone on the planet was bewildering. The President of the United States separated by a mere six degrees from a rainforest dweller made the world shrink. But that was then. When the world went web, this thought became the most common factor for connecting. And connect the world did- through email, WebPages, blogs, booming social networking sites, the world rediscovered itself. We shared ourselves, exchanged stories, promoted our causes, supported are friends, we linked, we created links. From physical to virtual space we explored-from chat rooms we walked into forums, finding lost friends, making new ones, building acquaintances, networks, communities, a new world.
Marginalized and vulnerable communities have always been deprived of access to knowledge and a platform for their views. The web, on the other hand, has permeated the personal, and the professional- the social, the cultural, the economic, and the political. And this makes Web 2.0 most fascinating- this intricate network of space and the leveling ground from which all can raise their voices. So as I worked as a knowledge management specialist in my last job, I saw how the internet taught communities in India to build earthquake resilient houses, I watched communities of practice divulge in debates on health and safety, I saw experts from across the world directly address the issues of a villager in remote India.
In the women’s empowerment discourse, this has greater repercussions. Age, diversity, identity, nothing inhibits women today from connecting to the world outside. Last year, I traveled through two districts in rural India, photo-documenting and writing the life-changing stories of over 150 women stemming from a local NGO’s microfinance initiatives. I walked and talked with veiled women who had suddenly transformed into leaders in their communities, addressing hordes on the pathway to financial recovery. Their stories were blogged and documented making them accessible and inspirational. The web had given them tremendous outreach. From the few thousands they addressed in their monthly gatherings, these women found a platform that went beyond their culture, demography and social milieu. Fundraising, lobbying for a cause, taking e-trainings, connecting beyond their little villages- the possibilities have been huge. Most importantly, women can connect with women- sharing these personal journeys not only are liberating but bring with them a sense of solidarity. For the other, they are an impetus for change.
Someone once told me that explaining who God was, was like trying to explain the internet to an ant! For some strange reason the enormity of God and the internet as its manifestation made absolute sense. That is the enormity of Web 2.0 and all right at your fingertips; there is static and I can feel the gush and I want to know more and tell more. Once you succumb you feel empowered. I am out there- can you hear me! An echo resonates and slowly the voices are becoming stronger.