Google Mapathon 2013: Abstraction as Weapon

I don’t oppose the examination of Google’s activities, no matter who is voicing it or why. This is how I analyze action and necessary reaction:

1. Maps stored in foreign servers and under the ownership and control of foreign or transnational companies are a security risk to any nation. India does not have the resources to combat what Google will facilitate. Since Google will never be held responsible for its users’ use of sensitive data, India must oppose practices where it can; Google is visible, unified and traceable, anonymous users and networks worldwide are not.

2. The tech-savvy Resident Non-Indian needs to be forced to think about the consequences of his/her lifestyle, choices and carefree support or opposition to fashionable transnational practices. To argue that uploading detailed maps such as these is merely ‘improving’ local knowledge is to think narrowly like an individual consumer who has no responsibilities as a citizen. Taxes, citizenship and elite global memberships do not excuse the individual buyer from the framework of material consequences resulting from his/her actions in the floating consumer world. Loyalty to Google and its floating signifier of maps for all should be rigorously examined and even discouraged in certain cases by certain parties. In this, the rights and duties of an individual must be weighed against the rights and duties of many individuals. The root of the world’s freedom and glory is not the individual-as-consumer, and advocates of rights and liberties would do well to untangle the parts of every individual that come out to play in different conflicts. To abstract one role out of the many that any psychologically globalized person plays is to reduce reality to binary principle, to reduce ethics to rationalization.

3. Online reportage has presented India’s opposition as an umbrella Hindu nationalist (and therefore corrupt, suspicious and hypocritical) agenda, or as a backward outcry to technological advancement. The opposition is neither. The rhetoric of reportage is as infantile and orientalist as western sociologists’ puzzlement at the ties of family and kinship that still govern India’s economic and political systems , i.e., seizing at bogeys like ‘caste’ and ‘Hindu nationalism’ to defame anything that seems to remotely oppose transnational neocolonial cynicism (rummaging in the world’s resource banks without due responsibility) is really the dubious prerogative of the North and West.

Indians would be foolish to mistake the messenger (Google, Mapathon, or the favorite bogeyman ‘BJP’) for the message and tilt at windmills when energies might be put to real work elsewhere.