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Thursday, November 26, 2015

We know who we are, and we know who you are, too.

We know who we are, and we know who you are, too.

While preparing this commentary, I heard of yet another paper detailing the uses of technology for the marketplace, named "We know where you live and we know who you are: The Instrumental Rationality of "Geodemographic Systems."  ( Jon Goss, U of Hawaii) I beg their pardon for usurping part of histitle, and admit that I know little about the field. These comments, and others on my blog, are unscientifically based on my own personal experiences and observations relating to identity, autonomy, and volition in modern day India.

A long but fascinating, almost scary, discussion of intelligent software that reads emotions appeared in The New Yorker, January 19, 2015), proclaiming, "We know how you feel."  That got me thinking of the Indian phenomenon of what I like to call 'group think,' or, "We know who you are." Emphasis on the we.

The topic has been on my mind for some time, and even came up here, in the states, as my husband recounted an encounter between our son and me. It had happened ten years ago; but my husband recounted the incident as though he had been the parent in that encounter. That being a very dear memory to me, I blurted out, "That was my story!" At which he hastily amended his version to "we..."

Many of us in the West have grown up in homogeneous communities, which are changing even as I write this.  As we live and move and have our being among a greater diversity of people, we have a lot to learn about each other, about how to be friends with each other, what is needed and how to respect one another's beliefs, customs, expectations and space.  What we don't know can give rise to fear or friendship, curiosity or criticism, teamwork or tension, welcome or withdrawal.

The same is true in India, and, for that matter, everywhere in this increasingly interconnected world which we inhabit.  So what's the difference in India?  I believe it has to do with the near-absolute density of the increasingly urban population along with a continually evolving,  incredibly rich and varied heritage from time immemorial, which continues, and increases by the minute.   Thanksgiving week, the news is that India's population has surpassed China.  And counting...

The result of being born and bred in such a closely knit yet infinitely diverse universe is, as I see it, often results in incredible poise and presence-of-mind, evident even in young children. At the same time, it engenders a joint ownership of, and group responsibility for, experience and behavior 'group think,' which to the independent American can prove exasperating, if not suffocating.  How to live and move gracefully in that context?  What happens when I want to claim ownership of my own thought and experience...Am I perceived as being peevish? How do I come across when just 'being myself'?

For that matter, who am I?  Besides being a beloved child of God, I  am accustomed to being defined by a variety of roles and relationships. Do my various internet profiles even begin to tell?

Food for thought...

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