Every year, for the last two years, I’ve been getting on a plane, undergoing “corpo-real packaging” and being transported from India to the United States, to go to college. As I prepared for what lay ahead of me, I knew that I would have to adjust to new ideas and beliefs but I didn’t realise that being displaced from my local place to a foreign country would affect my social interactions in my immediate environment. It was only recently that I started to notice, when a typical conversation with a stranger started somewhat like this:
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from India.” I would reply.
“Oh! Why don’t you have an accent? I thought you were from here!”
This was becoming more frequent, so I decided that it called for some introspection on my part. I knew the above statement wasn’t completely true; I’d retained some characteristics from my Indian accent but over a period of time, my accent had become somewhat of a hybrid between the Indian and the American accent. At what point had it become so Americanized that people couldn’t even tell the difference? I was curious as to why and more importantly astonished at the fact that I barely even noticed these changes, probably because they occurred so gradually. This made me wonder how it affected my consciousness, perception and awareness of place and what factors played a role in determining my behavior in different places.
One of them, I think is American Television and how it portrays a very caricatured image of Indian people in the United States. One of these shows is undoubtedly The Big Bang Theory. When I lived in India, watching the character of Raj in The Big Bang Theory was funny; the thought that he was there just for comic relief never occurred to me. It was an American show that I was watching all the way in India and I didn’t think for a second that it was representative of me. However, when I physically got to the US I started to notice why the show was problematic, especially after someone I met guessed I’m from India because he said that my accent reminded him of Raj. He then proceeded to follow up his guess with the classic ‘Indian head nod’ (if you can believe that). It was almost as if he was thinking about me through the filter of the TV and the stereotypical, standard ‘Indian’ image that was portrayed through it. The medium was giving him a sign of what to expect when he met an Indian person and that is all he saw (and unfortunately decided to voice) when he met me. This reminded me of ‘The Most Photographed Barn’ in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise. The presence of signs, even in this case tainted the image of the barn and signaled everyone visiting it to view it from the same perspective, as is visible from the line, “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.” This is an example of how media standardizes both people and historic places, creating one universal personality for them instead of the varied ideas that people might have had if their minds hadn’t already been influenced by the media and the signs that they saw around them.
Another effect of standardization within a place is that it makes anything even remotely different very noticeable. This I think is another reason why I started Americanizing my accent. People usually understood what I said but I sometimes had to repeat myself; it was easier to change my accent instead. This happened more frequently when I was on the phone. I remember a time when I was talking to a woman from AT&T regarding problems that I was having with my phone plan. She had trouble understanding me which eventually made me switch to an American accent (which, as it turns out, I can do very well) just because I knew that it was a surefire way of quickening the pace of our conversation. This I think is similar to how Mane Pena, in Through the Arc of the Rainforest shows a gradual change in accent as he is represented more in the media. The first time he spoke to the media, he spoke in his local untouched voice, as can be seen from the line, “his voice rising and twanging in regional tones.” However, as time went on, his voice changed and his accent started to lose its regional touch, because J.B. Tweep knew he that his voice had to sound familiar to the audience watching the television. After reading this book, I wondered whether creating a sense of familiarity with the person I was speaking with played a role in the change of my accent. I can’t say for sure, but it is definitely something I need to give more thought to.
Another thought that crossed my mind after I hung up on the AT&T representative was the uncertainty that I felt about the source of confusion in our conversation. Was it really because it was difficult for her to understand my accent? Or was the wireless telephone phone network unclear? Or perhaps my cellular phone wasn’t working properly and needed to be changed? I realize now that I had experienced (in a way) what it is like to be living in a ‘Risk Society’; a society that is so mass-mediated that there is a fear and anxiety caused by it and its invisible effects. I was worried about both the phone, and the telephone network and as a result had a harder time identifying the source problem (although it probably was my accent). This is similar to the anxiety that Jack Gladney experiences when he contemplates the reason for his sons receding hairline. This is visible from the lines, “Did his mother consume some kind of gene piercing substance when she was pregnant? Am I…..glorious sunsets?”. Although my experience on the phone is vastly different from this; both the instances call into question the general idea that technology is always, unquestionably good. They are also examples of how technology affects the nervous system, putting us into a state of uncertainty and sometimes even fear.
The above example also illustrates the idea that all the technology that connect us also disconnect us in some way. The more aware I got of the person I was speaking with, the more disconnected I was getting from my immediate surroundings, from the ‘here and now’ according to Rebecca Solnit. I also realized that while I was overcoming my body’s biological limits and speaking to someone far away, I was also limited in how I could interact with her. If I were physically present in front of this woman, I could have used actions and explained what I meant, however this was impossible to do on the phone. According to Solnit, “technology regards the very terms of our bodily existence as burdensome” (page 11). Maybe it’s time for us to put our foot down and understand its effects without consuming it without thinking.
Why is it important to be introspective in a time of rapid globalization? If I think about it, I remember being judgmental of the way some Indian Americans pronounced their names. I couldn’t for the life of me see why they would Americanize their name, partly because I didn’t have to face that problem myself. I hadn’t considered the fact that the Hindi alphabet had additional letters that they may not be used to pronouncing or that they may not even speak Hindi. I’d expected them to have experiences similar to the ones that I had, regarding Indian culture, without taking into consideration the difference in environment. By thinking critically of my own behavior, I was able to understand at least to an extent, the effects that cultural displacement and hybridization has on an individual. Overall, it was a lesson in humility and helped me be more understanding of the Indian diaspora in the United States.
PART 2: Experiments in Dematerialization
1)Passing chits versus sending text messages
As a part of the mid-term project, I decided to conduct an experiment on the effects of dematerialization at my residential life staff meeting because these were people that had no knowledge of EcoMedia. The goal of the experiment was to explain the effects of the separation of transportation and communications media. The experiment was similar to the one we did in class; everyone had to write a note to someone in the room and physically get up and give it to them. One of my friends exclaimed at how she had injured her leg and passed her note instead. I couldn’t help thinking that if physically moving was the only way she could have conveyed her message then her note would never have gotten through. There was a lot of chatter and the expected exclamations of “aww, that’s so sweet!” as people exchanged notes.
After that I asked everyone to text someone else in the room. The room got a lot quieter and I got a lot more text messages that the number of physical paper notes. The digitization of sending messages sped up the process of sending messages and annihilated time and space. After the experiment, I asked my RA friends how they felt about the different forms of communication. Overall, they seemed to agree that the passing of chits felt more personal and exciting. However, there were some people that talked about how they didn’t even have the others phone number and despite the fact that they were very good friends. It was nice to see that despite living in a time of hyper connectivity, there were still people that interacted more with each other in person rather than online.
2) Physically writing versus typing
While typing the paper, I couldn’t help but noticing that Microsoft Word always autocorrected my British English to American English. This is because the keyboard on my computer is set to American English; I think this demonstrates how easy it is to mask our differences through technology and hide mistakes. If I physically wrote the paper, it would be more of a mix of British and American English and there would be visible cancellations. This is why I decided to write out the entire paper by hand and account for my hybrid English. I will then put the physical and the digital copies in folders to demonstrate the lack of physical matter when done online. This I think is significant because it connects me to the paper I wrote online. It reminds me of the time when Burtynsky, in Manufactured Landscapes uses silver slides to photograph silver mines. He says, “Everything I’m doing is connected to the thing I’m photographing.” And in imitating him, I’m attempting to connect the different forms of media to the message that I’m conveyed through them.
 Aden, Peter. “Mediations.” Page 205, Print.
 DeLillo, Don. White Noise. Viking, Page 12, 1985. Print
 Yamashita, Karen Tei. Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. London: Scribners, Page 23,1991. Print
 DeLillo, Don. White Noise. Viking, Page 22, 1985. Print.
 Solnit, Rebecca. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. The Annihilation of Time and Space, Page 11, New York: Viking, 2003. Print.
 Manufactured Landscapes. Dir. Jennifer Beichwal. Perf. Ed Burtynsky
- Dematerialization (through the experiments)
- Standardization through media: (by hybridizing my accent)
- ‘Media is the Message’ (through the first experiment in dematerialization)
- Experiencing reflexive modernity (when on the phone)
- Overcoming the body’s limits by using a phone (annihilating space)
- Writing out the paper as well as typing it (the same way Burtynsky uses silver slides to photograph the silver mine)
- Viewing everything through a filter due to the signs around it (Most photographed Barn in America)
- The phone connecting me to the AT&T operator and disconnecting me from my local lace at the same time (sacrificing the near to get to the far)
- A move from India to the US created a loss in my sense of place.
- Cultural globalization
- Media shaping someone’s imagination of a different culture. (Like in Through the Arc of the Rainforest)
- Humans have become so mobile that we’ve become packages to move around (me flying here in an airplane)
- Extending my body by using a phone (McLuhan)