What follows are some selections from my travel diary describing the major talk I gave at the Godrej India Culture Lab, the most significant address I gave during my time in India. This was a total head rush experience, as is reflected by the somewhat giddy and a bit braggy tone of this narrative.
Parmesh is working up the crowd, personally welcoming everyone who arrives. The 250 seat auditorium is starting to overflow the seats. People are sitting on the stairs, standing in back, even sitting on the floor directly in front of the stage. U.S. fire marshals would have shut much of this down, but in the end, I am told that some 400 people turned up for the talk.
Parmesh has been pumping it everywhere we’ve been; it’s gotten a significant amount of media coverage, and the people turned out. There’s a whole group of students from Sophia who were the ones I went rice planting with. There are a number of individuals who have hosted us at various stops along the way. There’s a former MIT student who came down to tell me how The Film Experience had changed her life. There are some nervous fan girls who are afraid to ask me to autograph battered copies of Textual Poachers. A number of people have shown up wearing superhero-themed clothes: everything from Batgirl themed T-shirts to plush minions dangling from their purses.
Parmesh is wearing hand crafted leather Bat-ears; several women are wearing traditional tunics – one with Hulks, another with Bam, Pow, Zowie, prints.
It’s clear that my talk is giving the crowd permission to geek out. Parmesh introduces me, pouring on the hype. No pressure there.… And then I bound on stage, shouting out “Hello Mumbai” in my best rock star impersonation, and the crowd goes wild.
They could not have been more engaged or enthusiastic; they laugh at the jokes; they clap at multiple points during the presentation; they are taking notes, and they are with me every step of the way through a talk that was a bit longer than the one hour promised. Then, we get another hour of questions from the playful (“what super-powers would I like?”) to the thoughtful (questions about inequalities of access and participation, about freedom of expression and net neutrality, about Twitter mobs, about how we develop standards of excellence for digital expression or norms of behavior within online communities).
And then, the talk ends, and for the next two hours, people are crowding around me, wanting Selfies, wanting autographs (one person has brought a copy of Convergence Culture that I had signed in 2006 and he wants me to sign it again), asking me questions. There are students and academics, some of whom have driven half-way across the country to be there. There were novelists, playwrights, artists, fashion designers, filmmakers, recording artists, game designers, brand executives, transmedia producers, activists, journalists…. Here I am with the group of Sophia students.
Overwhelmingly, they are young (more than 50 percent of the population of India is under 30) but some of the most enthusiastic supporters in the crowd are “of a certain age.” There was such eagerness in their eyes to engage more deeply with these ideas, and many said I gave them a framework to articulate things they have been trying to say for a long time.
When we get back to the room, I lay awake for a while reading through the social media response – several hundred tweets and they are being retweeted and retweeted. I slip off to sleep and wake up again at 4 a.m. and another 50 or so tweets went out while I was sleeping. I lay awake for a while, adrenaline pumping through my body, and then doze back off. This morning there’s another 50 or so tweets or retweets popping up and there’s no signs of it slowing down just yet.
So here’s the video of the event released by the Godrej India Culture Lab.