If I were to write a scholarly paper titled Imagined Communities: From Benedict Anderson to Facebook, I am sure it would provoke tremendous outrage among all purist scholars and academics who love to show they are 'mainstream'. But the first question that would strike me would be: Why should it provoke a sense of outrage? The answers are not hard to find. It would provoke such a sense of outrage because we think of our academic scholars and their categories as hallowed, as rarefied, as something very scholarly to the point that it cannot be applied anywhere beyond their original scholarly confines. At least, this is what, I would normally see from a number of academics that I have seen and known in the Indian academia. I do understand, however, that academics in the American academia tend to be more open towards newer technologies and developments.
So, for those readers, who haven't been introduced to Benedict Anderson and who probably believe what the brouhaha is all about, it would not be wrong to state that the concept of 'imagined communities' is owed to him. Anderson first propounded this term in his book, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, which appeared in 1983 . So, exactly twenty five years later, I propose that the meaning be expanded. To quote from Anderson himself:
The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind. The most messianic nationalists do not dream of a day when all the members of the human race will join their nation in the way that it was possible, in certain epochs, for, say, Christians to dream of a wholly Christian planet. (Cited from http://www.nationalismproject.org/what/anderson.htm)There is another interview here that one can read as well to learn about his views. And there is a Wikipedia article on Imagined Communities.
Interestingly, what has happened after the explosion of the Internet in its second avatar is a great implosion of social networking sites. There are also a large number of people who believe that there is a lot of networking as well as marketing power in these sites. One often hears of phrases such as 'the power of social communication'. If one thought of social networking as frivolos or as something that only promoted dating, then one needs to rethink a bit because recently Reuters launched a social networking site called Social Picks, which is essentially social networking site focussing on stocks.
I came across a very fascinating paper that gave me the spark to post this seemingly preposterous article. This paper is titled 'Imagined Communities: Awareness, Information Sharing, and Privacy on the Facebook' and it is available at http://petworkshop.org/2006/preproc/preproc_03.pdf.
It certainly set me thinking that the concept of nation and the concept of imagined community has certainly changed in the age of cybernetics. There has been a clear shift which should be clearly marked and it should be properly debated.