New Connections in Kutch

You might be on my mailing list.  And if you received a TSA press release over the past six months, it would have been sent from Western India.  As the Director of External Relations for the Textile Society of America, my role involves sharing TSA news with the general public.  I have been able to continue serving TSA thanks to the Internet and high-speed modems.  This would have barely been possible six years ago—at that time, although email was available in Kutch, connections were poor.  Today, although Wi-Fi is still rare, internet connections are much better and I have not only been able to stay in regular contact with TSA members and send announcements, I have been able to extend TSA’s reach with new contacts and connections.  Whatever did we do beforehand?

The wonders of modern technology do not stop at the cyber cafes of urban centres.  I am writing this brief post in a tiny village not far from the border with Pakistan.  It is the site of my ongoing fieldwork looking at textiles, identity and change since 1947.  When I first started visiting in the early 90’s the closest telephone was several kilometres down the road.  Six years ago cell phones were ubiquitous, today smart phones have replaced them and six days ago—a computer with Wi-Fi.  For the embroiderers of this area, this could mean that a new world opens up to them.  One young woman is already collecting potential design ideas for her embroidery.

Local textile traditions have consistently evolved as makers have experimented with new ideas, ideals and materials.  The Internet could provoke shifts of a different nature and intensity however.  While it offers a wealth of potential inspiration and new markets—to those with access, language skills and the inclination—it poses various threats.  Connection is irregular—apparently because of our proximity to the border.  Social media, I am told, is monitored.  Will new design ideas enhance or undermine local textile traditions? Will new forms of consumption (i.e. online shopping) erode what is left of local desire for local craft products?  And, what will this access and inspiration mean for women—living in purdah?  A young woman, noting my open browser, just asked if my husband minded?  While some lessons are absorbed early—others are negotiated.  The role that the Internet plays—or doesn’t play—whether it is disruptive or conducive or something else altogether is an evolving question I hope to explore.

(Image 1: Michele in Kutch, Feb. 14, 2013.  Image 2: Village life blends old and new technology.  Image 3: Family Compound.)

–Michele A. Hardy, PhD. is a cultural anthropologist at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Canada. TSA Director of External Relations, she is currently on research leave in Kutch, Gujarat State, India.