Broadband and personal computers are becoming fairly affordable and available to a large number of middle-class Indians. Therefore, it is no surprise that Indians are beginning to use the Internet for an activity that is quintessential to being Indian: Participating in adda.
The Bengali word “adda” originates in the Eastern megalopolis of Calcutta and does not have an exact translation in English other than to say, “to sit around and chat.” Every one of the 26 official languages in India has a word like “adda.” The process of idle banter has been a mainstay of the Indian tradition, which, like other collectivist societal systems, puts a premium on community and remaining obsessively connected with others in the community.
To be Indian anywhere in the world is to be a person who enjoys a nice adda, often with coffee, tea, or whisky. The popularity of the social networking sites, one of which is actually called Bigadda.com, is an extension of this desire to be gregarious.
The most popular site so far has been the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) offering called Orkut.com, which has been largely populated by people of Indian origin. This site has actually opened up a new world of connectivity for young Indians. Their scrapbook postings on Orkut are not necessarily long or detailed, but they offer the essence of the kind of conversation where people would catch up on the electronic stoop of Orkut. The discussions are pointless, the jokes are poor, and the postings have the quality of unconnected streams of consciousness -- everything that is fundamental to the adda.
Thanks to Websites like Orkut, social networking, or adda, which happened on park benches and college coffee houses, has migrated to a place where “being physically there” is no longer essential to participate in adda. This is especially important now, since the new professional Indian is a mobile person who could easily be jetting across the continents or taking a sojourn in a different country.
The economic liberalization of the 1980s offered India an opportunity to be a force in the global economy. But it also implanted the characteristics of an individualistic society that is almost a requirement for a free-market economic system that Indians embraced. One of the outcomes of India's economic boom was erosion of the sense of community as extended families broke apart and the professional Indian became mobile.
This is where the Orkuts and Bigaddas come in. These social networking sites fill in a gap where Indians can re-discover the pleasure of the adda independent of the fact that the participants are distributed worldwide. In that reinvigoration of the virtual adda lies the recasting of the Indian identity that can be maintained and nurtured online even if the offline existence is increasingly isolated and lonesome.
There is little doubt in my mind that as long as Indians retain their love of the adda, social networking technology will boom in India. At the touch of a button, an Indian in Calgary can be in adda with an Indian in Calcutta, talking about the things that their friends might have discussed at the Blue Fox Bar on Park Street in Calcutta. And as soon as the postings appear on Orkut, another friend in Singapore could immediately add in the little inconsequential detail that nevertheless adds the “color” that is so essential to adda. As long as social networking technology allows this, Indians across the globe can hope to hang on to a significant aspect of being Indian.
— Ananda Mitra, PhD, Professor of Communication at Wake Forest University