India Connected - Ravi Aggarwal

Book Review : India Connected

Ravi Aggarwal’s book, India connected is a breezy walk down the street of rapid smartphone penetration in India, and a look at it’s impact on social progress, economic development, individual habits, and government. 

There approximately 330 million smartphones in India, it is also the fastest growing refurbished smartphone market. People across the country are adopting smartphones as the cost of hardware drops, and the cost of data disappears to almost nothing. And, this has had a dramatic impact on the economy, society, culture, and politics. 

For Agarwal the advent and spread of the smartphone in India is as transformative as the automobile was to the fabric of American society. He says

Cars didn’t just change how Americans travelled from A to B. They transformed an entire nation. The car created the America we know. It inspired a whole new infrastructure, leading to the building of roads and highways on a mass scale. It launched the vast Interstate Highway System (creating tens of thousands of jobs and boosting the postwar economy).

Agrawal, Ravi. India Connected (p. 5). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

It is pretty much the same with Smartphones and their impact on Indian society – breaking down inequality by simply connecting people to opportunities. India Connected begins by looking at the Google Internet Saathi programme that aims at empowering rural women with internet skills delivered by a bunch of trained Internet saathis (companions). 

At the start of 2018 there were thirty thousand saathis operating in twelve of India’s twenty-nine states. Google said the program had spread to 110,000 villages and benefited 12 million women. The ratio of rural women who had used the internet—even if they weren’t regular users—had grown to three out of every ten.

Agrawal, Ravi. India Connected (p. 25). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

it is these numbers at the bottom of the pyramid that is going to usher in the transformation that is going shake India up at its roots. India Connected looks at the various areas where smartphones are changing Indian lives. Be it specialised marriage services like Truly, Madly,  or blue collared networking services like babajob, there is empowerment that is being brought about by access to the smartphone.

The book is divided into three parts Opportunity, Society and State. Each of these deep dives into the kind of momentous changes that are being wrought by the smartphone. These are almost journalistic narratives being told through the stories of real people. And, a glimpse into their lives, as they go about it empowered by the smartphone forms the major thrust of the story telling. 

But, India Connected is not just another paean to technology, nor does Agarwal take the view that technology is a magic wand that will cure all ills. There is a measured look at the other part of technology. Fake news for one, an increasing addiction to violent porn that manifests itself in violent rape; as well as addiction to the smartphone itself. 

Given the intense relationship that many people have with their smartphones, and the absolute lack of ‘digital’ literacy – in terms of being able to suss out frauds, or fakes, and the ability of rumours to go viral, India connects looks at the other side of the internet, ie, the ability of smartphones to deliver ‘anti government’ or violent messages, and Governmental response to it. 

India is a world leader in digital blackouts. Only Iraq and Syria come close, in second and third place respectively. India’s government enforced fourteen shutdowns in 2015, thirty-one in 2016, and seventy in 2017, according to the legal advocacy group Software Freedom Law Centre,

Agrawal, Ravi. India Connected (p. 148). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

For Agarwal, like most NRI’s the pace of rapid change in India is over awing.He goes wide eyed about much of the transformation that is going on. For most of us who live here, that change although radical, has been part of an ongoing process since the start of liberalisation. And, what is taken for granted by those of us who live here, is seen as “Oh wow” by the author. But, this is a good book to read for an introduction to the scope and scale of changes. Extremely good for those who want a quick read to get introduced to a connected India.

You can buy the book here

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