TECH TALK: A Train Journey: The Window
As the train sped through, I let the mind roam free. I couldnt help but think how we consistently fail to create a uniformly good experience. At the Delhi station for example, what would it take to have proper electronic displays to show the train information and also have indicators to display the position of the bogies on the platform. Many stations already have this. Why not Delhi? Why not every station? Why not display train information also the stations it will stop at and the expected arrival times at each station, and so on?
The success of the Internet-based PNR enquiry made me wonder what it would take to make such a system more ubiquitous I could check it because I had access to a connected computer. What about the others? Yes, there are phone numbers they can dial but as I tried that morning, I couldnt get through to them at all. Even the advertised PNR SMS service did not work. This is what I started to think about more as the train made its way through the northern countryside with the setting sun in the distance.
Looking out of the train window and seeing houses and farm fields go by in the distance, I started thinking about how it is that we can transform the lives of the rest of India. Very little has changed for them and very little can change the way things are. And yet, with half the Indian population under the age of 25, we have very little time to lose. If we cannot do something quickly, we will have lost another generation to the past.
India has seen two bottom-up revolutions in the past two decades. The first was launched by Sam Pitroda in the Rajiv Gandhi era in the mid-1980s. The hundreds of thousands of public call offices (PCOs) took voice communications to the masses. The second was launched, inadvertently, by the first Gulf War. Cable television made its appearance, and complemented by entrepreneurs (some with seedy antecedents) and falling TV prices, changed the face of Indian home entertainment.
India needs a third revolution. This should have happened earlier but for various reasons it hasnt. India needs a computing revolution to bridge information and transactions gaps that dot our lives and create myriad pain points. India needs computing as a utility available everywhere, at affordable prices. While some would argue that the computing revolution in India is already underway via cellphones, I dont think that is the case. What we need is a computer in all its glory a reasonable-sized display, a keyboard, access to a vast library of content and the user in control.
Sitting in the train, I couldnt help thinking that access to computing could be that disruptive innovation which transforms lives in the Indian countryside not just in rural India, but also for the middle and bottom of the pyramid in urban and semi-urban India. From education to healthcare, for families and students, from content to commerce, for shopkeepers and enterprises the computer is the digital hand that can potentially remake India. It can provide for efficient operations, create opportunities, increase options and open new windows to the future. How can we make the third revolution happen in the next five years to open windows for hundreds of millions of Indians to the future? That is what occupied my thoughts as dusk turned to night and we made our way to the foothills of Mussoorie.