In late 1999 and 2000, tens of thousands of people in India left their cushy jobs to start dotcoms. Everyone had cool ideas, big dreams and talked in dollars. For a few months, as money flowed from venture capitalists and private investors alike, Silicon Valley had come to India. And then, all so suddenly, it all changed. The Internet Revolution was over even before it began. The problem was that even as the money, ideas and websites sprang up, the users were missing.
Now, fast forward to 2003 and imagine tens of thousands of computers being sold daily across India. They all get instantly connected to the Internet. People are hungry for content and services that make a difference to their lives. Advertisers want to reach these people. As the installed base starts forming, businesses will rise to serve their needs. A new economy will get created as computer penetrations reach critical mass in offices, homes and neighbourhoods. That’s the time to unleash our entrepreneurs. They will come up with the ideas and mechanisms to generate profits. Yes, there will be failures, but that’s what we must accept if we want to get the big successes.
This technology foundation should be used to first remove pain points in people lives – paying bills, making reservations, getting forms, interacting with government agencies. Once the daily travails start vanishing from our lives, the minds will become freer to think bigger. The Indian technology revolution will have one significant difference compared to what we have seen in the developed world: here, computing and connectivity will come together, so the way the computer is thought of will be quite different. The computer will become what it should have been in the first place in India – as a window to the outside world, a passport to a better life, and not just a word processor.
The Connected Computer will create the Emergence Effect. Each individual, each business is like an Ant with limited capabilities, living in a silo. What the connected computer does is the equivalent of the pheromone in the world of ants: enable a mechanism for providing feedback, for communicating with others.
Out of these interactions through Slashdot-like communities for various interests, geographies and verticals will emerge higher-order intelligence. The power of the Singleton will be amplified; the walls will be broken. This is what will create the grassroots revolution that India needs. No Prime Minister addressing a nation from the ramparts of Red Fort twice a year will be able to energise a nation as much. The Change has to start from the bottom.
The Connected Computer linking all of us together can make it happen. It will be the enabler for people to learn to share, for new marketplaces to be created, for new relationships to be forged – between individuals and across enterprises. It will make India an example to be emulated by other emerging markets. The same technologies which have worked in India and the same companies which have made it work will now have markets four times the size of India to target.
Perhaps, this is too simplistic, too dreamy, too idealistic a view – that just by building a technology base with second-hand computers, open source software and free spectrum India can rise from the Poor of the World. My belief is that this can be done – and done in the next 2,000 days. What I have described here does not require any government agency or any leader to issue orders. It requires entrepreneurs to innovate, think out-of-the-box – with the existing building blocks.
Taken together, each of the components may seem too trivial, even downright silly. But as so often happens, it’s the Little Things that can make a Big Difference. What is needed is a change of lens, and a change of attitude – from one of silent acceptance of mediocrity and lack of hope for India, to one which says that we will create a New India – after all, this is Home. We only live once – so why not live in a Great Home?