Imagine: a computing and communications centre as omnipresent as telephone booths (STD/PCOs) are in India today. You can walk into one of them, use the computer to check your email (which could be coming right off the local server, in case youve so designated), access your files, write letters, take printouts, browse the Internet and even, if you happen to be running a small business, do your accounts. The centre also lets you make phone calls using VoIP (Voice-over-IP), cutting down on your long-distance and international phone bills.
You can also widen your knowledge base by taking any one of the hundreds of training programs available on the local server. You can also indulge yourself in the newest multi-player game thats just gone live. The centre is also a trust point where you can make payments for various goods and services that you may have bought online. A wireless access point lets you use the Internet connectivity of the centre from the computer in your home.
Welcome to the world of the Tech 7-11.
The Tech 7-11 is much more than the cybercafe that we know today. The cybercafe, of which there are tens of thousands across India, has a few limitations: it offers a window to the Internet, but is not a home; it offers communications and Internet access, but not much by way of computing functionality; its business upside is limited to the computers that it has within its four walls and the hourly rate it can charge. In India, the cybercafe needs to morph into much more than an Internet access point it needs to become a tech utility for the people in the neighbourhood.
Think of the local kirana or grocery store. It offers all the essentials that are needed for one at home. Abroad (especially in many of the Asian cities and towns), a franchise has sprung up: 7-11. The name comes from the timings that the stores are open: 7 am to 11 pm. They are within walking distance for most people. They offer most of lifes daily needs. More importantly, there is some sort of relationship that gets formed between the store proprietor and the people who frequent the store an underlying trust. In a sense, the local store has become a utility in our lives a kind-of remote utility, because it does not come into our home, like the other utilities, but a utility nevertheless.
That is what the Tech 7-11 needs to become a utility fulfilling all the technology needs of a neighbourhood in the worlds developing markets. It has the computers, if you cant afford one (which is probably true for 990 of 1,000 people in India and 950 of 1,000 people in China). It has the connectivity to the Internet, so you dont necessarily need it. It has the storage and backup facilities, so you can access a lot of information very rapidly rather than over low-speed lines. It has trained attendants to help you navigate the still-complex world of technology.
In other words, the Tech 7-11 can do for computing what the STD/PCOs did for telecom: by emphasising community over individual ownership, it can make it accessible to a much wider group of people. As these people learn how computer can make a difference to their lives and their income levels rise, there is a strong probability that they will opt to buy one. Even then, the Tech 7-11 is there continuing to serve as the processor, storage and network connector.
What is the technology needed to make this happen? Luckily, all the components are already available.
Tomorrow: Tech 7-11: Technology
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