In India, we now have 60 million mobile phone users. By end of 2006, this number will have reached close to 100 million. This will mean that one in 10 Indians will have the power of two-way communication with a device they always carry with them. This is one of the fundamental building blocks for bringing about the citizen participation in ensuring a better India.
The second building block is the aggregate of software tools like blogs and wikis which enable people to write and share with others. While these are for the most part Web-based, it will be increasingly possible to read their content on mobiles and even write from the phone itself. Mobile phones equipped with cameras can be used to take pictures. Posting to photo-blogs like Flickr and using syndication technologies like RSS helps keep people abreast of whats happening. An SMS can be sent to people whenever there is an update on specific sites or an opinion is needed.
Taken together, these technologies will help citizens collaborate much more easily. That is a step towards co-ordinating action. What is now needed is for government documents and decisions to be made publicly available. Some of this is already happening. But if citizens can be made active participants in the debate, they can help shape their own future.
Indias challenges are too big for just a handful to attempt to come up with all the right answers. If we can apply a collective mind to the problems we face starting with helping improve the neighbourhood we live in, we will have taken a greater control in ensuring a better tomorrow.
This may seem like wishful thinking. But, keep in mind that society has never been so empowered as before in terms of having an always-on and always-available two-way communication device in the form of the mobile. Add to this the increasing number of newspapers and TV channels eager to report on local events and we have the ingredients to start bringing about change provided we as citizens start changing our mindset and taking a more pro-active approach.
Howard Rheingold wrote in his book Smart Mobs: Civilizations jump in complexity whenever a threshold for collective action is lowered. It’s not just street protestors. It’s science, democracy, markets, the way people meet and mate, the way people use cities and the way motor vehicles use roadways that are affected … when mobile communication and pervasive computing enable new forms of collective action.”
India is on the growth path. But that is just the beginning. We need to do a lot more to make life a delight both for those in urban and rural India. Our problems may seem insurmountable. They may also appear as mountains beyond mountains. All it takes is a few to make a difference and transform neighbourhood or, as the fight for Indian Independence showed, a nation. It is our future that is at stake here. It is we the people who have to come together, pool our intellect and efforts and build a better India.
TECH TALK Building a Better India+T