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Living Digital: Technology Changing Lives In India
Technology has become as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, so we are no longer conscious of its presence. — Godfrey Reggio
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Air, water, Google, toothpaste, email, WhatsApp, food, Facebook…. The list goes on. In a certain moment of introspection I got thinking about how much technology has penetrated our lives. Ubiquitous like air, lifesaving like water, technology has changed more human lives than the sum total of promises of all the politicians the world over. From education to disaster management, from cinemas to hospitals, technology is one thread that facilitates it all today.
The Changing face of Public Utilities
A few months ago I had to travel to China. My passport didn’t have the required validity. It came as a shock to me when I received my renewed passport in less than 24 hours. I literally had to pinch myself to believe the new passport was indeed in my hands. The passport office being manned by one of the leading technology companies of India, TCS, is like nothing of the past. I got another shock a month hence. My son’s birth certificate was required to be submitted at his school. The last thing anyone can expect from me is being a good document keeper. It took less than five minutes to get a birth certificate at the municipal office in New Delhi. While my mind was debating who to thank — the Central government or the Kejriwal government or maybe the Sheila Dixit government — I learnt that most of the municipal records in India are now on cloud. No bribes, no waiting, no hassles. Technology has enabled delivery of public utilities to another level.
Connect @ PMO
Almost every month I receive an email from the PMO. I don’t care whether Narendra Modi wrote it himself or not, nor do I care that the same email is addressed to at least a few million others. I love the fact the Prime Minister is now accessible at the touch of a button. It’s like a whole new game, unheard of in India and in a democracy. I have a voice.
The Retrospective Years
It’s interesting to watch how not the politicians, not the bureaucrats or the powers that be but the power of technology is changing the government utility offices. For someone who’s seen life in the 80s and 90s it sometimes almost appears like science fiction at the speed of delivery.
I do want to mention that as late as 2000 just to get a MTNL landline connection in Saket in New Delhi, the waiting period was around six months or more. I dare mention this to the new generation, they would think I am from another world. That was just 16 years ago. When I last got a landline phone connection in my house in Gurgaon I was promised that it would be installed within 48 hours but actually it was done in less than 12 hours.
A walk through the Safdarjung Hospital and AIIMS subway and one can see the face of human suffering. Poor people sleeping on the pavement probably here to get some near and dear one treated. I wish I had a magic wand that could transform their suffering. While that magic wand maybe on its way, technology is beginning to do its magic in healthcare. No matter where you geographically, you can simply book an appointment in AIIMS online. To understand what that means for the common man, let’s say you are from Manipur. Earlier you had to travel all the way to Delhi just to book an appointment which could mean simply waiting for days or weeks. That meant money, time and resources spent just to book an appointment. Now all it takes is a few clicks.
While I haven’t yet consulted any of the medical apps that enable face-to-face contact with the doctor but I can see the enormous benefit it has for someone in a remote area — he won’t have to travel hundreds of miles just to get an appointment. With Android phones at less an Rs 2,900 and 3G and 4G data connectivity already available even in remote villages, that isn’t some distant future dream for healthcare reaching another level.
The work I am doing now is mainly content based. In the 90’s I doubt if my business could even exist. At best I would have to get content printed and use the postal service to send it across to other countries. The entire process of printing, delivery and payment could take between one to three months. Thanks to broadband connectivity and technology that enables digital content, the entire process is now less than one day. My customers can pay me from a few cents to hundreds and thousands of dollars. Through net banking the money is in my account within 48 hours.
Like me there are millions of people, some living in far-flung areas where proper roads don’t exist, yet they are exporting their digital services to countries across the globe thanks to 3G and 4G. You can love or hate BSNL, but the reach they have in remote India, few can match. Paypal is a good testimony to how millions of digital entrepreneurs from India are exporting to the world.
I am not claiming that everything is perfect in government utility offices, or our healthcare is the best in the world. What I am saying is that every example of awesomeness, whether it’s super quick passport delivery or instant municipal certificate delivery, it shines like the light giving direction to innovation. It leads by example. Technology is changing this nation and touching lives at the grassroots like never before.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.