“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had”Eric Schmidt, Former Google-CEO & Co-founder of Schmidt Futures
#Baba Ka Dhaba, #Justice for Sushant Singh Rajput #Justice for Rhea #Justice for George Floyd #Black Lives Matter #Dalit Lives Matter #Metoo are some of the recent most popular hashtags on social media leading to huge outpouring of sentiments from the public creating a immense impact in real lives sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. The power of smartphone and internet which made these hashtags popular is theme of this book.
This book “India Connected” by Ravi Agarwal celebrates the power of the internet and smartphone that is leading to unthinkable and unpredictable changes in people’s lives. The book is quite relevant at this time when India seems at the cusp of change. Especially during the Covid period when a smartphone with internet looks like the driving force behind everything. The smartphone is transforming Indian democracy in an unprecedented manner. As Ravi adds, “the influence of smartphones on the world’s largest democracy is pervasive and irreversible, disruptive, creative, unsettling and compelling.”
The author travelled to different cities of India and met with innovators, founders, teachers, common people, students, government officials and villagers who are an important part of this digital revolution. The book seems like a conversation between the author and these people. The author divided the book into three parts, and each part consists of two or three chapters. The first part is about the ‘opportunity’, the second part is about ‘society’ and the third part is about ‘the State’ vis a vis, their interplay with the digital revolution.
The book provided a balanced perspective on the smartphone revolution in the country. How the smartphone with the internet is bringing about substantive changes in the lives of people, providing opportunities for education and employment and also empowering the women in villages. How a smartphone is changing people’s thinking, and their dating patterns. How the young generation is getting addicted to their smartphones leading to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. How smartphone has also made pornography easily available. How youth of the country is using it as an outlet for venting out their frustration through trolling, rumor and prejudice. In the end, the author writes about the role of the State with respect to internet and social media unfolding in the country.
For the author, the internet-enabled smartphone will mean the same for India as the automobile was for America. “The smartphone is the embodiment of the new Indian dream.” A Smartphone is changing Indian people’s lives in various ways in which they live, learn, love, work and play. The stories narrated in the book make it an interesting read and let you think how differently the smartphone is impacting the people of Indian society.
However, the author also talks about the challenges of the smartphone revolution in the country. Fake news, trolling, hate crimes, cyberbullying, mass piracy, etc. are creating huge challenges for the society. It also impacts the society negatively leading to crimes and polarization. Smartphone addiction is making teenagers depressed and anxious. Teenagers are suffering from ‘nomophobia’. As the author mentioned in the book, smartphone addiction can neurologically damage a young person’s brain in the same way as cocaine addiction. It seems smartphones are destroying the younger generation, but there are millions who will not have the access of these ‘magic devices’ because they don’t have resources and they are illiterate.
As the recent Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’ revealed that the social media giants are manipulating our minds and we are engaging on these platforms as they want us to do. The recent social media circus around tragic death of Bollywood actor and subsequent media frenzy leading to arrest of his girlfriend reflects the negativity these social media sites bringing in the people. The author has shown how the consumption of pornography has increased exponentially in our society and how some people believe that it is leading to increase in rape cases.
The last chapters of the book show that how the State is acting as a big brother and shutting down internet. When internet started giving an outlet to Kashmiri people to show their outrage, State closed down the internet in the name of stopping unrest and terrorism. The book also talks about the fiasco of free basics and internet.org and how civil-society activism led TRAI to rule against it in 2016. Digital money has become an important part of the Indian economy through some homegrown startups and obviously the government of India’s ill-conceived moves of demonetization gave it a push.
I enjoyed reading the second and third part of the book. It’s really insightful and also scary to know how internet enabled smartphone is creating innumerable problems in the society but also if used properly leading to positive changes in the people’s lives. As the author tells “India Connected is a story about change and it is a story that has just begun and the next chapters of the story will depend on how these technologies are harnessed and regulated”, there is a need to create more awareness and sensitization among the youth about the problems emerging due to these technologies and also create mechanisms and regulations to deal with the same. The recent story of #BabakaDhaba is a great example where a smartphone & social media brought so much positivity and hope in someone’s life.