Tag: Digitaldivide

India Connected: Boon or Bane?

Pic Credit: Clicked by me

“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 huge impact in real lives sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. This book is about the power of the smartphone and the internet which made these hashtags popular.

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 as India is at the cusp of change and especially in the Covid period when a smartphone with internet looks like the driving force behind everything. As per the author, the smartphone is transforming Indian democracy in an unprecedented manner. As he also adds, “the influence of smartphones on the world’s largest democracy is pervasive and irreversible, disruptive, creative, unsettling and compelling.”

The author has travelled to different cities of India and met with innovators, founders, teachers, common people, students, government officials, villagers who are an important part of this digital revolution. This whole book seems like a conversation between the author and these people. The author has 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 has 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 lives, their thinking, and their dating patterns. And also 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 and also provided an outlet for venting out the frustration of the youth through trolling, rumor and prejudice. In the last part of the book, the author writes about the role of the State vis a vis the whole internet saga unfolding in the country at an unprecedented level.

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 whole society and it also impacts the society negatively leading to crimes and polarization in the society. Smartphone addiction is making teenagers depressed and anxious. Teenagers are suffering from ‘nomophobia’, and it is impacting their lives very badly. As the author mentioned in the book, smartphone addiction can neurologically damage a young person’s brain in the same way as cocaine addiction can. It seems that smartphones are destroying the younger generation, but there are millions who will not have the access of these ‘magic devices’ as the author call them 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 doing what they want us to do. The recent social media circus around a 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 an increase in rape cases..

The last chapters of the book show that how the State is acting as a big brother and shutting the internet as per their own interests especially in Kashmir in the name of stopping unrest and terrorism when internet started giving an outlet to Kashmiri people to show their outrage. The book also talks about the whole 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 them a push.

I really 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 making positive changes in the people’s lives. So the way the author of the book tells that “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 can bring so much positivity and hope in someone’s life.

How COVID-19 is affecting the higher-ed students in India: Need for corrective action

COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all sections of society. However, the impact on higher-ed students is the least discussed so far. Unlike schools, where students come from nearby localities, university students come from afar. They travel across their districts, their states, and the country to realize their dreams. Thus you will find the greatest amount of diversity in these students of higher-ed institutions – rural and urban, poor, middle-class and rich, from different religions, castes, and backgrounds. During this crisis and lockdown, when classes can not be conducted on the university premises, institutions are adopting digital tools for delivering lectures to students now back in their homes.

Many instructors and universities have leveraged ICT and tools like Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype and Microsoft teams to impart live classes to the students. Universities have already started conducting exams and taking assignment submissions online. This is a great way to make education more accessible during these tough times. However, this access is not going to be uniform across all the students belonging to different sections of society.

The poor students are going to be affected the most during this period. Their access to appropriate devices like laptops and computers is going to be very difficult during this period. According to the India Internet 2019 Report, 99% of users in the country access the internet through mobiles, not laptops or computers. Laptops and desktops usage is only 2% and 1% respectively in rural areas and 6% and 4% respectively in urban areas of the country. Further, internet penetration is still very poor and stands at a mere 27% in rural India. Under the Bharat Net program of the Government of India, more than 40% of the villages are yet to be connected to the internet grid.

Thus, lack of access to the internet and proper devices is going to negatively impact students in leveraging online platforms. Many such students will not be able to attend online classes and participate in assignments and exams that are conducted online. In such a scenario, the rural students are in a disadvantageous position and the urban and rural poor students will be highly disadvantaged.

Recognizing this challenging situation during COVID-19, many universities such as MIT and Harvard have announced that they will either provide every student with a Pass or A/A- grades during this semester. Steps like this ensure fairness and empathize with students facing difficulties due to their prevailing circumstances.

In India, however, no debate or discussion is going on this pressing matter yet. It is an important issue affecting the future of the students who are the future of the country. UGC and deemed universities must provide suitable guidelines to ensure students are promoted to the next level fairly. It is a tough situation concerning the poor and the marginalized students and it must be dealt with utmost empathy. Keeping in mind the “digital divide” all further exams and assignments during the rest of the semester must be made voluntary. All students must be promoted to the next level. Alternatively, institutions can use the tests conducted so far as the basis for final assessments in a fair manner.

Unless such corrective measures are taken urgently, COVID-19 and the after-effects are going to deepen the divide across the poor and the rich students, rural and urban students for generations to come.

This blog is authored by Chaitanya Prakash Namburi. The author has a Masters in Public Policy and Computer Science and currently works for Google India. All views expressed are personal.