The Economist, in its recent issue, carried a very insightful piece on the adoption of technology in various countries. Apparently, less developed countries like India are now adopting technology almost as quickly as the developed ones but the spread of technology is not quite there. For instance, though the initial 5 per cent of the population adopts new technologies like PCs fairly rapidly, the growth beyond that is slow or non-existent. The only exception to this rule has been that most famous example of disruptive technology in the 20th century — the mobile phone.
I was reading this piece on my way back from the airport during rush hour — with the taxi driver, Harnek Singh, trying to manoeuvre between a sea of multimodal transport that is a hallmark of our metropolis. Suddenly, Harnek Singh started telling me a story that brought out the essence of the ‘power’ of mobile phones. Apparently, Harnek was going on this very same road early in the morning a few days ago and found a traffic jam. On investigating he found out that a few elephants were going on the road and one call-centre cab driver, the true foot soldiers of the outsourcing industry, while overtaking one elephant, brushed his vehicle with the pachyderm.
Now call-centre drivers are not hardwired to stop — yes, not even for a VVIP cavalcade. But little did he realise the power of the mobile. The mahout of the elephant quickly whisked out his mobile and relayed the registration number of the vehicle to the leading mahout. What followed was amazing — the leading mahout lined up two elephants on the road to stop all traffic. Needless to say that the call-centre driver was given a sound thrashing and only after some monetary exchange, facilitated by the poor drivers who got stuck in the jam, was traffic allowed to move.
Harnek Singh was relating this story with much glee that was surprising since one of his comrades had been beaten up. Maybe it was because the underdog, assisted by the power of technology had managed to outsmart the upstart. Some years ago, The Economist commenting on the growth of technology in India, had coined the phrase the ‘Indian Tiger unleashed’. Maybe a more appropriate term for our technological progress would be the ‘Indian Elephant trudges’.