Every year, the World Economic Forum announces a list of twenty-five
technology pioneers. This is the Booker Prize of Technology. Previous recipients
include Google, PayPal, and Infosys to name a few. Bangalore-based Neurosynaptic
Communications is the sole Indian company in the list for 2008 awardees. Why
were they selected? It is because of ReMeDi (Remote Medical Diagnostics), which
provides telemedicine solution to rural areas. Developed by Neurosynaptic
Communications, in collaboration with the TeNeT Group of IIT Madras, it is a
health diagnostic kit that performs five tests, including ECG, for less than Rs
35 per test. A high school graduate can operate it and send the results to the
nearest hospital via the Internet. ReMeDi saves the villager from the hassle of
traveling to the nearest town, waiting at labs and meeting the doctor, which is
expensive and time consuming.
Unfortunately, very few of us are even aware of this company or their
product. If this is the situation of a company that has got the top award, one
dreads to think what numerous inventors must be going through due to the lack of
media coverage. The remedy lies in a TV show like American Inventor. Maybe we
could have something akinan Indian Inventor? At least this might be useful in
spreading awareness of the existence of such products and would be much more
useful considering that we have Indian versions of other programs like American
Technology, and the importance and concessions given to technical
corporations are having a ripple effect on the Indian society. Let us examine
By encouraging growth of the tech sector, especially the BPO sector, many
people, mainly in the middle class, are able to afford things that their parents
could only dream of. It has also reversed the brain drain of the 80s and
increased foreign investment in India.
A TV show like Indian Inventor will provide a platform for inventors and
inventions irrespective of region, language, age, or gender. Since TV shows get
more eyeballs in India than any other medium, itll provide increased awareness
of the available products, companies and the benefits of technology, even to
those who are illiterate.
It will provide visibility to all inventors with a good idea and/or product
and maybe even funding. For inventors, it might get them university or corporate
backing to pursue their dream without having to do dreary jobs to support their
families, or for some other reason.
Finally, it may remove the access barriers for those without networking
contacts, technical pedigree or alumni status.
The salary divide is causing increasing resentment among those in
non-techie, non-IT fields, especially those who have majored in languages,
humanities and social sciences. The salary soar for those working in the BPO &
IT sectors is causing a huge social divide and is having its own ripple effect.
The movie, Tamil MA, documents five major social problems due to this ripple
effect. These are:
Insiders become Outsiders: Increasingly, India is being divided into two
categoriestechnical and non-technical. The respect accorded to the Indian
techies by the society and their pay packets have seen considerable increase
over a decade, while those of the non-techie have changed little or remained the
same. The effect is twofold. It leads many to pursue engineering, especially the
software and BPO lines, even though they arent really interested in it. This
has created a sharp increase in rent, prices of essential commodities, real
estate prices, etc, thus displacing people as many, especially those working in
field like education, agriculture, etc, cannot afford the cost. Increasingly,
insiders (natives) of an area are becoming outsiders due to the salary divide,
which is causing deep resentment.
Brand vs Bread: While non-techies are mostly looking to earn their bread,
their techie counterparts are pushing up prices of commodities. This is causing
the next generation of Indians to be brand conscious and peer pressure is
causing several children to pursue the wrong path.
Value vs Salary: Why do BPO employees who functions as Indian telephone
operators speaking in a foreign accent paid several times more than a high
school teacher who actually imparts knowledge. Determining salary not on the
value of the job, but on the ability to not speak in ones own voice and/or
language isnt value for money.
Urbanization=Aping the West: Creating an artificial value on the ability to
speak in a foreign accent does not help the Indian society improve. This is
particularly true in urban areas. Tamil Nadu has urbanized 44% of the state and
is ranked #1 in India in terms of urbanization. However, increased urbanization
has only resulted in more people aping the West in terms of food habits, dress,
and even cultural practices. As the next generation tries to be more like
Americans than Indians, there is an astonishing pride in such behavior, which
wouldve been considered shocking a decade ago. This makes one wonder if Indians
have any understanding of what urbanization is all about other than aping the
West or splurging on goods.
Land of Techies= Lack of Essential Services: If the divide is not bridged
then increasingly people will want to be techies just for the sake of money. And
if they do so, who will take care of our essential services like education, food
production, social administration, police, defence, etc.
The danger in lopsided importance given to technology without bothering to
see the social ramifications can be summed up in the statements of two people
who I interviewed for this column. The first is Lalitha Ramaswamy*, a student in
Chennai as to why she opted for Computer Science, This is the field where the
money is. No, my dream was to be professor of history but they pay them peanuts.
Just 10 years in the BPO line and I can have my own school or if I marry well my
Govind Kaushik*, a software executive from Bangalore said, What culture? I
could care less about all that. Im in this field only for the money. As far as
Im concerned culture is a non-issue.
Most techies I talked to were open about them being in the field for the
money only. Many are actually surprised that there can be another reason to even
get into the field, especially passion for the field! There is lack of awareness
and at times indifference that their lifestyle is making life tougher for
others, especially those people who are non-techies but equally hardworking.
Among the non-techies, mostly there is either resentment against the techies or
shrug off as my children will be techies. Few expressed concern about the rise
of cultural ignorance and imposition of western culture due to the IT boom while
all including techies who are in the non-IT group expressed concern over the
spiraling price rise of commodities within the past decade, cultural
degradation, and the increasing importance and allowances given to just the IT
What Lies Ahead
Apart from the usual factors, four things need to be taken into account for
the IT boom to continue.
If the IT sector wants to grow, it shouldnt dislodge those in other sectors.
This can be done only by bridging the salary divide, to a certain extent, among
various sectors and re-examining the present salary structure. Salary should be
based on the value provided. By doing this, one can stem the increased
resentment in the society by opening the field to all. Otherwise, education of
future generations is bound to suffer, making continued growth impossible.
According to Sawarkar, CEO of Neurosynaptic Communications, Today we touch
approximately 50,000 people with our centers. The deployments are in Wardha,
Maharashtra, in collaboration with the Acharya Vinoba Bhave Rural Hospital and
in Sivagangai, Tamil Nadu, with various partners. There is a good amount of
interest from the government, but no sale yet. There is also interest from
institutions for large-scale deployments. Our strategy right now is to
collaborate with various stakeholders in the primary healthcare and to make this
enabling platform available.
Only 50,000 when millions can benefit? Mass deployment of ReMeDi kits and
other such inventions should be done by the government so that everyone can
benefit. It isnt development otherwise. By having shows like Indian Inventor,
one can provide an opportunity for the talented, irrespective of their
background, language, region, or gender. Such shows will help make it a more
inclusive society for those in the non-IT field.
Rapid urbanization without vision should be avoided. When urbanization is
done, it should be for the people of the area and not for some corporation that
is willing to invest money to make profits by displacing those very people. If
there is indifference on the part of the administrationlocal, state, or
centralthen the increased dislodgement of people will result in chaos and
I remember my class 8 history teacher used to say, Wherever poverty occurs,
communism enters. Today he would have modified it to, Wherever poverty is
legally enforced in the name of development, chaos enters.
As we enter 2008, the corporate sector and the government should keep this in
*Last names changed to protect identity
The author is the founder-moderator of the IndianWISE e-group.
(c) Deepa Kandaswamy. First serial rights, CyberMedia 2008.
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