If you live exclusively on the Internet, there are times when it feels like you are living in the US rather than in a small, dusty South Indian town. The last few months have been an endless torrent of news related to the election to choose between an iPad touting tech savvy incumbent and a magical underwear donning challenger. But then one week before the election, a hurricane stuck the east coast of the US and a cyclone hit South India. Needless to say, like many patriotic Indians I was more worried about Hurricane Sandy than the storm raging outside my window. While Sandy took down some of my favorite websites and blogs, it had one silver lining at least for me.
I was happy that because of Sandy, finally my brethren in New York could feel my pain. They could finally experience first hand how it feels to not have electricity for hours together. Finally they could also experience the great feeling we poor Indians experience when we are not connected to that lifeline called the Internet. Finally, hopefully they understand what it is like not to have all the time connectivity.
When New Yorkers did not have power for a straight 70 hours they went looking for power points in pharmacies, hotels and temporary power stations. They formed long queues outside cafes to be able to get in and use Wi-Fi. For those New Yorkers who went scurrying around for electricity this was once in a lifetime experience. Sadly for millions of Indians, this is a daily reality throughout the year. According to a World Energy Outlook report by the International Energy Agency, upwards of 200 million people in India, and upwards of 1.3 billion people in economically under-developed countries throughout the world do not have any access to electricity.
And as every Indian knows, outside of mega cities, our ancient creaking generation and distribution system is struggling to supply quality electricity.
Technology empowers people. Modern technology democratises that empowerment. By not providing at all or by providing very spotty power supply we are de-empowering ourselves and millions of our young people who could aspire for a better life through the use of technology. Take the example of some kids from poor villages in Ethiopia. Within five months of being provided with some Motorola Zoom tablets with solar chargers, under the One Laptop Per Child project, they not only started teaching themselves English, but also gained enough technical skills by themselves to hack some security settings and activated disabled hardware. If kids who have reportedly never seen a single word in their lives could teach themselves skills with a easy to use touch screen gadget, one can only imagine what Indian kids from rural areas who are far more educated will do if provided with a little bit of amenities.
Here the issue is not just about the government providing electricity, it is also about the big tech companies keeping that poor kid in Uttar Pradesh or that young student in Madurai in mind. We want electricity. But we also want batteries that last weeks, and technology that helps us.
The writer is a tech geek.