Few days back while unveiling the future road map for the global technology giant Google, the CEO Sundar Pichai, made a powerful statement that technology has been the force behind democratization in the world.
Democratization means the leveling of various categories of contemporary society; be it gender, economically haves and have-nots , socially advanced or marginalized etc. in availing the benefits of technology and accessing the technology.
And at the same time, the Google CEO argued that, technology has been empowering people through information and in future technology, foresight and information will define the contours of future.
The Google CEO’s remarkable words sound extremely pertinent in the context of rapid and ever growing interface of Indian democracy with technology.
Ever since the beginning with Sam Pitroda’s technological revolution in early 90’s to contemporary India’s ‘Digital India’ initiative bear the testimony to the symbiotic relationship between the technology and the process of democratization.
Couple of decades back, in 1970s the powerful American writer and futurist Alvin Toffler had brought out a seminal book Future Shock focusing on the centrality of technology in ushering in social revolution across the globe.
Toffler’s futurist projections became a reality with the ever increasing reach of internet around the world. The world experienced an unprecedented revolution in technology and information with proliferation of internet.
The reach of internet in 1995 was only around 1 percent of total population of world and reached to 40 percent in 2015 and 46.1 percent in 2016 according to the information of the International Telecommunication Union.
Looking at the trajectory of growth of internet all over the world, the critical phase was from 1999 and 2013 during which the reach of internet grew by 10 times.
A comparison of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China ) countries in terms of the reach of internet India still a distant player with only 34.8 percent of population accessing internet where as Brazil with 66.4 percent, Russia with 71.3 percent and China with 52.2 percent of population having access to internet.
However, India has emerged as the one of the fastest growing country in terms of internet access.
Few advanced countries like the US has achieved provision of internet access to 88.5 percent , the United Kingdom 92.6 percent and Japan 91.1 percent of their respective total population.
In contemporary times, the mobile which has become the symbol of ‘real empowerment of people through technology’ has also become the single-window to the huge universe of information, commerce, livelihood and education.
In terms of the reach of mobile, both India and China have crossed the 1 billion users in 2016 and 2012 respectively.
Looking at the ‘last –mile outreach’ potential to take the benefits of development; the mobile has emerged as the most powerful instrument due to its ubiquitous presence.
In addition, as a pragmatic step Government of India has started the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), the flagship JAM (Jandhan, Aadhar and Mobile) which also requires the support of Mobile to help reach the benefits directly to the people.
The reach of 900 million mobile phones is being linked to 1 billion Aadhar numbers an data base of 1.2 billion bank accounts; which retains the potential of a game changer in the process of governance in India.
The biggest endeavor that any democracy has undertaken in recent times towards inclusive growth through technology has been the ‘Digital India’ initiative of the Government of India.
Though the initiative focuses on three critical areas- digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen, governance and services on demand and digital empowerment of the citizens; it needs to include few pragmatic steps towards narrowing down the ‘digital divide’.
To overcome the ‘Digital divide’ which has remained the biggest stumbling block on the way to democratization, the beginning may be made at the upper primary school level by ensuring a certain minimum bandwidth to every student enrolled in an academic year.
The vision document of Government of India Vision 2035 advocates an ambitious agenda for a technologically advanced India by bringing in paperless activities and services in every form by 2035 and adopting virtual reality with no computer in physical form by 2035.
At the broad policy level in India, adoption and adherence to changes in technology must be aligned with a crystal clear technological foresight.
The onus lies on the Department of Science and Technology, Department of electronics and Information Technology which require a synergetic policy crafting along with academia and lead technological giants.
(Sujit Kumar Pruseth is a policy analyst and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)