Reading this book…
Silicon Valley and major tech titans continue to develop digital platforms and unleash new media technologies onto the rest of the world. For the most part, it’s been a good thing. A handful of companies control what could be perceived as a top-down benevolent push to make the world more social and connected. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Salesforce and Microsoft are worth almost $3 trillion by their current stock market value, making them collectively, a top 5 economy, by GDP. The business of technology has an overwhelming influence on every culture.
A few top engineers and product gurus from tech companies release features which end up getting picked up even in remote corners of the world. According to the book, these brilliant engineers (even in geographically-distributed companies) are mostly unaware of indigenous cultures and tribes that are struggling to learn their technologies. What works in North America for Apple, Facebook, Google, or Pinterest may not jibe in an isolated village in South India. Nonetheless, the majority of the planet is not using smart phones in 2017.
Ramesh Srinivasan’s book dives into this disconnection. It’s not about the economics of the global digital divide, but the cultural impact of digital technologies — quite foreign to rural parts of the world struggling to understand why they need them in the first place.
There might be a couple billion people benefiting from new media technologies because brilliant engineers figured their personas out. But what about billions of others who don’t have the same needs? Could pervasive technologies make some cultures go extinct in the same way that we are losing endangered species? Shouldn’t stories of indigenous cultures be told and highlighted so that new technologies are adapted to fit them. It shouldn’t be the other way around as highlighted through case studies in this book.
If customer-centricity is the ultimate goal of going digital, then shouldn’t villages off the beaten path be studied more closely by tech entrepreneurs? There are limits to the tech industry’s deployment strategy of “one size fits all.” Not everyone in the developing world will adopt new technologies in ways expected by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Certainly, not everyone wants to commercialize and profit from new technologies. In some ways, this book is the antithesis of CK Prahalad’s legendary tome about the fortune which can be made at the bottom of the pyramid.
The author’s journey to rural parts of the world raises important questions. Maybe there’s a third way involving technologies so that it helps grassroots development and preserves cultures at the village level. The stories of a few billion people should not be ignored. The tech world can preserve indigenous cultures and promote global peace. After all, it has single-handedly uplifted the lives of millions of people pursuing tech careers in India and China. The tech world can just as easily erase indigenous cultures off of the face of the planet.
Ultimately, the goal for distribution of technology might be akin to Martin Luther King Jr.’s great quote where he says, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” By protecting indigenous cultures and unique social systems (east + west), the world avoids becoming an idiocracy. The global village should be represented by its own set of actors who decide their technology fate, and not by a company’s boardroom. This is why tech entrepreneurship should originate as widely as possible and not become centralized as is the case today. This silly movie actually portends a frightening future. Culture might eat strategy for breakfast per Peter Drucker’s anthem. But we cannot afford culture and human history to be eaten by technology itself. This is a great book and worthy of your time.
“We do not need another NGO or a new dialogue.com to solve our problems—we just need you to listen, support our voices, and pay attention to what we we do.”
(Egyptian activist interviewed in the book)