Two days back, a close friend called to say that she plans to work on a documentary on how technology is changing the lives of rural Indians. She arm-twisted me into meeting her for lunch, before she vanishes into the remote villages of India for a few months.
Albeit in a small way, technology has begun to make inroads into rural India. It's not uncommon these days to see villagers with smart cards or mobile phones.
For those who don't quite know the Indian economy, two-thirds of India's 1.1 billion population live in villages. A large majority of them do not have access to basic amenities, like toilets, regular power supply, roads (let alone a public transportation system), clean drinking water and proper healthcare.
Today, a lot of discussion is focused on how the industry can address Prof. C. K. Prahalad's "bottom of the pyramid", where the largest but poorest socio-economic group occupies. A rural focus offers the much-sought after volumes that companies in sectors as diverse as telecom, automotive and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) want.
But, what about the Internet? The Internet, I learn, has the potential to double the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of rural India. It can nurture micro enterprises within villages. People can buy and sell goods without moving from their village, and get a better price for their agricultural produce, milk and handicrafts. In short, the Internet can completely transform the lives of 700 million rural Indians.
On its part, the Indian government is promoting the concept of Internet kiosks in villages. These kiosks provide a combination of telephone service, Internet service and standalone computer services.
Despite this government thrust and the Internet's immense potential, we still have a long way to go.
Internet in India is an urban phenomenon, points out a report by JuxtConsult, an online research and advisory firm. The reasons? Affordability and language.
Less than 10 percent of Indians can read and write in English, and an even smaller number can speak the language fluently. Twenty-two different languages and innumerable different dialects are spoken across the vast Indian land. Yet, only 12 percent of the Internet users consume content in a local language. Content in Indian languages is yet to take off.
Much of the content for Web sites comes from India's large cities, where young programmers and content creators speak, think, read and write in English. They are the ones who know and understand the Internet platform, but this community within India is completely oblivious of how rural India lives and works.
Who then will write for India's non-English community, which makes up 90 percent of the country's population?
Perhaps my friend will have an answer when she gets back from her rural-India sojourn.