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Guest Article: Divides – Digital and Otherwise

02-May-2011
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Guest Article: Divides – Digital and Otherwise

To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

As with many clichés, this one is revelatory because it betrays the fundamental bias each of us brings to the resolution of any questions of depth and merit. While we might bristle at the generalisation, perhaps we do so because the cliché represents or own modes or problem-solving. We frame issues from a context with which we are familiar, not from contexts of deep knowledge.

I’ve seen this time and again in the world of technology, in which I’ve made a great living for over a decade. And therein lays the problem – we in technology, beguiled by riches, synonymise economic progress with intellect and foresight. No worse a mistake can be made.

Take the issues of social equity and poverty alleviation, for instance. Technologists think that software, hardware and the Internet are the panacea to these ills. Our self-perceptions of high-minded grandeur define and channel our creativity. We find ways to suggest, somehow, that what we do is the defining activity in society, that in our hands (and by our inventions) humanity can be liberated from the shackles of disease and penury. Bloated with success, we construct a truth in which solutions to highly-complex issues of grave significance are reduced to the clichés we thrive on.

To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

So what does a technologist who truly and deeply cares about issues of social and economic equality do if, as I say, most of the solutions trotted out by his peers are too simplistic and self-serving?

To begin, in order to solve a problem, one must understand the generative mechanisms that cause the problem in the first place. Then one must identify the various actors that play a role in the problem’s creation and sustenance. Finally, one must find a way to reconcile the opposing forces that are at play.

The Indian technology community has a remarkable opportunity to avoid the arrogance of its counterparts in the West and to find ways to apply its boundless energies to solving the problems besetting hundreds of millions of its fellow citizens.

In my own interactions with this community, I can see that a goodly sized subsection has the desire to do so. What this group must do is to forge open organic links across the private sector, government, and civil society (and non-market institutions) to create a common agenda in which social justice is the primary goal, with profit and power not entering the equation.

I started this short treatment with a set of admonitions, but it’s not that I am pessimistic. Indians have shown time and again that they can solve real problems when they unite and align. If we agree that with prosperity and success comes responsibility to others, then the time to act is now.

Companies, governments, and societal institutions need to start the process of narrowing the divides in Indian society. The Digital Divide is just one of many.

(Romi Mahajan is the WW Director of Sales and Strategy for the Digital Marketing & Search team at Microsoft Corporation. In this role, Mahajan focuses on growing the Digital Marketing business for the company as well as helping define Microsoft’s increasing role in Internet Business.

Before this stint at Microsoft, Mahajan was Founder- President of KKM Group, an Advisory company focused solely on Strategy and Marketing in the Technology, Media, Agency, and Luxury Goods sectors. Prior to founding KKM, Mahajan was Chief Marketing Officer of Ascentium Corporation, a leading digital agency with 96M in Sales in 2008.)

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