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Mixed Media: How our media can ensure a bright future with low-cost computers

09-February-2010
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Mixed Media: How our media can ensure a bright future with low-cost computers

It’s less than a month for the Budget, and the time when industry leaders submit their wishlists with some even attempting a forecast of what the Finance Minister may do. The media frat isn’t far behind in putting forth its demands, though as we’ve seen in the past, despite all the clout that the barons have, there’s precious little done to make our lives easier. Okay, there were the sops on DAVP commissions for government ads, but that’s about it.

My sense is that the Indian media’s priorities are a little misplaced and it’s not looking ahead while making its demands. We do know from the West that the print markets aren’t growing. Newspapers have bucked the trend so far, but that’s not going to last forever. For television and radio, too, the numbers are rising, but that number we know will plateau soon.

For me, what I would like to see go beyond zero duties and, in fact, have incentives for buying and donating are cheap computers. It is unfortunate that visionary digital evangelist Nicholas Negroponte’s ‘One Laptop Per Child’ (OLPC) hasn’t taken off in India.

I had the good fortune of working on the OLPC last week. A former editor with The Indian Express and The Times of India Group, Satish Jha, who spearheads Negroponte’s dream in India, gave me a two-minute demo. It’s not the regular laptop that we use, not even a small li’l thing like the netbook, it, in fact, looks like a five-year-old’s plaything. The keyboard is a bit of a dampner, but from the little I have used it and read on it, it could give the netbooks a good run for their money. At a hundred dollars (Rs 5,000 or thereabouts), it’s quite a steal.

Negroponte is, I read somewhere on the Internet, a “digital optimist” who believes that “computers would make life better for everyone”. Absolutely! There’s no disputing that. Other than infrastructure – better road and electricity – it’s inexpensive computing and connectivity that can help India get stronger.

And given that the next growth wave for the media will be on the Internet and mobile handsets, it’s vital that we push for an incentive for buying (and consuming) both. Also, this has to go beyond hardware. For instance, the Railway Minister should offer a small percentage cut on tickets booked through its IRCTC.co.in site. Many airlines already have web fares and this ought to extend all utility services.

The objective is to stimulate the usage of the Internet and mobile phones for transactions and information dissemination. For, once that happens, users will also access the media a lot more than they do currently via these devices.

The $100 laptop may be very basic, but it will help convert young kids (and hence their families) to live their lives on computers. With access to information (or knowledge), the programme is meant to help kids “explore, experiment and express themselves”. Surefire, though don’t expect instant results for all the ‘constructionist learning’ to happen.

With broadband connectivity speeds improving and the new generation technologies entering the world of mobiles, television viewing via PCs and cellphones is set to increase, thereby offering yet another avenue for programmers to grab more eyeballs.

We’ve already seen hardware and software prices drop. The netbook may not be very powerful, but it’s available for under Rs 20,000 and is adequate for most basic tasks.

Negroponte’s ‘One laptop per child’ programme doesn’t have enough takers. Perhaps The Times of India should take it up as its campaign next year. Or some other media group could adopt it.

For, a more widespread use of computers will decidedly help all of us in the media. Media ki Unnati ki Asha!

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