I'D LIKE TO share an incident that set me thinking a
little differently about the Digital Divide, especially in
reference to our country. A few days ago, close to mid-
night, I was just about to leave my home and head to
office for some latenight finishingup work. The
watchmana 20-year-old boy!asked me what time I
would return. Concerned about him having to stay
awake until I returned, I told him to go to bed. "I
might return only at four in the morning, and I'll
wake you up by calling out loud." To this he shot back,
"Don't bother shouting at that early hourjust give
me a missed call."
"Slightly taken aback" is how I would describe my
reaction. It's not surprising that my watchman owns
a cell phone, reallythere are plenty of stories about
hawkers, auto drivers, and even beggars owning one.
But what is unforeseen is that though he earns barely
2,000 rupees a month, he feels the need to spend Rs
1,800 on a second-hand phone, and also Rs 350 for a
pre-paid card with a subscription to caller tunes. I
later found out that his next plan is to save up a thou-
sand rupees for a "lifetime incoming free" card.
The incident left me with two things to mull over:
first, the spending habits of not just the middle-
income group, but also of those belonging to the
lowest of the income groups, are being redefined.
Second, if increasing PC penetration can further the
digital divide amongst the different income groups,
increasing mobile use will, in contrast, bring them
The mobile phone, for me, is therefore a thing of
wonder. It has the power to bridge a gapa dangerous
and ever-increasing gap so often called the Digital
Divide: a gap between those with regular, effective
access to digital technologies and those without. For
example, there is a tremendous degree of disparity in
the opportunity to access the Internet, and educa-
tional and business opportunities are tied to this
access. People in countries where access to digital
technologies is cheap and more pervasive, naturally
gain the competitive edge.