Foreign Policy managing editor and former CNN South Asia bureau chief Ravi Agrawal takes readers on a journey across India, through remote rural villages and massive metropolises, to highlight how one tiny device - the smartphone - is effecting staggering changes across all facets of Indian life.
The rise of smartphones, and with them access to the internet, has caused nothing short of a revolution in India. In the West, technological advances have progressed step-by-step - from landline phones, to dial-up connections on PCs, to broadband access, wireless, and now 4G data on phones. But the vast majority of Indians, particularly low-income and rural citizens, have leapfrogged straight to the smartphone era, disrupting centuries of tradition and barriers of wealth, language, literacy, caste, and gender.
As always with India, the numbers are staggering: in 2000, 20 million Indians had access to the internet; by 2017, 465 million were online, with three Indians discovering the internet every second - mostly on smartphones. India Connected shows how widespread internet use is poised to transform everyday life in India: the status of women, education, jobs, dating, marriage, family life, commerce, and governance. Just as the car shaped 20th century America - with the creation of the Interstate Highway System, suburbia, and malls - the smartphone is set to shape 21st century India.
The rise of low-cost smartphones and cheap data plans has meant the country leapfrogged the baby steps their Western counterparts took toward digital fluency. The results can be felt in every sphere of life, upending traditions and customs and challenging conventions. Nothing is untouched, from arranged marriages to social status to business start-ups, as smartphones move the entire economy from cash-based to credit-based. Access to the internet is affecting the progress of progress itself. As Agrawal shows, while they offer immediate and sometimes mind-altering access to so much for so many, smartphones create no immediate utopia in a culture still driven by poverty, a caste system, gender inequality, illiteracy, and income disparity. Internet access has provided greater opportunities to women and changed the way in which India's many illiterate poor can interact with the world, but it has also meant that pornography has become more readily available, and fake news more widespread. Under a government keen to control content, it has created tensions. And in a climate of nationalism, it has fomented violence and even terrorism.
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