I am sitting here on a Friday at 4.23PM in…
India is the protagonist of one of the world’s biggest free Wi-fi projects. The plan, launched by India’s Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu in conjunction with Google, forecasts providing 400 railways stations in India with high speed public Wi-Fi service. The first station to implement this technology, on January 24th, was Mumbai Central. According to Google, the next stations to get such service are going to be Allahabad, Patna, Jaipur and Ranchi. By the end of 2016, 100 more stations will be added to the list.
With so many issues going on in India, such as the tremendous wealth inequality gap, the low standard of living of the rural farmers, and the women’s rights issues, one could legitimately wonder if such a big, and possibly costly, undertaking is necessary. However, when we think about the role of WiFi technology in people’s lives, we can’t help but realize that WiFi has actually become one of humanity’s most needed resources. It’s true, to many people the Internet is just another profit channel, used to market to as many people as possible, at any time of the day, every day of the year, and everywhere in the world. While that has become certainly true, we have to remind ourselves that the reason why the Internet was created above all is to exchange information. The Internet allows users to exchange knowledge across borders and have access to information that would have previously been unreachable to many. Therefore, free WiFi for many Indian commuters means more than free cat videos. Free WiFi means being able to learn for free about things that local TV and local newspapers don’t or cannot talk about. This seems to be what Google has in mind as the bigger scope of this project, “making the Internet both accessible and useful for the more than 300 million Indians already online, and the nearly one billion more who are not.” Google is facilitating this process by providing Indians with auxiliary devices and features, such as cheaper high-quality smartphones, the ability to access YouTube and Google Maps offline, and the establishment of a Language Internet Alliance to produce more local language content.
People didn’t become dependent on WiFi because they wanted to watch Netflix on their iPads, but rather because WiFi and the Internet at large provide them with a myriad of opportunities for doing things better and faster. Let’s look at some examples of instances in which we wouldn’t know what to do without WiFi.
- I’m lost because I don’t know how to get to a place. → Let me plug in the address in Google Maps.
- I’m lost because I don’t have the address. → I’ll iMessage my friend to ask if she knows what it is.
- I’m stuck in traffic so I’m going to be late for work. → I’m going to email my boss to warn him/let me join the conference call from my car.
- I want to know more about xyz. → I’ll just Google it.
- My sister’s birthday is tomorrow, I still didn’t get her a gift AND she lives in another country. → I’ll buy something on Amazon and ship it overnight.
- I want to apply for college. → I’ll complete the online application.
- I wonder what’s going on in India. → I can stream local news in real-time.
- The hotel we are staying at sucks. → Let’s do a quick TripAdvisor search for a better place, I bet there’s going to be offers as well.
- I need a job. → I’ll contact people in my LinkedIn network.
- I can’t go to college but I want to learn. → I’ll take a free class on Coursera.com and read while I commute to work .
It’s arguable whether technology has made us lazier or not. What’s not questionable is that it has given people more opportunities not to be lazy and to know where to look for what they need. Not everybody has parental guidance, not everybody has money, and not everybody can buy books. However, if everybody can have access to the same information in the same way, then at the very least we are all in the same playing field.