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Understanding the Indian Tech Boom
Alex Steffen, 23 Aug 04

We need understanding the technological and social transformations shaking India today. But good information -- in English, written for those without deep knowledge of India's history and politics -- can be quite hard to come by.


Last week I wrote about Brier Dudley's series on Bangalore and the Indian Tech Boom. My main criticism was that he had largely ignored both the human costs and on-going shortcomings of the Indian tech boom and and the impacts of India's tech boom on the developed world. I spoke too soon:

"MUMBAI, India — If your child plays soccer in Washington state, you're benefiting from globalization. The custom database that runs the Washington State Youth Soccer Association — and reports any sex offenses or criminal records among its 25,000 adult volunteers — was written here, the biggest city in India. You're also indirectly using Indian software if you buy shoes at Nordstrom, use lumber made by Weyerhaeuser or visit a doctor at Swedish Medical Center."

--from "High technology from India is just down the street"

"Statistics reflect just how much the tech boom is affecting India: While health and literacy show widespread signs of improvement, much of the country remains mired in deep and stubborn poverty. Only 403 million of India's 1 billion people have work, and per capita income averages just $470 a year.

"There was evidence before the election that India's gains from globalization and technology were not trickling down. The country received $4.1 billion in foreign business investments last year. Even more cash came into the country from Indians prospering at jobs overseas, including positions in the U.S. tech industry; they sent back $8.4 billion.

"Throughout the 1990s, India's growth supercharged South Asia, driving 5.5 percent annual growth in the region's gross domestic product. That helped reduce South Asia's extreme poverty, the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day, from 41 percent to 31 percent during the decade. But the region's population also grew rapidly, so the total number of people living in extreme poverty fell by just 34 million since 1990, to 428 million in 2001, according to the World Bank.

"Meanwhile, basic infrastructure needs across South Asia 'remain largely unmet,' according to the World Bank."

--from "India a mixture of old ways and new technology"

For another, more critical view, see Scott Baldauf's CSM story, "Boom splits India's middle class":

"But not all middle class Indians feel the benefit equally. In Bhopal, a lovely city with a tragic recent history of industrial pollution, one sees none of the jaldi-karo, or "speed it up," enthusiasm and competitiveness of India's high-tech or trading centers. The city remains a transit hub for food grains and cotton fabrics, but here middle class families like the Devgans of Green Park Colony have remained relatively untouched by the Indian 'shining effect.'

"Suresh Devgan, an electrical engineer who works for the municipal power company, often admits that he could make a lot more money in the private sector, as a power consultant or even designer for a computer firm. But he just can't bring himself to leave his post. 'If everyone left their posts, then who would run the country?' he tells relatives."

Then there's "The Best Job in Town", a recent New Yorker piece by Katherine Boo (who, along with Barbara Ehrenreich, has the sharpest reportorial eye out there on the nature of American poverty), which is, simply put, required reading:

"One Monday this spring, a forty-three-year-old salesclerk at the Home Depot in Plano, Texas, scribbled some updates onto an old résumé and took it to his local copy shop. To his education and work history—a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and technology, service in the U.S. Marine Corps—he added a recent moonlighting job as a handyman and a new “career objective.” Ten minutes later, in southern India, a middle-aged Hindu man in a cavernous workplace began to type the Home Depot clerk’s words. A prevailing fiction in the Indian office was that the dozens of “document specialists” doing American work didn’t actually register the content of the résumés, funeral programs, pro-se lawsuits, and erotic manifestos sent to them over broadband from store counters with “While-U-Wait” signs. Rather, the document specialists were to type, format, proofread, and zap things back while maintaining an exquisite blankness of mind. But American résumés, as much as American erotica, caused an inconvenient upwelling of emotion. “To secure a position at a company that would utilize my skills and provide an opportunity for advancement: row upon row of typing Indians recognized the Plano clerk’s yearning as their own.

"The typists were new, entry-level employees at a prominent firm in the sprawling coastal city of Chennai—still “wet behind the ears,” as Americans would say, or so they’d been informed during a company crash course on Western ways. Their narrow cubicles were lodged on the sixth floor of a pink stucco building whose lobby possessed, in addition to a purposeless set of turnstiles and a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, solid evidence that even plastic rhododendrons will wilt in extreme heat. Most of the workers had been born in Chennai and would, in all likelihood, die there. Still, from their workstations they could imagine, not unreasonably, that they were seeing a bit of the world."

Got another story or resource you think should be on this list?

(Thanks to WorldChanging readers Brandon Keim and Jeremiah Blatz for recommending Boo's piece, and to Sachi for the CSM link!)

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5 stars - very insightful article on the growing influence of the Indian software industry on the global economy.

Posted by: valencia on 24 Aug 04

A review of Why Globalization Works by Martin Wolf focusing on the most controversial part of the book, with examples from India.

Posted by: Monty Zukowski on 25 Aug 04



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