Conversation on Digital Disruption with an Auto Wallah

I was sadly stuck in a terrible traffic snarl today in an auto rickshaw, where I decide to ignite a chat in Bhojpuri infected Hindi. The crux of the conversation was to understand the adaptation of the non digital auto wallah, against their smart phone connected counterparts in OLA or Uber. The auto wallah said, you do not waste time, waiting for the OLA or Uber driver as he is not usually a local from this area. These drivers ask us for directions all the time. We are cheaper and own the roads.

When I asked about air conditioner and other comforts, the middle aged gentlemen quipped ‘there was no OLA five years back, and there were summers in Delhi then as well’ 

He complained about the traffic during the peak hours, as these are the times where they get rides or ‘bhada’. Where the OLA driver can fetch a ride at midnight in a jungle.

The Auto Wallah is strategising against digital disruption. I would like to understand more narratives on the ground of evolving livelihoods on the front lines of automation. Life is not only about numbers in a World Economic Forum Report. Local knowledge is a key USP.

Tech Hype Cycles : A Quick Thought

For industry peers, especially fresh grads buying into the current Big Data/AI/Machine Learning hype cycle, partially underway, at a very macro level (as technologies take time to permeate through institutional structures, cultures and need to switch personal behaviour as per the Social Construction of Technology thesis and other technology diffusion frameworks) that Big Data, is more a process to turn everyday processes in to ‘data points’ and is not a silver bullet as Biotechnology a decade back and Sustainability a few years ago.

Every hype cycle fades away, with the realization that profits are not delivered and the next big thing on the horizon crops up. Our fetish with the future of the future and evolving values of the constantly modern, breathes life in to these ‘new’ technologies. The questions will be answered by big data or small. The proof of the pudding will be when any off this Big or small data will solve entrenched issues of the day deeply intertwined in vested power structures.

New Work Rules for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Economy

Start ups are serious engines of economic progress. They hire in a recession and lend neighborhoods a good vibe. There are people investing their lives, and especially their youth on an idea. They are not places to get your pre MBA work ex. These are not places for folks with no risk appetite. The era of the public sector job in India is a relic of my Father’s generation. In this fourth industrial revolution era, one needs to re-skill and re-imagine the future as a perennial negotiation, and not an annual review activity. Stay healthy and save for a rainy day are good old school values to follow although investing in reskilling is to add value. Your job is to be replaced two financial years away if you are in consulting. Creative destruction at its neoliberal best.

Consulting Skills Decoded

A consultant (strategy or technical) is a strange creation of late capitalism. The person has to be a dynamic sales guru who at the same time, is a versatile thought leader gaming the market trends, while staying true to cold data, in narrative and quantitative variants. Schizophrenic at best, as he has to define the problem, while simultaneously solving it.

Downloading the ‘Social Justice’ App: Rebooting the emerging technologies conversation

Technology is aspirational as well as embedded in the micro practice of everyday life.  Technology has enveloped and ensconced us in its bear hug embrace. Technology has inherent values of its founders which drive its proliferation and its outreach of this sociotechnical construct. Apple, the maker of the now less than iconic iPhone, with its repeated ‘static’ variations believes in the working philosophy of dishing out the cutting edge even if the consumer is not ready, as it creates a white space and then waits for the audience to pick up the tab, such as the headless jack in its latest variant. The product managers at Apple are not the biggest fans of user centric ethnography certainly.

Smart Phones are getting more sophisticated by the day with AR/VR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality for the uninitiated such as the latest Samsung Device) external add ons, which redefine the user experience. The digital revolution is the outcome of the twin drivers of a ‘Flat World’ and Globalization (although due to Brexit, the reverse de-globalization is now fashionable), which a less than USD 50 smartphone available in the global south. Prices of data packages have hit rock bottom, due to telecom price wars such as in India with Reliance Jio triggering a market consolidation. As investor Naval Ravikant had quipped in a lengthy narrative journalistic article in The New Yorker, that Uber happened due to ecosystem effects of GPS, market demand and the smart phone, all of which was not Uber’s contribution [1]. Uber was simply at the right time, at the right place as a transportation technology company. ICT4D or leveraging the power of Information and Communication Technology for Development for bridging the digital divide or for bringing the power of Web 2.0 to the unserved communities in the global south, is carried out as a Bottom of the Pyramid market expansion strategy as the developed markets are not rendering the right margins on the NYSE. Profits are the cornerstone for unleashing the tamed spirits of neoliberal capitalism (pun intended).

As Phillip Mirowski states, neoliberalism is a constructivist political project as it needs the government to actively curate the market space (Mirowski, 2009 in Davies, 2016).

The purpose of this article is not to sing uncritical paeans to the myth and magic of unfettered Silicon Valley style techno capitalism but to breathe back the spirit of social justice into this testosterone fueled paradigm (think about the film Social Network about the founding of Facebook for a cultural analogue). Emerging technologies as a cognitive framework is driving the conversation on ‘Smart Cities’ to ‘Digital India’ in its namesake India to the ‘Smart Nation’ narrative in Singapore. Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan writes eloquently that an idea of a smart city amputates the idea of a city in to an amputated grid of IT technologies without integrating the informal sector of the economy such as the migrants and the scavengers [2].

Prof Visvanathan captures the pulse of the narrative that frames ‘aggressive’ emerging technologies paradigm as a silver bullet to the issues of the day. When political solutions to governance problems dry up, the emerging technologies messaging comes in handy as a smoke screen. Emerging Technology as a concept ties in the growth mindset of neoliberal thought which weaves in with modernity and profit motive very well. The angel investor behind a technology would not share the same egalitarian values as a principal investigator of a National Research Foundation research project. The values of solidarity, liberty and equity are in contradiction with emerging technologies that find resonance in the valuation imperative. The unicorns are the stuff of legends while millions struggle to drink clean water. The market is an exceptional adopter of good ideas whose time has arrived such as financial inclusion through digital resources such as blockchain as physical retail banking assets shall not be required to serve the unbanked consumer, but digital healthcare would still need to be aligned with incumbent public health systems with real doctors to heal the sick.

The context is critical for emerging technologies to be mapped as a social good with embedded values of social inclusion. Science is a social institution and the mainstreaming of an ‘emerging technology’ in the marketplace would require the ethic of social justice, as the consumer who pays for the product or service is ultimately as much a member of the socioeconomic community as the startup founder.


[1] (information retrieved on 28th September 2016)

[2] (information retrieved on 28th September 2016)


Identity and Migration

Long before the refugee and the humanitarian crisis of the post Arab Spring countries demasking the so called empowered politics of the EU nations and the U.S.; the Indian Subcontinent had one in 1947, where millions died and mass migration occurred due to region based partition- Punjab and Bengal was severed. Identities were fortified into the refugee class ‘Bangal’ and the untouched landed ‘Ghoti’ in West Bengal.

This useless binary is still used to map ones antecedents. In short, migrants and their generations have to bear its scars long after the survival, as the identity affair is subconscious. Identity is used as a weapon to demoralize the migrant.

Ground Zero: Sacred Ground no more

Fifteen years back, the world as we know changed; in rhetoric and reality, binaries were created and institutionalized between ‘with us or against us’ Last one and a half decades of wars, revolutions, springs, summers and ultimately the winter of 2016 resulting in post truth Trump and War Hawk Hillary and millions of deaths. Refugee crisis is a symptom of that process. It all started on this fateful day. Ground Zero is now a memorial and a shopping mall plus office space once again, as sacred ground is not enough as there is money to be made from memorial tours and otherwise. Hope seems a sales pitch. #911