Why India’s IT success depresses me

 India is the world’s next IT superpower. Bangalore == Silicon Valley. India’s computer engineers are the best in the world, etc. etc. And yes, it depresses me. The reason goes something like this: Our so-called success in the IT world has left most Indians with a very skewed perspective of what computer technology really is all about and what the computer industry really means. Despite the fact that ther are so many IT professionals coming from and working in this country, it has done little to benefit our society. But wait a minute, doesn’t the IT industry bring in millions of dollars of foreign revenue each year? Yes, it does. Isn’t that a good thing? Yes, it is. So why are you saying it hasn’t helped our economy? That’s not what I’m saying at all. The economy might be booming, but there’s more to a nation and national pride than the economy. Go back a few lines and read what I said: it doesn’t benefit our society.
    The IT industry has done little to benefit our society because for the last few years, it has been developing in an economically viable, but socially demoralising way. The reason is outsourcing. Yes this an outsourcing rant, not anti-, just a rant. And it’s from the perspective of those who are supposed to be benefiting from the whole thing. IT sourcing has not benefitted the society because the proliferation of the IT industry has not been geared towards the best interests of our nation or our people. Instead of building software that common people around the world, or even in our own country use everyday, the industry has been and is building software especially for American and European companies. The result is that though we know that our IT industry is a multi-billion dollar affair, most Indians, even those that use computers at home or work everyday, have little idea as to what they actually do that’s raking in the dollars. A small example, everyone aroud the world knows that Microsoft makes Windows, Apple makes Macs, Sun Microsystems makes Java, Google does search engines. But how many Indians know what Infosys makes? I don’t.
    Instead of building software for ourselves and our people, we’re making software for others and becoming dependant on what they want us to do and what tools they want us to use. The IT boom in our country has served to help only the ones who make money out of selling their services, and the Government who collects the taxes. The common Indian benefits in no way whatsoever, not even an increased sense of national pride, because India is the world’s back office. The Americans started the whole computer thing decades ago and it has helped them no end. Not only are American companies like Google and Microsoft household names, but Americans like Alan Turing and Steve Jobs are respected by computer scientists the world over. Money is one thing, respect and recognition is quite another. The US and Europe managed to get where they are because the top computer scientists either do research at national universities or do R&D at companies that are leading the industry in terms of innovation. But the best Indian students graduating from the IITs are encouraged to get a job or an MBA and spend the rest of their life taking orders from other people (or giving orders to people to do things that they don’t really want to). Instead of leading the world in terms of innovation, our computer engineers are being compared to Chinese sweat shop workers, producing cheap goods. This whole orientation towards doing what will get us money from the outside is harming our own nation. There is very little software in Indian languages and what there is, is below acceptable standards. We do not even have keyboards in most native languages, or even standardized character sets for the common languages of our country. That is something that the Chinese and Japanese do have. The whole effect is that though our people may know better English, our own languages and with them our sense of being Indian gets devalued day by day. So much for national pride.
    Now to outsourcing proper. Once again outsourcing helps our economy, but hits our society. Call-centre workers have nearly non-existent social lives and more importantly, outsourcing draws our talented workers from where they’re needed most: writing software to help our own people. If all the programming and design talent could be diverted to writing software for the common Indian user, it would not be too unreasonable to create a independent operating system, available in all major Indian languages, with Indian language equivalents of office software, email programs and browsers. We would no longer have to pay a ransom to Microsoft or resort to pirated software. We could also create specialised data standards to better exchange Indian langauge information and in the end, combine with Chinese hardware to build PCs that even the lower middle class citizen can afford. Of course this will never happen. The government would have to spend insanely high amounts to lure away the needed talent from the IT industry (IT workers may be paid a pittance compared to Western counterparts, but it’s still more than most Indians) and build the data infrastructure and would have to work with minimal investment returns for a number of years. Why would the government spend so much money when they can earn lots more by encouraging outsourcing? The Indian outsourcing boom might be dentrimental to our society, but doing away with it would be economic suicide. Once again Indians in general lose, just as they have been losing out through the centuries. One tends to get the feeling that Indians are happiest when they’re doing what others tell them to do.

One thought on “Why India’s IT success depresses me

  1. The state of affairs is sad. But the common Indian can only progress to innovating and pioneering once his economic needs are met. The brain doesn’t work too well on an empty stomach. We are a poor country while the multi-national corporations that you talk of are from countries who’s nationals don’t have to struggle to obtain two square meals a day.

    India has no shortage of creative minds. Once we overcome the fundamental problems, we’ll be a force to reckon with.

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