September 08, 2015

Smart Cities, Ugly Life

Technology is democratic in nature. It is a great leveler -- no matter who is using it, it gives the
same results, same comfort. But there are a couple of important riders -- you must be able to afford to own and understand technology to enjoy that democratic space.
Technology can improve quality of life. It can significantly change the way we buy things and access services -- public or private. One layer of urban India has already become smart and is enjoying the benefits the Smart world is offering. They are buying tickets, ordering food, booking cabs -- on the go.
With technology tapping all the unused potential, bringing down prices, life has become much more easier for those who can buy a good smart phone with a good Internet connection and, of course.
No wonder the urban India is anxiously waiting for 'Smart Cities' project launched by the Centre. Tasting the utility of smart tools, they want much more.
But the immediate challenges the urban India facing are not so smart. They, in fact, are ugly and deserve immediate attention. It sounds          rhetoric, if one talks about the acute poverty, poor sanitation, abysmal healthcare facilities, illiteracy and lack of jobs. The cost of living has gone up so high that even the middleclass is feeling the pinch. Majority of people in urban areas are living in unlivable conditions.
Looks like our priorities are skewed. It's become glamorous for politicians to talk technology, Smart Cities, e-commerce. The more you talk technology and 'smartness', the more you get coverage in the media.
A sense of equity must prevail. While a larger section of cities are under tremendous pressure. While the cities are saddled with poor and insufficient infrastructure making travel a real hell, smart apps are equipping the police with super smart tools to nab those who violate traffic rules. You are blaming the victim.
A top Telangana bureaucrat announced that the Government intends to do away with all physical interactions over a period of three years. "We will make all the G-2-c services available only electronic form," he said.
Sounds great. Isn't it?
But, then, one must remember that we are not the US or the UK or Sweden.
The talk on Smart Cities is targeted at satisfying the influential layer of urban areas. If it is satisfied, its vocal section is satisfied. Or, they can quickly write a blog post or send out a Tweet that would be retweeted several times over, or start a Facebook page to quickly garner public support.
I am not saying it is not important. It's any way being taken care by the social media. Young, enterprising start-ups are driving innovation, taking care of the needs of this layer.
But what the government must focus on is the bigger, uglier part of the urban areas. People are dying in hundreds of dengue, swine flu and diarrhea and need urgent . They deserve immediate attention. Now.

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