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How Asia is driving the digital future

June 27, 2013 12:27 IST

How Asia is driving the digital future

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Barun Roy

Thanks to technology, completely new lifestyle opportunities are opening up where old ground realities are not relevant any more.

The wildfire-like spread of handheld communication gadgetry is the biggest wonder of our times.

But a bigger wonder is the equally rapid convergence of technologies that promise to put the power of the world within the grasp of the same hand in a more awesome kind of way and release a person into an unimaginable new world of freedom.

We all have known this, and have been waiting for that future, in a theoretical sort of way.

But the significance of what it could really mean in our lives suddenly struck me the other day as I was talking to the wife of a friend of mine, a noted haematologist who passed away about a year ago in Kolkata, leaving behind a home library of medical books, journals, and papers he had assembled assiduously over the course of his long and successful career.

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How Asia is driving the digital future

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For almost a year, as the books gathered dust, the poor lady was looking around for people and places she could give away her husband's valued possessions to, with no luck.

My friend wasn't the only haematologist in town and all renowned haematologists would all have most of the same books anyway.

Besides, where are the repositories - morgues, one might call them - where such leftovers of medical wisdom could be preserved for some curious future student to drop by to check on how things were before his time.

If, instead, my friend had books on call on a Kindle, he could have avoided leaving her wife with what would appear for the family to be an unfair burden. But it wasn't possible at his time. When it became possible it was already too late.

And remember there are not only doctors, but professors, lawyers, professionals, and journalists, hundreds of thousands of them, who've been collecting books all their working lives, keeping up the habit even after retirement, and imagine the burdens accumulating in hundreds of thousands of homes all over the world.

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Image: Kindle Paperwhite.
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Not all people are John Kennedys or Bill Clintons who could afford to have libraries and museums raised in their names.

Book charities make no difference. Neighbourhood public libraries are disappearing one by one from the face of the earth.

Nobody has any use for them anymore. In the end, we're all at the raddiwalla's mercy for whatever value they'd attach to them.

Of course, there are those who wouldn't simply care and go on acquiring books without thinking what would happen to them in the future. Like the one and only Nirad C Chowdhury.

Even during his young, struggling days, with hardly an income, he used to buy books by the dozens and bring them home in a basket carried on the head of a porter, like one would bring home one's daily bazaar in those days.

And neighbours would snipe: "Look, he has no means to support his wife and yet he goes on buying books!" But he wouldn't bat an eyelid.

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Photographs: Reuters

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Those days now look like pale ghosts of the past. These times are different and smart gadgets are making them even more so, guzzling up other gadgets, freeing up space at a pace that wasn't thought possible even five years ago, and shrinking even a thinking man's world - news, entertainment, music, shopping, or leisure - within the limits of one's hands.

Music albums have the same fate as books, and now CDs are under threat, too. Storage devices have become so minuscule and capacious that one doesn't need to clutter one's study with filing cabinets to hold their prized possessions.

It's a brave new world of freedom that awaits mankind, and its footsteps are ringing out the loudest in Asia.

This region has now emerged as the world's largest market for mobile phones, and ever increasingly for smartphones, and also its biggest area of internet penetration.

One report says, in the last three months of 2012, Asia accounted for half of all new mobile internet connections globally - 73 million out of 140 million - while North America and Western Europe contributed two million each.

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China and India led the Asian brigade, with 30 million and 11 million additions, respectively.

Now, China alone is the world leader as mobile phone users, 707 million in all, and already over 390 million of them, have mobile internet subscriptions - one sure indication that smartphone sales are on the rise.

With Chinese spending on communications set to reach some $815 billion by 2015, future opportunities are even greater.

And, as the rest of Asia jumps on the bandwagon for the communications joyride of the century, a whole new lifestyle opportunity opens up for a huge chunk of humanity, a whole new way of living where old ground realities aren't relevant anymore.

It's for us to decide how best to exploit that opportunity and organise our lives around this new-found freedom.

rbarun@gmail.com


Image: A woman uses a shopping app on her iPhone.
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