‘Tech giants must spend real money on media literacy in India’

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New Delhi: To ensure smartphones remain a force for good, device makers need to spend some “real money” on media literacy in India so that people can take full advantage of the new technologies and learn to distinguish what messages to believe and what not, says the author of a new book on how the smartphone is changing the country.

“Media literacy should ideally start from elementary level in schools,” Ravi Agrawal, author of “India Connected: How the Smartphone Is Transforming the World’s Largest Democracy” told a gathering at The American Center here on Friday.

In the absence of such education, there could be misuse of technology, as evidenced by several cases of lynching incidents in India linked to rumours spread on WhatsApp, he said, while participating in a discussion on the impact of smartphones and the Internet on the Indian economy and society.

“Smartphones are doing to India what the automobiles did to America about a century ago. In fact, the power of smartphonoes in changing the lives of Indians has been stronger than that of automobiles and electricity,” said Agrawal, who is also the Managing Editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

While smartphones have opened new doors of opportunities for millions of people in India, the transformative power of the device has not always been for good, he pointed out.

“There have been intense discussions in the developed countries on how smartphones have driven screen addiction among teenagers which has been linked to depression and other mental health issues. But such discussions are missing in India,” he said, highlighting how the country is ill-prepared to deal with the adverse effects of technology.

Agrawal’s book, published by the Oxford University Press, has three parts: Opportunity, Society and the State.

“While the smartphone has unleashed many positive changes, it has not been so successful in breaking the barriers of class and caste in connecting Indians to their fellow countrymen,” said Agrawal who worked as CNN’s New Delhi Bureau Chief and Correspondent before joining Foreign Policy.

With 481 million Internet users (as of December 2017), India has the second highest Internet user base in the world after China, according to a report by not-for-profit industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

Most of the people in India access the Internet through their smartphones.