09
Jan
Posted by Mayank Bawa in Blogroll on January 9, 2009

When I can afford a multi-week break, I head home to India. It is really impressive how home refreshes and recharges a person as nothing else does.

India has a burdgeoning media and communications industry. The movie industry is well-known and huge, but in truth the story of media in India in the last decade has been that of television coming of age. Internet as a media channel is still in its infancy here. Even in communications, Internet’s growth is dwarfed substantially by the growth of mobile networks.

The power of media in shaping conversations and spreading awareness really hit home in two separate anecdotes.

I had flown into Mumbai when an airport-based pre-paid cab driver offered me very generous rates if I were to retain him on a consistent basis for the week of my stay. I am always suspicious of cab drivers anywhere giving a good deal, so I asked him the reason for his generosity. “Sahib, business weak hai recession ke waaste (Sir, business is weak due to recession)” came the answer.

I went to a get-together, and uncles/aunts who are one-generation older than me asked if the US recession is as severe as they hear, and gave sensible advice to my cousins on safeguarding their jobs. The last generation in India had lived their formative and middle years in a government-regulated economy. I was in high school in India during the 1990-91 recession when our small town was severely hit when the dominant livelihood-providing steel manufacturing plant suffered huge losses. I remember that the same uncles/aunts then fairly-and-squarely blamed the lack of efficiency in government enterprises, the lack of product quality and a consistent lack of investment over the last decade (i.e., everything except a recession!).

The media has successfully educated a broad section of the population on reasons for their livelihood misery. And people were responding appropriately to protect their interests.

But then something happened today that motivated this post.

Two days ago, the oil workers in Indian state-run oil companies went on a strike. Today, the cable news networks were full of doomsday talk of oil-dry gas stations and replaying clips of long consumer queues. I marveled at the power of oil in bringing Delhi to its knees within 48 hours of the supply chain being halted, and decided to go check it out myself. Imagine my surprise when I found normal traffic at the pump. Intrigued, I drove around (yes, I’m on vacation with lots of free time :-) ) finding pump after pump and not finding the promised long queues.

The same media that spread awareness was actively spreading needless panic!

I am sure if more people in Delhi had as much free time as I did, they would have gone to the gas stations to hoard in anticipation and then queues would have formed. Luckily, as dusk fell and normal office hours ended (giving people free time), the strike had been called off.

We escaped news from generating reality, as opposed to the other way around.

Happy new year!

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Comments:
Sarang Deshpande on February 5th, 2009 at 11:51 am #

Hi Mayank,

Interesting article! I do not claim to understand the complexities of the antics of Indian media (much like the complexities of Aster’s tremendously promising and intriguing concept), but it is becoming more and more difficult to not obviously notice the immense exposure that people get these days through their umpteen number of news TV channels. Similar to your experience, the Bombay attacks on 11/26 brought the same picture forward of the media actually ending up spreading panic and hysteria, not to mention becoming the eyes and ears for the perpetrators of the attacks who probably enjoyed it from a distant location.

Anyway, I recently came across your company’s profile and this blog, and have been trying to make as much sense as I can of the technology you folks are working so hard on. I think you are doing a great job! All the best!

Cheers,
Sarang

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