Ravi Agrawal is the Editor in Chief of Foreign Policy and author of India Connected: How the Smartphone Is Transforming the World's Largest Democracy. Before joining Foreign Policy, Agrawal worked at CNN for 11 years in London, New York, and New Delhi, including a four-year stint as South Asia bureau chief. He has shared a Peabody Award and three Emmy nominations for his work as a TV producer, and his writing for FP was part of a series nominated for a 2020 National Magazine Award for columns and commentary. Agrawal was born in London, England, and grew up in Kolkata, India. He is a graduate of Harvard University.
In India Connected: How the Smartphone Is Transforming the World’s Largest Democracy, Foreign Policy Editor in Chief and former CNN South Asia bureau chief Ravi Agrawal takes readers on a journey across India, through remote rural villages and massive metropolises, to highlight how one tiny device—the smartphone—is effecting staggering changes across all facets of Indian life.
The rise of smartphones, and with them access to the internet, has caused nothing short of a revolution in India. In the West, technological advances have progressed step-by-step—from landline phones, to dial-up connections on PCs, to broadband access, wireless, and now 4G data on phones. But the vast majority of Indians, particularly low-income and rural citizens, have leapfrogged straight to the smartphone era, disrupting centuries of tradition and barriers of wealth, language, literacy, caste, and gender.
As always with India, the numbers are staggering: in 2000, 20 million Indians had access to the internet; by 2017, 465 million were online, with three Indians discovering the internet every second, mostly on smartphones. India Connected shows how widespread internet use is poised to transform everyday life in India: the status of women, education, jobs, dating, marriage, family life, commerce, and governance. Just as the car shaped 20th century America—with the creation of the Interstate Highway System, suburbia, and malls—the smartphone is set to shape 21st century India.
The rise of low-cost smartphones and cheap data plans has meant the country leapfrogged the baby steps their Western counterparts took toward digital fluency. The results can be felt in every sphere of life, upending traditions and customs and challenging conventions. Nothing is untouched, from arranged marriages to social status to business start-ups, as smartphones move the entire economy from cash-based to credit-based. Access to the internet is affecting the progress of progress itself. As Agrawal shows, while they offer immediate and sometimes mind-altering access to so much for so many, smartphones create no immediate utopia in a culture still driven by poverty, a caste system, gender inequality, illiteracy, and income disparity. Internet access has provided greater opportunities to women and changed the way in which India's many illiterate poor can interact with the world, but it has also meant that pornography has become more readily available, and fake news more widespread. Under a government keen to control content, it has created tensions. And in a climate of nationalism, it has fomented violence and even terrorism.
The influence of smartphones on "the world's largest democracy" is nonetheless pervasive and irreversible, and India Connected reveals both its dimensions and its implications.
Praise for India Connected
"Timely and absorbing ... What makes this book so hard to put down is the way Agrawal skillfully weaves together the tales of ordinary Indian lives being transformed by digital technology." - Financial Times
"[A] smart, sympathetic and highly readable account." - The New Statesman
"A convincing case of how smartphones are creating a brand-new social infrastructure that did not previously exist in India." - Los Angeles Review of Books
"Superb ... Agrawal has the journalist's knack of finding fascinating stories." - Literary Review
"The stories in India Connected are timeless and will age well into nice snapshots of history." - India Today
"This is, quite simply, the best book about India today. It recounts the hard data but also captures the mood of a rising, sprawling, dynamic society. It is centered on the smartphone, which is indeed transforming the world's largest democracy. But the nature of that transformation is complex and nuanced. And Agrawal describes this reality with a novelist's eye and pen. A triumph."
- Fareed Zakaria, Host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS and author of The Post American World
"India Connected is a fascinating - and very well-written - account of the ways in which the smartphone is transforming every aspect of Indian life, from marriage to politics, and not always for the better. It is a remarkable work of non-fiction ... a must-read for everyone who is interested in contemporary India."
- Amitav Ghosh, author of The Great Derangement
"In this delightfully readable book, Ravi Agrawal blends the experiences of an assortment of interesting characters with his own insightful reflections, succinctly capturing an India riding on the wave of the internet-enabled smartphone revolution, while always conscious of its challenges and limitations. His India Connected: How Smartphones are Transforming the World's Biggest Democracy is illuminating, eye-opening, and like the phones it describes, smart. An engaging read!"
- Shashi Tharoor, author of Inglorious Empire
"The story of how India has gotten Wired is one of the most important in the world, and you'll find no better guide than Ravi Agrawal. He's dug in to give us a story of optimism, intrigue, and profound change. And he does it with grace: chasing down stories and introducing us to people whose stories are revealing and riveting. I read it straight through and I suspect you will too."
- Nicholas Thompson, former Editor-in-Chief of Wired
"The smartphone may well rank among fire and electricity in terms of sheer impact on humanity. And as Ravi Agrawal argues in this book, there are few places in the world that have experienced that revolution as forcefully as India. Like no one else, Agrawal highlights just how far India has come with the smartphone, and how much further it can go. A read as entertaining as it is informative."
- Ian Bremmer, author of Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism
"The automobile unleashed American freedom and energy. The smartphone is doing the same for India. To understand why India will succeed, read this fascinating book. Modern India leaps out of its pages."
- Kishore Mahbubani, author of Has the West Lost It?
"An engaging storyteller, Ravi Agrawal charts the extraordinary changes and the new hopes cheap smart phones and digital technology are bringing to the day-to-day lives of ordinary Indians."
- Mira Kamdar, author of Planet India and India in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know
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