Why this fascination with technology?

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Technological advances and tech innovations fascinate me – well, fascination is an understatement. I am constantly in awe of the technology innovations and I am always eager to jump in and partake in the next cool tech experience. New phone, new consumer device, new app, new service – I am all over it! Thank goodness my daytime job as a VC is to evaluate these new technologies – else I would be constantly distracted at work. Now, my excuse is that I am just doing my job. Great!

My fascination in innovative technology came from my teen years. As a teenager growing up in the late 80’s in south India, we weren’t surrounded by technology. This wasn’t just pre-smartphone and pre-internet times, but it was also pre-computer, pre-landline phone days for us. And even the TV was relatively new – we had one government-run channel that barely telecast 6 hours of programming a day. It was not the immersive experience in technology that drew me in – if anything, there was barely anything of tech to experience.

What drew me in was the capabilities of technology and where it could take us. This was the time when the first Indian national, Pilot Rakesh Sharma, went to space on a Soyuz Rocket. Space explorations and satellite communication stretched the limits of human imagination.

Broadcast television brought us the 1986 FIFA world cup from across the world. A generation of us got mesmerized by the talent and charisma of Diego Maradona and had us rooting for a country we knew very little of. My brother and I learnt the sport of tennis by watching the 1986 Wimbledon tournament on TV – Tennis wasn’t known, let alone played beyond a few cities in India at that time. By the end of the tournament, we were fans of the earthy, underrated and determined Ivan Lendl who lost to the charismatic, handsome, and blond-haired Boris Becker.

Television and Space were the first hooks that got me excited about technology. From there began the interest in Computers, internet, wireless, robots, open-source, autonomous cars … the fascination continues.

Democratization of access

Through the years, I have realized that technology advances in a way to facilitate democratization of resources and their access. Innovation in technology makes resources and their access more available to a larger scale of population. This is the core tenet ingrained in every inch of technological progress. Think about it. Personal computers brought computing to every house. Internet brought a deluge of content to every nook and corner of the world. And computers get powerful yet cheaper by the day. Today’s smartphones are more powerful than the computers that powered man to the moon. Today’s social platforms bring everyone to a level playing ground – anyone can interact or challenge anyone on these platforms.

Beyond all the bits and data, there is something incredibly idealistic and romantic about technology. It is about democratizing every bit of resource that was once exclusive and limited to a smaller group of people with privilege – breaking down status and class segregation in the process. Sounds like a Robinhood story, doesn’t it!

Economic uplift

Technology has played the single most role in bringing economic uplift at scale around the world. Whether it is manufacturing and the blue-collar economy of the 1800’s and 1900’s or the information economy of the late 1900’s and 2000’s, it is technology that has driven the economic growth. Tech in the information economy has sped up economic progress. Especially in emerging markets, technology and tech jobs have lifted people out of poverty and moved low-income families to middle class and beyond. Entering the workforce in the mid 90’s, our generation had a front-row view of this technology-led uplift in a country like India. 

Percentage Women in Information Technology Workforce; Source: NASSCOM, 2006

I have seen minority communities and women in India struggle and live a dependent life tied up in knots through various cultural customs and rituals. Information Technology jobs provided them the first real sense of financial security. That security built a strong foundation for them to build their life and shackle out of generations of economic and social hardships.  It may be cool to call someone working in tech as geeky and nerdy – and we freely use those terms in mocking ways in the US – but when a tech job helps a struggling, socially isolated divorced woman to break out her chains and lift herself up, it is immensely satisfying to see. When it comes to lifting people up and out of economic and social doldrums at scale, there is nothing that compares to tech.

Technology is not the same as Tech companies

Technology has become a bad word recently. Tech companies today face backlash from everyone; Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon all face questions of overreach, control and profiting from people and their data – some of the criticism is well deserved. It is important to separate the progress in technology from technology companies themselves. Technology is like a river flowing pure, charting its own path and moving forward forever. Early personal computers, Open source software, decentralized currencies are all examples of technology stacks that grew without a profitable company as its owner. My fascination is with technology and the way it keeps moving the world forward.

Next wave and beyond

Times are exciting now with so many keystone inventions and capabilities on the horizon. Anyone that has stayed on the sidelines should jump in and embrace the potential of technology. Space exploration and interplanetary travel are getting more real. Robots and autonomy are closer to everyday reality. Newer decentralized platforms have wide ranging use cases and impact with a potential to create a completely new economic and social order. I am more excited than ever about where technology would take us. While I try to stay up to date on all the new areas of technology, I know soon I won’t be able to comprehend all the inventions and innovations happening around us. But my fascination and star struck view of technology will continue forever.

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