“TARADAND, India — Babulal Singh Neti was sitting with his uncle on a recent afternoon, trying to persuade him of the merits of the internet.It was 105 degrees outside, and the sun was beating down on the frazzled croplands. His uncle said he had no use for the internet, since he had never learned to read; furthermore, he wanted to nap. This he made clear by periodically screwing up his face into a huge yawn.
Mr. Neti, 38, pressed on earnestly, suggesting that he could demonstrate the internet’s potential by Googling the history of the Gond tribe, to which they both belonged. Since acquiring a smartphone, Mr. Neti couldn’t stop Googling things: the gods, Hindu and tribal; the relative merits of the Yadav caste and the Gonds; the real story of how the earth was made.
Access to this knowledge so elated him that he decided to give up farming for good, taking a job with a nongovernmental organization whose goals include helping villagers produce and call up online content in their native languages. When he encountered internet skeptics, he tried to impress them by looking up something they really cared about — like Gond history.
His uncle responded with half-closed eyes, delivering a brief but comprehensive oral history of the Gond kings, with the clear implication that his nephew was a bit of a good-for-nothing. “What does it mean, Google?” his uncle said. “Is it a bird?””
This is a wonderful, fabulous piece. Thank you Ellen Barry.
It reminds me of the funny sad movie about the coke bottle dropped on a tribe of aborigines in Australia: “The Gods Must be Crazy.”
Having smart phones with internet drop into villages, such as you have described, and I saw during my month hiking in Nepal, will change these people. Many of the remote villages of Asia are living in what to us would be roughly the 13th century.
There is a tragic comedy taking place, as poor illiterates around the world gain access to technology and education, only to learn that the climate change and over population which is making their lives often diminish or die off, affect mostly the very poor everywhere in the world, while the worst pollution is by the haves, not the have nots.