It’s Not about Efficiency

Most Indians don’t want to understand technology. They need technology to understand them. We find evidence of this on the reality television show Kaun Banega Crorepati (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?), in a particular phrase that its anchor, Amitabh Bachchan, used every time he had to record the final answer—“Computerji lock kiya jaaye” (Computer, lock in the final answer”). Ji in India is a suffix of respect. Thanks to this conferred title, a box of cold technology took on a character of authority and respect. Computerji became an unbiased referee, receptacle of much wisdom, who needed to be addressed with words of endearment. Thus the term computerji served two very critical functions required for the credibility of a show like this. If it weren’t a computer, it wouldn’t be impartial; and if it didn’t come with honorific “ji,” it wouldn’t get the respect of an authority.

Computerji as a nomenclature embodies exactly how Indians use technology, putting it to the use that we deem it fit for rather than necessarily what it is designed for. There are many celebrated examples: using the washing machine for churning lassi (a refreshing drink made by churning curd) or using the engine made for farm equipment to power a manual cart (popularly called Maruta) or even using a hair dryer as a packaging tool to shrink-wrap items in plastic. These examples are generally celebrated as a ...

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