R Srinivasan

Beyond selfies

R Srinivasan | Updated on January 22, 2018

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Silicon Valley’s real enablers are liberalism and tolerance

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second visit to the US may not have had the rock concert atmospherics of the first, but he did have plenty to pack in his goodie bag before leaving Silicon Valley, which has now become a generic term for innovation and enterprise itself. Google’s promised wifi in 500 railway stations, Qualcomm’s going to pump $150 million into Indian startups, Microsoft’s promised to help reach broadband to 500,000 villages — and Mark Zuckerburg changed his profile picture. But should this be what the PM is taking away?

It’s not as if he doesn’t recognise the transformative power of technology. That’s why he went there in the first place. Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs can help drive his twin dreams of ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’. And, as he made it abundantly clear, he wants them here. “Countries have money but do not know where to invest. I am giving them the address. Here is the place,” he told them.

But are a postcode and a red carpet enough to recreate a Silicon Valley in India? The beguiling billions made by those who have won through to success perhaps obscure the real factors that make Silicon Valley what it is: America’s culture of liberalism, tolerance and egalitarian participation, which has attracted the world’s finest talent to come there to chase its dream. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, as of 2012, 51 per cent of Valley residents spoke a language other than English at home. One-third of all Valley startups are owned by Indians. And there are more Chinese and Filipinos in the Valley than Indians.

Contrast that with the rising intolerance and blatant attempts to push a majoritarian view back home. Certainly not the environment in which misfits — the geeks and nerds who power the Valley are almost by default social misfits — thrive. More than Valley millions, what we need is perhaps its culture of tolerance.

R Srinivasan, Senior Associate Editor

Published on September 28, 2015

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