The tea stall has always been a favorite to know about the surroundings.
(Image courtesy of Happy Horizon Studios)
Growing up in a small city, I came to know about my immediate world mostly through family, friends and neighbors. I learned from my parents the regular fare for an auto-rickshaw from home to school and back. A neighbor recommended a grocery store, known for selling unadulterated foods at reasonable prices, and over time we became loyal customers and family friends to the store owners. When we inquired about good tailors, our family friends mentioned they all had different favorites to suit their styles. We sought references from close friends when we needed to consult specialist doctors.
It was a fine human network for gaining information about the surrounding world. The people were the “store-houses” of information, and the key to gaining information was to know the “right” person. Of course, much of this information becomes commonplace after years of habitation in one location. For anyone new to the locality, access to information depended on how quickly their social network was built and how “resourceful” the network was. An individual’s knowledge base grew organically as they continuously added to it through discovery, recommendations, or through their own experiences.
Discovering information through human networks and searching information using directories of information pools.
Contrast this with the way I got to learn things in the USA. While navigating inside my university as a grad-school student, I relied on university maps on boards at various junctions. Later, while planning to buy a car, I looked into the Craigslist to find a suitable used car and later checked with the KBB to get a price estimate. The fact that the information is structured and standardized offered convenience to make an independent choice. Beyond this, Yelp was always extensively used to find services, restaurants and shops, with their user reviews and recommendations helping in making a guided choice. It's a safe assumption that anything not found in the digital environment may not be in the physical.
Map mounted at a junction in downtown Austin helps in navigating. Also, related information can be discovered through QR codes on Walking Papers.
This contrast is appearing to fade out. There are more consolidated information listings available in public domain in India and most of these have digital presence. The most popular mobile applications downloaded are Justdial, followed by Zomato and Indian Rail info. On the other hand, new applications like Foursquare, Foodspotting, and Path emerging from the Silicon Valley indicate a trend towards discovering local information though social networks.
The human network in India is integral and essential to gaining comprehensive information on a given subject. A few weeks back, I saw an ice cream cone maker watching a Hindi movie on his mobile phone screen. It was intriguing to see him engrossed in the 2" screen while routinely making cones. He explained how he downloaded the movie on his handset. He purchases an affordable datapack for his phone from a talk-time recharge dealer, searches for a torrent of the movie and downloads using the UC Browser (a mobile browser with advanced compression technology that reduces the data costs). His friends told him about the software and the links. What a perfect user experience of movie watching and all information discoveries through people!
While there will be more listings of information in the years to come, it will be interesting to see how the existing rich human network continues to play a crucial role in the discovery and search of information.