The Machine that changed the world

This Post is in continuance of a previous post that can be found here.

Guns or Butter

Though I have tried to make each post independent of each other, they have a common thread running through them as does most things in this world. I laboured on this point only because that sets the mood for what I wanted to discuss. What do you think is the connection between your wrinkle free clothes that repel water, your light and fancy cell phone and your powerful SUV. You would be surprised to know that it is the ubiquitous Model T of Ford.

Woodrow Wilson said in 1906 “Nothing has spread socialistic feeling in this country more than the automobile”. I wouldn’t know if he really understood the full impact of the Automobile Revolution when he said that. There were only 3 things that were needed for an Automobile Revolution. First a reliable, manageable car that was not very expensive. Second good, motorable roads. And last, easy availability of fuel. In 1915 there were less than 2 1/2 million cars registered in the United States. By 1920 there were over 9 million; by 1925, nearly 20 million; by 1930, over 26 1/2 million.

Automobiles changed the way the world lived. Roads became broader, longer. People could afford to move to suburbs as travel became easier. Sidewalks, traffic signals were invented to handle the chaos that would have otherwise happened. But there were other major spin off. Extremely major. The thirst for fuel. As the number of vehicles grew and as they became more reliable people started commuting much longer. More and more Crude oil was pumped out of the earth and refined. Gasoline or Petrol as we call it was used to drive vehicles but the rest of the Crude Oil had to be disposed off. This started a chain of discoveries that started the whole *Chemical Industry*  – the petrochemical industry. The two World Wars added to the urgent need to find better and better products.

Simultaneously the Auto Industry had the need to reduce the weight of the cars while they had to make it more sturdier. Better engineering and use of plastics helped them achieve it. It was natural that Plastics came from the crude that also supplied the petrol. Obviously the technologies were put to other use also. Some of the plastics were capable of forming long thin chains used in making fibers that could also be used in clothes.  The Automobile revolution came to India in the eighties when Maruti was revived. Simultaneously the Two Wheeler revolution happened.

But what has this got to do with the *Telecom Revolution*? We hear everyone and their aunt, talking about the Telecom Revolution and how the Government brought it. Government had a major role. Undeniable. But if it was only in hands of Government I dont think the explosive growth that we see would have happened. Most would remember the high costs associated with BSNL. But today calls have become much cheaper. This is associated with the policies of Government and opening up of the sector to numerous private players. BUt would this have been possible if *Mobile Phones*had not become cheaper. A classic case of Chicken and Egg. But this seems to have been broken. If so by whom?

The first instrument that I owned was a Siemens phone costing Rs. 10,000. A heavy instrument with no great features. Since then I have changed them frequently most of them costing around Rs. 3,000. Now they are available as low as Rs. 1,000. This fueled the Telecom boom. Would that have happened if Instruments were still bulky, costlier? Again, the large sale of mobile phones with cameras has made it possible for the growth and sustenance of the digital camera technology. The same technology used in say Medical Imaging. As you buy more mobile you are funding various industries that change your lives. Each feeds on the other. But in all this where does the Government come in?  To me nowhere.


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