Technology forces us to get stuff that we do not want!

The mainstream internet is about two decades old. It has revolutionised the way we buy things, transact, pay our bills, acquire and disseminate information and the very way in which we spend our time - I see young guys hang out in the park with their friends while constantly staring at their mobile phones!

However, the huge benefits and conveniences have a downside. Technological advancements often force people to get stuff that they do not want.

It is a perhaps a "minority" that are inconvenienced that way and is often used as an excuse to remove choice. But is that enough justification?  Here are some examples.

A Few days ago, I saw an article in the Hindu that said, senior citizens may soon need an Aadhar card to avail railway concession. In the name of preventing misuse, the railways will inconvenience tens of thousands of senior citizens. Should the govt not focus on integrating Pan card, ration card, driving licence, voter ID and other databases so that misuse can be prevented? Just like income based LPG subsidy, this integration will enable income -based reservation or eligibility of SSY (impossible in our lifetime?!)

The point is, the govt wants to leverage Aadhar technology to its benefit and is gradually forcing its citizens to get an Aadhar card in spite of a court judgement!

B The same is true of banks. Although it is not mandatory, banks are "gently" urging its senior citizens to get Aadhar so that life certificates can be issued online. In fact, my mum's banker was not so gentle. He called and said, her pension would be stopped if she did not furnish an Aadhar! Rubbish!

C The internet may be convenient but it is also dangerous. It can be used to steal identities and wealth. This has led to the use of double authentication (DA) techniques. The most commonly used way is to send a one-time password to a mobile number to authenticate a second time.

Thanks to feedback from members at FB group Asan Ideas of Wealth, I was surprised to find that so many banks force double authentication just to login! While some banks require it only for transacting.

A few years ago when SBI implemented DA for the first time, a colleague asked, "why should I have a mobile number just to use an online bank account?" Perhaps most people would dismiss that by saying a mobile number is essential these days. How can anyone not want/have one!

That is not the point. A choice of not wanting a mobile has been done away with for those who want an online bank account!  The same argument is true for an email too!

I am not against DA. It is very essential. In the words of former Google spam chief, Matt Cutts, "the internet is a very bad place"! However, the user must be given a choice about the second mode of authentication - mobile, email, secret question, or any other information that can verify online presence reliably.

Such a choice ensures we have a way into the system if one mode fails - for eg. lost or inaccessible mobile.

D Have you noticed that public telephones have almost disappeared! I have to buy a mobile just because of that else I need to borrow someone else's phone. They have not disappeared in Europe or the US. Do they not use mobiles? Again this is just callousness. The government just assumes that no one will use a public phone just because "most of them have mobiles".  What if I lose my mobile in an unknown location?! Again, choice is the casualty.

lack of choice

E Why are businesses obsessed with apps?  For good reason. According to a report,

As of August 2016, 44 percent of total global web traffic comes from mobile phones — a growth of 6,185 percent in seven short years.

Nothing short of incredible. However, a good 50% still continue to use desktops. Well,  then what baffles me is that why can't I book a Uber or Ola without a smart phone?! Is it so uneconomical or unviable or unprofitable to provide that choice?

Why can't I buy stuff online from a mobile browser instead of downloading an app and possibly allow websites to track my usage for their analytics?

Maybe there are more such examples of businesses and the government wanting to leverage technology to its benefit by removing a deep-rooted option preferred by at least a few. This is as far as my thinking takes me.

I will not be surprised if this post is dismissed as a social misfit ranting away. I write this in the hope that at least a few would agree with me.

Over to you. What do you think?

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16 thoughts on “Technology forces us to get stuff that we do not want!

  1. arun

    Dear Pattu Sir

    I have a basic question. Assume I have an SIP of a period of 3 years of which 1 year is completed and the 2nd year is running. Until today, the SIP has accumulated a total of 2000 units (ie. 1500 units comprising from the 1st year and 500 units from the 2nd year that is current year). Suppose If I stop the SIP today and redeem today 1000 units.

    1. Will the short term capital gain tax be deducted at the redemption by the MF company, as it is considered as less than 1 year or

    2. Should I need to remit the tax at the time of filing the return or

    3. Short Term Capital Gain Tax is not applicable as the 1000 units belong to the 1st Year which is already more than a year. (ie. First In First Out for Redemption logic).

    Please clarify.

    Reply
  2. kamalgarg1958

    1. Please calculate each redemption with the corresponding purchase date. If it is more than 365 days, then, it is LTCG attracting nil tax liability. Otherwise it is STCG attracting 15% tax. Of course, we are talking about equity-oriented mutual fund schemes only.
    2. MF AMCs will not deduct TDS from your redemption proceeds. You have to calculate your tax liability and accordingly add the same in your ATR and pay off your IT dues also accordingly.
    Hope the point is clear.

    Reply
  3. kamalgarg1958

    I perfectly agree with the post.
    If Govt unifies all the digital IDs issued in the country, like, Aadhaar card, Driving License (most of the States issue digital Driving License), PAN card, Election ID card (not digital as of now, but data base can be unified and shared at some central repository. And common citizens can be saved from the hassles of it.
    DA in the form of 'secret questions' is also a good means of DA and not necessarily in the form of OTP only.

    Reply
  4. Rangarajan Tnc

    Come to think of it, the economy is becoming a service economy and more and more complicated. It is no longer roti kapada makan. Even a roti cannot be bought except perhaps in a roadside daba without the service and service tax! All things are bundled as a thing plus service.

    Reply
  5. madascene

    Very poignant article, Pattu. I have thought about this from time to time as well but it seems we have no choice but to march ahead and adjust to the changing times. Senior Citizens in any generation will always be the ones who suffer the most due to changes. Unfortunately, the system is such that if we do not wish conform to the choices provides, we have to go off the grid and outside the system and be self-reliant. If we choose to live within the system, we also have to make do with whatever choices the system provides or forces upon us.

    I agree with the pay phone option wholeheartedly. Why the government thinks they are useless is beyond me. People do lose their phones or forget to take it with them from time to time. In Emergency situations, we need alternatives. A single option means there is no longer a choice.

    Reply
  6. Tim

    Senior citizens sure but what about the poor illiterate of whom we have a sizable number ? If I am irritated every time I step into a bank I cannot imagine how it must feel like to be at the mercy of these people and a system ? An Imperia HDFC account is such a waste (idle money) but at least it slightly cocoons me from some of the irritation but that is only because I have money. At SBI, I still have to write an application to include a cell phone number (parents account) when the parent in physically present along with an id ? Apparently things are all high tech and yet one has to apply in pen and paper (private banks too at least till a couple of years back) for opening an account ? After one year of fighting, I still see a random persons account details when I log into my SBI account ... I hope you get my point.

    I cannot agree more with the professor and the points he raises. There is little respect for choice whether it is for a phone, for a ID, sidewalk on the road. In a sense it is a much dangerous situation compared to the US wherein civil liberties even if threatened are at least on paper guaranteed by the constitution. Free speech here is only notional (be it on the internet or elsewhere). I do not mean extremes in choices like carrying a gun but the question of choice that the professor refers to is important and while I am not a sociologist, I wonder if it might have repercussions on creativity or lack of in this country.

    Thanks for bringing it up and I do enjoy reading your writing, irrespective of whether I agree or not.

    Reply
  7. voxner

    Agree on the app-infestation. I should be able to use a desktop to book a cab ride but I am forced to use the mobile-app. Even e-commerce sites are going that way. I always make sure to use desktop sites if I can to encourage businesses to keep them open.

    Reply
  8. Vivek

    I have seen payphones mainly on the airports in the us. They aren't so easily available elsewhere. Although I still think that payphones should be available easily.
    I hated last year when flipkart could open only on app and not on mobile websites. I stopped shopping on flipkart for this reason. Seems like they have changed that now.

    Reply
  9. Nirav

    Great article as always. Being a tech person myself, both as a contributor and user, I am scared too of it’s evil side.
    App Economy : The way it’s going forward, owning one personal device or two is now a norm. Having an app gives an unlimited access for service providers virtually unimaginable data points about user’s behaviour and consumption patterns. Every data point has it’s monetisation benefits. No wonder discounts are offered on mobile apps than browsers. This trend will continue to grow further posing even deeper problems.
    Blanket Laws: Decision makers are being thoughtless and ignorant about the common sense problems in name of quick progress and growth.I feel opaque governance adds up to this ignorance further. In all developed economies across globe, with 4G cellular speeds, pay phones are always available at all public places like malls, bus stations, train stations,airport etc.. . And there is no single unified forum within our country where these things can be highlighted, listed and acted upon.
    Overall I think senseless implementation of laws and framework without thinking about long term outcome will impact negatively to society than a short term good.

    Reply
  10. lakshminarasimman

    sir
    technology is not the problem
    problem is the forethought afterthought and discipline in implementing the technology that is the problem

    take simple example our town bus. people wanted it to be like singapore level.
    you have automatic door that wont close that is tied by ropes
    you have a stupid led board that half the time wont glow or is not readable. even if it glows by the time you wait to read it fully after scrolling, the driver will move the bus already

    Reply
  11. avinash

    Flipkart became too arrogant about their app and did a mobile only version. Too much of IIM brain at work .Now they have learnt their lesson !!!

    Reply
  12. Prasanna

    Yes. This Aadhar Card system being mandated is really annoying. One of my grandmother is bed ridden and moving her to get an Aadhar card in places such as Chennai outskirts has become so much more difficult. My uncle (he himself is 55+) who is looking after her, have raised a petition / request online to PMO on this about four months ago.
    on a related note ...
    I had been observing how internet based orgs ( G and its various tentacles, FB & whatsapp Tw, and even professional sites such as evernote, linkedin ) is slowly blurring privacy limits and borders and vying for my huge chunk of attention.
    Also ...Flipkart, Amazon, snapdeal, BB, etc etc ...is keen to get into my life and integrate themselves.

    I am interested in drawing a line even if means quitting some services which does not serve my purpose.
    I had been reading many other blogs and once such blog which I would like to share over hear in the hope that it would be of value is by calnewport. ( At 35 he is a tenured professor who has written 3 books which are popular amongst students and academia). Personally I admire his methodologies for 'Deep Work' and how he achieves 'Deep Work which creates real value'

    I would like to share an excerpt from one of his article on Douglas Rushkoff’s provocative new book 'Throwing Rocks at Google Bus' :

    "What caught my attention with respect to our conversation here was the conclusion, implicit in his argument, that many of the features that have built the Internet into a weapon of mass distraction are not intrinsic to the medium, but are instead a side-effect of its cooption as a tool for capital growth.

    That’s a heavy sentence. Let me attempt to unload it…

    .....
    The Internet filled this role. Among other things, it exposed net users’ attention and personal data as an under-exploited resource that could be extracted and sold, and therefore support growth much in the way colonizing a country and extracting minerals from the ground once did.
    As in any extractive industry, the more resources you can mine, the better. This led the way to attention engineering and the general/inevitable push to make applications and sites as addictive as possible.
    This capital-driven push toward maximum addictiveness led to the shiny tangle of apps and infotainment sites that have become the bane of potential deep workers worldwide.

    This is an important distinction.

    When I take a stand against social media, in other words, I’m not taking a stand against the contents of your feed, but am instead taking a stand against these large companies’ insistence that the intrinsic value of my attention should flow into their coffers instead of being directed by me toward deep work on things I find important.

    Rushkoff’s observations, however, do more than fuel righteousness. They also provide hope.

    The Internet can and should be a source of peer-to-peer connection, serendipity, interestingness, and even revenue generation. But we shouldn’t necessarily expect the venture-backed corporations sprinting to generate 100x returns to be the best source of these rewards. "

    Regards,
    Prasanna

    Reply
  13. Abhi

    I agree with the rant and please allow me to rant some of my own.
    Technology has nothing to do with anything you mentioned. On the contrary, technology allows us more choices. Did we have any choice other than to go to electricity department to pay the bill? Now we can do that and pay online as well. Did we have choice of watching a movie at our home before TV or internet? Did we have a choice of getting a taxi by calling/using internet/using smartphone/hailing it by hand-waving before?

    I think we should understand that choice doesn't come separately, it is always combination of choice and the consequences. You can make the choice, but then have to live with the consequences of that. You still have the choice of barter system - just the consequences are not worth the choice. I am pretty sure when paper currency got introduced a lot of people cribbed about it saying now we don't have choice of barter. If all choices throughout the history of mankind were kept alive, humans today would not achieve anything other than mash through them.

    A. When Government forces you to do something, it is not because of technology - it is because it has a monopoly. Technology actually allows data to be collated from different ID cards and create a master repository. Govt has decided that it doesn't want to do that.
    B. Same is true for banks, they are being "nudged" by Govt to push aadhar - technology has no role to play.
    C. DA is very essential and works only when you do authentication with the help of two different devices - all other methods like email (which you are likely to open on same device), secret questions etc are less safe. If one opts for that choice, then one has to live with less security. For banks, it is not worth the risk. Mobile penetration in India is much much more than internet penetration. There would be a tiny percentage of people (I think less than 0.01%) who use internet but do not own a mobile. Any capitalist society would not make efforts to cater to such small audience unless they bring so much business that banks have to listen to them. I guess that is not the case currently.
    D. I don't know about Chennai, but in most of north India, public telephones were never installed to begin with. All we had was STD/PCO booths - not operated by Govt but by people. With mobile coming in, that business became unprofitable and hence disappeared. Same with airline booking agent, passport agents etc. I don't think technology has anything to do with that.
    E. Choices don't mean that one company only should provide all the choices. You can use internet and book meru, dotcabs and so many local taxis. Those are the choices. The reason Uber/Ola is so successful is because I can get down from airplane/railway station/a mall and just order it then and there. Can I do it using conventional internet? Should I call them and then tell them and I don't know my location as I am visiting this city/this part of town first time and then keep calling driver and give my phone to some guy who lives there and has some idea of geography.
    Amazon employs over 1500 people just to make sure their website doesn't go down (Reliability and Availability) - then you need people to develop, maintain, test the website and then big infrastructure to host your servers ensuring security etc. When you think about it, it does cost them a lot of money to offer two options and currently not all money comes only from app, hence they offer both. The cost is slightly lesser in case of an app, hence many companies are experimenting with it. I am pretty sure have Flipkart experiment with app passed, they would also go the same way to compete and save costs. It is much easier to track your location through GPS on your mobile and much better end user experience using app (specially when net speed is slow) on app.

    Bottom line is : Technology or no technology. Businesses and Govt will continue to try and force few things to customers for businesses benefits. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I can't think of any other way to achieve advancement. Even our kids push us to see how far they can take liberties against us. Do we rant against them?

    Henry Ford for cars when it had monopoly: "You can have any color you want, so long as it's black." - is this the case now?

    Reply

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