“The drive toward complex technical achievement offers a clue to why the U.S. is good at space gadgetry and bad at slum problems. ~John Kenneth Galbraith”
The world as we see today has different layers in terms of technological acceptance and usage. While it is clear that technology seems to be ubiquitous in our everyday life and interactions with the society, it is still unclear how to judge the global impact that it has created. Today, when I stand (literally) in the world and look around me, I see buildings, airplanes, radio towers, automobiles, fancy gadgets, robots, highways, and several other “magical” things that have been possible by rapidly evolving technological advances. On the same breath, when I shift my stance to move to an area in Kiberia (a slum in Nairobi, Kenya) or Dharavi (largest slum in India – Mumbai), I don’t see the same technological wonders anymore. What I see is a desperate reach that current day technology is trying to make and yet falling short. On one side, I see a fully mature city absorbed in the comforts offered by the modern technology which is trying to establish itself as the face of this place, where as on the other side, there is a cry for help where the current technology is insufficient to solve fundamental problems.
Figure 1, illustrates a conceptual thought of how technology spreads across the world. If we consider any focal point where any new technology is innovated, its growth or spread can be visualized as a cloud that engulfs over increasing number of adopters. The pace at which the cloud grows mostly determines how well the technology has been adopted across the world. Growing this cloud effectively is a significant challenge for most businesses that hope to leverage the technological innovation on the basis of which their business is built upon. One method in which the cloud can be expanded is by the use of information and power. By power, I am referring to the ability of a company, organization or a government to wield financial or a massive infrastructure muscle to expand the technology adoption cloud to new areas. As the cloud starts expanding, there is an upper bound beyond which it cannot be expanded. In other words, organizations lose a big chunk of market due to this cutoff. Why is this? What causes this cutoff and puts a stop to the technology adoption?
Normally, when a technology is in initial stages of adoption, information could be a big tool to accelerate its adoption. Information about how the technology can impact and enrich the lives of people could be broadcasted to create awareness about the technology itself, which in turn could significantly increase the adoption. This “spreading of information” could be done through several mediums like advertising, word-of-mouth, marketing, etc.
Information is significant in driving technology adoption until its saturation point. It hits maxima beyond which the increasing information or awareness about a product does not determine its increased adoption in different cultures and societies. Why? In  Postman, argues that lack of information is not the cause for social and economic problems. Further, he correlates information and technology in an interesting manner. According to Postman, technology generates information. Let us consider this point in the context of figure 2. When technology starts expanding around the focal point of its innovation by targeting new areas for its adoption, it needs to drive in more information created because of the expanded cloud. Why should this be true? Let us consider the work of Dewey , where he talks about educative experiences. Dewey says that an educative experience is something that creates a desire in people to want to have more of such experiences. While Dewey talks about this in the context of education, this can be applied to the discussion we are having in this paper. Technology inevitably is a creator of experience. This might appear to be a strong statement in the first glance, but looking deeper, it is a logical conclusion. Every technological innovation has been targeted for use by people in some form or other. Hence, through the interaction a technology invokes from its user, it generates an experience. Whether the user wants to have the experience again and again would determine if the technology cloud really expanded, because these repetitive experiences from the end user are indications of sustenance. Hence, it appears that every technology growth ends up to be a cyclic process where the adoption of the technology itself creates an autonomous channel of information, which can be factored in to grow the cloud further. Naturally, it appears that the cloud should stop growing the moment the technology stops generating the desire for repetitive experiences from its users.
Let us re-visit the Maslow’s hierarchy , but only this time from a bird’s eye perspective. Figure 3 represents the Maslow’s Hierarchy and its bird’s eye perspective. The lower tiers of the hierarchy become the outer circles in this representation/view where as the inner circles become the higher tiers. Relating this representation to our discussion of the technology cloud, we can place the technology focal point in the innermost circle, the highest Maslow tier. This representation can reveal several interesting insights about the growth and adoption of technology among the bottom of the pyramid consumers.
The basic premise of Maslow’s hierarchy is based upon the needs of people. Needs of people would determine the experiences they want to have. For instance, if a need of a person is basic like wanting shelter, the experiences, which result from his interactions with the society, are going to be focused on satisfying his need. Unless this basic existential need is satisfied, other higher experiences are not possible. Now, let us juxtapose the technology cloud on Maslow’s hierarchy. This is shown in figure 4. If a technology innovation comes from the center of “Maslow’s circle”, then it is coming from a higher tier that is looking for an entirely different experience than lower tiers.
As the cloud expands over the lower tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy, the technology starts touching the lives of people and cultures that have different needs and want different experiences. The experience this technology provides can quickly end up not gratifying new adopters who can lose the desire to have repetitive experiences, which would quickly stop the expansion of this cloud.
At this stage, no amount of pumping information from the inside of the cloud can increase the adoption because lack of information is no longer the problem. A parallel thought regarding information can be referenced from Postman’s work . For convenience, let us consider that the technology cloud is able to cover everybody in Maslow’s hierarchy except the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) customers. Prahalad , in
his work, talks precisely about this population and how companies can sell to them. In , Prahalad argues that the dynamics of the BoP markets are significantly different than non-BoP markets. He highlights several case studies where technology made its way to the BoP customers when it empathized with their day-to-day problems. Another interesting point Prahalad makes is the need for a top-down approach. He argues that a billion dollar market exists with the world’s poor if the large corporations start treating them as consumers. Respecting the world’s poorest, according to Prahalad, would determine the technological advances in this market.
To me, it seems like a logical transition for the technology cloud to expand to the lower tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy. However, the dynamics of these different sectors are so radically different that target technology growths should be planned in advance. A late realization from an organization to take an existing technology and fit it into BoP markets won’t work. In such cases, the technology cloud will remain at the saturation point and will not continue to expand.
 Neil Postman, Informing Ourselves to Death.
 John Dewey, The Need of a Theory of Experience
 Abraham Maslow, The Theory of Human Motivation
 C.K. Prahalad, Selling to the Poor