Book 243: Geek Nation by Angela Saini

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Geek Nation: How Indian Science Is Taking Over The World by Angela Saini

Finished reading on December 3rd, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Could India be considered a Geek Nation? If you’ve watched “3 Idiots”, maybe you already do. In “Geek Nation”, Saini brings out some aspects of Indian culture, history, educational system, etc looking at both sides of the argument for and against considering India a “Geek Nation”.

I’ll start out by writing why You might consider reading it:

  • To understand how few powerful educated people can lay the groundwork for massive change in a country’s literacy rate, adopting new technology in a variety of ways
  • To see why one can’t consider scientific and technological challenges in India and in other countries the same because of a difference in scale

There are more reasons, of course, but lets get to the specifics.

First we need to be on the same page when it comes to the definition of “Geek”. In Saini’s book she sees it so:

“[..] To me, at least, geekiness is all about passion. It’s about choosing science and technology or another intellectual pursuit […] and devoting your life to it. History’s ultimate geeks are the men and women who sacrificed their lives on the altar of science, risking failure to pursue an obsession.” Angela Saini

In Saini’s book the obsession is obvious in several cases, but not always in the pro-technology and science part. Quite a sizable part of the books shows how an unknown sizeed part of India really can’t be seen as “Geek Nation”.

Saini brings out for example the Indian Institutes of Technology, which came about at a time when Jawaharlal Nehru’s government took a straight route to increasing literacy, establishing schools of higher learning, and also educating the rural population using interesting technological solutions for it.

To a western reader – IIT-s are in a way the top engineering schools in India – you’d want to study there either because you’re really into science and engineering, or because you want to have a high-paying job after graduation, or because you want to continue your studies somewhere abroad. Although at first the popularity might seem like a sign of a immersive geek friendly education system in India, as Saini points out – it seems that mostly IIT is attended rather by people who might be slightly lacking in a certain type of passion and in Saini’s words are rather “drones” than “geeks”.

If we look further than the school system, we see that science and technology in India face very different problems due to large population, bureaucracy and influences from religion and tradition.

This book gives a glimpse into what kind of vision Nehru had for India, what some leading entrepreneurs and scientists have in mind and how their hard work is opposed at some level by activists and religious institutions.

It’s definitely worth reading.

Saini goes on to explore for example the Indian Space Program, the search for a cure for tuberculosis, research on bananas that would stay fresh longer, and how thorium might in the future be an important source for energy in India and elsewhere, but we also encounter and anti- GMO activist and researchers working on how the Vedas might have scientific information hidden in their metaphors.

There are definitely two sides to the story- one being the leading, young generation Y working on tech and science that could if implemented improve the lives of millions of people, but then there’s the other, more religious and traditional side, that puts value on small farms, traditional agricultural methods that might leave people without their livelihood due to harsh weather, and crop varieties  that have been traditionally cultivated, but would eventually leave the people to starve because of pests.

It is interesting how Saini brings out the fact that religion is on the rise among the better educated population and how it might be because of their education that there’s a lot of effort hoing into trying to show how ancient texts contain knowledge about science and technology that Western science is discovering only now.

It is a very interestingly crafted book, and it doesn’t give s certain answer as to wether India really already is a Geek Nation or not, but there certainly seems to be activity in both directions- towards a more geek culture with e-governance, but also a more hesitant or even resentful part, that sees technology and science as a force that will split the population up even more than it is right now due to various reasons.

 

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