June 06, 2017

Forty eight percent of Indian villagers use the internet daily, for reasons as varied as learning Spanish and English to setting up a business that offers desert safaris. Fishermen in Karwar, Karnataka, use WhatsApp to trade their catches and accept payment through PayTM.

These and many more interesting facts have been highlighted by Digital Desh, whose team has travelled more than 10,000 km to 56 cities, towns and villages to collect stories of Deshruption - how have the internet and smartphones disrupted India's hinterland.

Digital Desh, an initiative of Delhi based tech startup NowFloats, traces the impact of internet penetration in India.

Armed with a camera and a car, the Digital Desh crew explores the country for its 'anti-survey' (called so because of the offbeat research style). The stories hit harder than statistics ever can. "We try to capture the success stories - people who accomplished great things by coming online or where internet has had a huge impact on communities. We have a generic route planned, but we have never stuck to it. Our insights are derived through deep conversations,"says Ishaan Gupta, CEO, Digital Desh.

Step away from the big cities and extraordinary stories start to emerge. Image credit: Digital Desh

Digital Desh's first foray in 2015 was from Amritsar to Kanyakumari, in the second expedition to Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the team found Pawan from Pushkar, Rajasthan, who successfully used TripAdvisor and progressed from working for desert safari operators to owning 400 camels and organising his own safaris. Ritik from Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, learnt Spanish and English using Google Translate to help his father's handicrafts business.

The third survey that concluded this May covered 17 districts in Karnataka, and Ishaan Gupta,Nikhil Salkar and Aakanksha Singh focussed on the impact of demonetisation on various industries in the state and on the use of technology. They found that Net Banking applications and mobile wallets are extremely popular, as are online marketplaces and WhatsApp. SMEs have used web apps to automate many cumbersome processes such as invoicing, and use online marketplaces to sell directly to consumers.

It's not the numbers but the stories that interest Digital Desh Drive. "People are not only using the internet, but they are doing extraordinary things on it. We want to bring these stories out from every corner of the country, and have the results available in every medium - both print and digital so that it is accessible to all," Gupta says.

The findings are available as videos and articles on the Digital Desh website, and are also published as a coffee-table book. Digital Desh 4.0 will focus on North East India.