In the late 1990s, I moved from Delhi to Stanford for a master’s degree in computer science. Getting off the plane in San Francisco, I was ecstatic about the amazing computing power, lightning-fast internet and easy access to knowledge available at an American university. Back home, most people across Asia could only get online at an internet café or over dial-up modems, and internet speeds weren’t great. Computing power was still a luxury.
Today more than 3 billion people, more than half of them in Asia, own smartphones—devices many times more powerful than those top-of-the-line workstations at Stanford I was so excited to use. But despite this huge shift, many of us in the tech industry often find ourselves stuck in a previous way of thinking, where we assume that “computing” is something that starts with the privileged few in places like Silicon Valley and trickles down slowly to everyone else.
This isn’t just an old idea, but one that has become completely wrong.
The future of the internet is in the hands of the next billion users—the latest generation of internet users to come online on smartphones in places like Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Nigeria. As time goes on, the average internet user will be more like these “next billion users” than the first billion who started on PCs. That means we need to look not at Silicon Valley or London but to places like Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Shanghai, Jakarta and Lagos to truly understand where the internet is going.
The next billion users are already changing the internet in three key ways: a mobile-only mindset, an instinct for ubiquitous computing, and a demand for localized content.