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Ravi Gupta

Technology takes great pride in initiating paradigm shifts from tradition and creating the perfect conditions to break through the barriers between experts and non-experts in innumerable domains. User-friendly technology has expanded the base of users. In several instances the common man is also directly or indirectly playing a role in the realm of ‘creation’ of technology. The makers of Google Earth have been working on the idea of creating tools, which will aid the common man to not only view a map but also make necessary corrections to the same without being trained in the science of map creation. Indeed a revolutionary thought!

However one can’t help remembering several instances in history when the common man has actually shaped the establishment of important milestones in spite of not being formally ‘trained’ in a particular field. In the last half of the nineteenth century, the British Survey of India faced major challenges in mapping lands that lay beyond Tibet as the emperor of China had closed the Tibetan border to foreigners. At that time Thomas G. Montgomerie from British Survey of India initiated an alternate agenda to achieve this task by sending in Indians, disguised as itinerant lamas to map the ‘forbidden land’! Innovative methods were employed to complete the survey by these ‘untrained scientists’! For instance they were given rosaries, with 100 beads instead of the traditional 108 to keep track of the number of paces they took. After every 100 paces, one bead would be clicked, so a complete circuit of the rosary represented 1000 paces, or five miles. In this manner they were to keep track of distance.

The boundary between the ‘experts’ and the ‘non-experts’ has been fuzzy for a long time. The tremendous advancements in the realm of technology offer greater opportunities for this boundary to become fuzzier, thus breaking monopoly and enabling a fusion between end users and technology creators – enhancing the overall value for the community as a whole. Let us look forward to many more such ‘disguised lamas’ appear in the future to add value to areas outside their formal domain of knowledge.

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