The Flat World: Peculiarities of the Internet

“Hey Anand, congratulations, you have been shortlisted for the Thiel fellowship. We’ll send you an itinerary for your travel to San Francisco. And we look forward to welcoming you here and hearing about your business plan…” a lady working for Peter Thiel (investor behind Facebook, Paypal, Twitter, Linkedin) told me on the phone in late April this year.

The story gets twisted, but before I proceed with the narration, I’d like to digress slightly.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written six books under the theme “the world is flat.” I’m sure most of you must have figured that concept out for yourselves by now, through some way or the other. Whether be through your connections all over the country and world on Facebook, the news/opinions available to you 24/7, Skype chats, or perhaps even the information people tweet from random corners of the world. At the macro level, the very idea of trade and intercontinental commerce is feasible because of the internet. For instance, it makes sense for Nike to have multiple factories around the world only because strategic and logistical information can be relayed within seconds using the internet.

All that is good and established. My story, however, highlights some of the peculiar implications of the “flatter world,” as they occurred in my own life. Let me start from the very beginning.
I remember vividly as I googled my name in 2006. Even with the junk Google gives you when you search for a name, I was surprised at the number of people I shared my full name with. Interestingly enough, in the pool of namesakes, one online profile stood out. That of an Anand Gupta in Palo Alto who was in the same freshman high school class as mine. Here I was musing thousands of miles away in an Indian city called Pune. “OK” I noted.

By 2010, Anand Gupta was a freshman at Harvard, and was interested in entrepreneurship, much as I was myself. What are the odds that you can not only observe but also get connected to a namesake who is the same age, and shares similar interests with you? Whatever the odds, it can get quite confusing.

When Peter Thiel launched his Thiel Fellowship in 2010 that encouraged students to drop-out of college for the love of entrepreneurship, I applied, didn’t make the final cut, and forgot about it. But I was now a data point on their records. For the second season, the other Anand Gupta applied and impressed the venture capitalist with his idea. Peter Thiel, probably in the forgivable miscalculation of not accounting for the miniscule odds, mixed up the records and decided to give me a call instead.

“…Oh wow, sure, yeah, thanks,” I responded to the lady talking to me on his behalf, “I look forward to seeing you all in Silicon Valley.” Then, as I hung up, I wondered why such things were happening to me. Suddenly, I remembered my namesake, now living in Boston, and thought, “what if…?” “..Woah!” My suspicions were later confirmed.

In fact, nowadays people searching for him bump onto my personal website (try googling Anand Gupta). Since I’ve made my contact details available, I got a call from a high school friend of Anand’s in Palo Alto a month ago: “Hey so good to finally get in touch with you,” she said, not waiting for me to respond, “By the way, why does your number show as Maryland and not Massachusetts?”

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