The Jig Saw

Monday, March 14, 2005

Is technology a solution?

The current issue of the Economist has a cover story on mobile phones and economic development and it reads,

"..the debate over the digital divide is founded on a myth—that plugging poor countries into the internet will help them to become rich rapidly."

Is the intention 'quick money' in the villages or is it using ICT as a medium to bridge the gap of income, development and literacy? Isn't it about providing access to basic services that currently the villagers don’t have easy access to? Isn't it a way of providing training and jobs, of letting the villagers know where the world is and what they can do if they have access to technology?

The article further adds, "The benefits of building rural computing centres, for example, are unclear. Rather than trying to close the divide for the sake of it, the more sensible goal is to determine how best to use technology to promote bottom-up development. And the answer to that question turns out to be remarkably clear: by promoting the spread not of PCs and the internet, but of mobile phones."

Mobile phone solves a different need - instant communication! They don't provide educational tutorials for children, ecommerce for farmers or vet service in the village.

Technology isn't a solution but only an enabler .. to make them connect with the world outside and hunt for opportunities best for them ..opportunities that you and me can't think of ..but those that will change their lives.


  • I haven't read the article in the economist. (I know I should be reading it before i post this) However, after reading the cut on your blog, I agree with you. Cell-phones arent the final answer. They are a tool, a cost effective tool but not quite the holy grail for rural India.

    The India Today magazine carried a very interesting article on how ITC is using the internet (using VSATs if I am right) to revolutionise the way business is done in rural india. I remember reading it in the 1st/ 2nd week of december. Unfortunately, I'm not in India right now so can't tell you exactly which one it was.

    I agree with you that technology is an enabler. For now. Later it will be a necessity. It is difficult to foresee how technology can be used for education in the rural areas on a consistent basis. The costs involved will prohibit that for some time to come. What the technology can do on the other hand is to provide avenues for better business and higher profits for those very people. Hopefully, this will bring about development in the long term. Good education requires good infrastructure. In a socialist economy, technology can be expected to provide such education because the government can be expected to spread the cost. In a capitalist economy, the users will have to bear the costs. In the present situation its clear that it wont happen.
    What the article in India today pointed out is that ITC is using technology in such a way that it benefits the farmers and traders (I think they provide terminals at no cost) and it also benefits ITC.
    What ITC provides through the computer terminals is information. Basic services cannot be provided by the internet. On that issue, India will have to jump the curve which it is doing. To expect basic services to be provided by the providers of communication tech such as the internet is not practical. For that Indians will have to learn to pay their taxes, stop being corrupt, stop discrimination on every different point of classification and realise their responsibilities. We're a long way away from that.

    The bottomline : If it makes money, it will happen. What we can hope for is that the money made from the use of technology will translate into a better future.

    By Blogger Balkrishna, at 11:44 AM  

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