Emerging Technologies: Panacea for the poor?

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Emerging Technologies (ETs) are being seen as the new panacea for all the ills in developing countries. It is being said that these technologies are going to create a knowledge society for all. ‘Pervasive Networking’, ‘Inter-operability’, ‘Web 2.0’ etc. are becoming the buzz-words of this optimism. So what exactly is the knowledge society? The important question that is often not asked is who exactly is going to control the knowledge society. Is the knowledge society going to be fundamentally different and end state repression and police brutality?  There are serious doubts being raised about the efficacy of such claims, as are being made about the capabilities of these new technologies to bring about a fundamental transformation in the current world order.

It is being said that networking will unleash the voices of the marginalised onto the mainstream and therefore be heard. However, there are serious doubts about how the Internet is going to foster a political culture when most of the usage statistics suggest that political action over the Internet is confined to the symbolic and that exceptional organisation of political opposition to state policies only go on to prove the rule. The IPR regime is as stable as ever. Is Internet publishing on its way to seriously challenging the hegemony of the copyright dogma? Are new technologies going to ensure that the public-private paradigm of development is not going to be malleable to the design of special interests?

Also there is an urgent need to investigate the international agenda of improving digital infrastructure.  Who should this infrastructure service? It has to be ensured that infrastructure investments are made with the common man in mind and not just helpful to an elite class. How are the new technologies going to be used in the service of alleviating gender based oppression and violence which is at an alarming level in India? Also, although new technologies are said to revolutionise education, one needs to ask questions of curriculum design. We need to ask how new technologies are going to help in checking communalism that is on the rise. As of now it is seen that the benefits of the IT revolution are restricted to a certain class of people. How are policy makers going to ensure that the benefits are evenly distributed?

We need a social science of the digital world. We need a development humanities of the digital world. We need to stay clear of ultra-optimistic and deluded forms of utopian thought. We need to examine how existing forms of democratic governance can be strengthened with help from these new technologies. There is an urgent need for public service delivery to improve and new technologies do propose a solution. We need to see how public services can be made available to citizens without the unending red-tape that plagues government service delivery. This is an imperative, so that the idea of using new technologies for development does not end up on the famished road or remain bloated in its ego with no real change in the real world.

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