ICT availability has increased in urban areas, but do we use it in a manner which draws the maximum benefits?
Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan envisioned, almost 30 years before the internet was invented, a state of electronic interdependence among human beings. In fact, he said in his book, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, that “The next medium [of communication], whatever it is-it may be the extension of consciousness.”
Upon further reading, we see that he describes we see today, is the internet. He knew it was this electronic medium which will lead to retribalisation of the world, which he termed as ‘the global village’. Yes, an oft-used term, which most are not aware of coined by him. and yes, the term was coined before the internet was invented.
The irony is that despite such a scholar’s vision, our country, which is the inspiration for Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, lags behind in using information and communication technologies (ICTs) for optimum benefit to education.
“Forget the internet usage and connectivity that is limited, power usage itself is limited!” says Prof Bhushan. Broadband facilities are not available in all areas. And when there are, the power cuts wash out any plans of using these facilities for any productive work. How can there be any prodcutive output when there is no electricity for six, sometimes eight hours? There are several other infrastructural issues which can be sorted out with minimum intervention if resolved upon, but the resolution is lacking.
According to him, ICTs are a powerful means for digital codification, and would form a revolutionary base of the knowledge economy. With the advent of ICTs, sharing of knowledge across the globe has become extremely easy. Within no time, through open-sharing, new knowledge can be spread across the world. Why isn’t India, as a whole, a part of this revolution or why doesn’t it even incline to be?
In urban areas, the facility is available, but how much of it is being used to enhance, increase or even share knowledge? According to Prof Bhushan, to share knowledge, the proprietary attitude towards knowledge has to be surrendered. Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia, can be cited as a great example of mass participation and sharing.
Along with such surrender, multiple sources of new ideas and experiments, including rural technology innovations, need to be cultivated. If such sources of ideas are combined with encouraging social entrepreneurship, with effective public private partnerships, application of knowledge-economy to diverse areas can be facilitated.
Cloud computing is another example of combining known technology with social entrepreneurship. It enables users to access data and information from a ‘cloud’ of online servers from any computing device connected to the internet. It thus helps in converting fixed costs associated with storing and sharing of information and data to variable costs; and potentially saves on capital and technical man power costs.
Sixth, a great deal of knowledge is organisation, context or location-specific. The challenge is to use it to address specific economic and social needs. India’s heterogeneity can be used to great advantage in discovering and diffusing location specific knowledge to develop more sustainable, relatively less elaborate, production and supply chains. These, in turn, may help increase resilience of local economies to external shocks.