We are all familiar with technology and most of the time we mean high technology – digital technology in corporated in computers and telecommunications devices – whenever we say technology. But the term technology is not limited to high technology alone. Indeed, technology is any knowledge about how to do things. It is know-how that is often embedded in artifacts such as computers and cameras and cars, but it is not limited to them. Technology is also know-how embedded in processes. For instance, the knowledge of how to make fertilizer from biomass is also technology. It is know-how that combines inputs in a certain way to produce output.
It is good to have know-how, or technology. But one can get enarmoured of what one understands and seek to apply that understanding indiscriminately. As the saying goes, to a person with a hammer, every problem appears to be a nail. Besides the know-how, for successful application of technology or knowhow, there are two other important bits. First is the know-what and the second the know-why. Without the other two bits, know-how is sometimes worse than useless.
To take a specific example, consider the information and communications technology (ICT) and its application to developing economies. For the most effective use of ICT for development, one has to understand what the nature of the developing economy is, what are the failures that plague the system, etc. We have to know what the system is all about. Then we have to understand why the system is the way it is. That is, we have to also have know-what and know-why. Only then can the ICT know-how be applied to the problem of economic development.
There are numerous ventures seeking to apply ICT to rural economies around India. A study of these projects is important for us understand their know-what, know-why, and know-how. We can learn from them and emulate their successes and avoid their mistakes. To do that, we are embarking on a field trip to visit projects around Andhra Pradesh around September 22nd. In the next few days, we will finalize our plans.