Atanu Dey On India's Development

Myths, Misconceptions, Misunderstandings, and Misapprehensions

To confront the cliches and shibboleths of one’s age is neither easy nor rewarding. The emperor’s new clothes exist only in the imagination of those committed to maintaining an obvious falsehood for fear of falling out of favor. I believe it is time that we examine some of the ICT related myths that drape the development emperor. I will categorize them as myths, misunderstandings, misconceptions, and misapprehensions and number them randomly. I may even intersperce them with some facts.

Misapprehension #78: There is a digital divide and it is the cause of retarded development. Hence, if we bridge the digital divide, development will occur.

The reference is to the fact that broadly speaking, the rich have computers and cell phones and the poor do not. No argument there: the rich have not just that, but they have cars, and airconditioners, and washing machines, and toilets, and medicines, and excess food. So what is so astonishing about them having more digital gizmos? And why is that digital divide more important than the other scores of divides such as the air-conditioner divide or the toilet divide or the food divide?

Fact #84: ICT is neither necessary nor sufficient for development.

The rich countries developed long before the fathers of digital revolutions were born. There are many reasons why developed nations developed and when and how they developed; and none of those reasons have anything remotely to do with the digital domain.

Misconception #12: ICT is the cause of development.

The confusion between causes and effects is rampant. Part of the time it is a simple confusion between correlation and causation, such as when two things frequently occur jointly, the tendency is to believe that one is the cause of the other. But even when there is a causal link between two features, one cannot randomly assign one as the cause and the other to the effect. Confusing the cause for the effect is a distressingly common occurrence.

Why the confusion? Number of reasons, really. First, plain old fashioned inability to think through the issue.

Second, laziness. Even if one is capable of thinking, it is harder to think things through rather than to jump to a convenient conclusion.

Third, even if one is not inclined to be lazy, there is the hurry to get on the bandwagon lest one gets left out on the sidewalk. So what, one may ask, is going on in the bandwagon rolling through town with the cry ICT for Development, All Aboard! Where do did they start off from and where are they headed to?

The ICT for development bandwagon starts off in Cart-Horse-ville. There people put the cart before the horse. They notice that developed (rich) countries use a lot of ICT. Ergo, they reason, ICT causes wealth. It is no use telling them that it is because that they are rich that they can afford all the digital gizmos and not the other way around. It is no use telling them that in developed countries with high wages (and labor shortages), labor saving capital-intensive goods will be cheap relative to labor and hence they would use ICT more intensively.

Analogically, one can present the case this way: in developed countries, lots of people have cars, while in poor countries very few people have cars. So they reason that cars make people rich. Ergo, they conclude, that for poor people to become rich, all they need is cars.

The horse of the cart-horse confusion is dead and there is no point in flogging it any further. So I will close this one here.

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