Atanu Dey On India's Development

Mud-wrestling with Pigs

“ICT for Development” seems to be all the rage these days. One cannot turn anywhere without being bombarded with the conventional wisdom that ICT will solve all developmental problems, so much so that people have begun to employ the idiotic shorthand “ICT4D” without so much as a beg-your-pardon.

I appear to wage a solitary battle against that sort of foolishness. I am perfectly willing to grant that the use of ICT could definitely remove some information imperfections that prevent rapid economic growth and development in backward economies. But it is silly to attempt a technological fix to problems that are definitely not technical. Information imperfections are not the only barriers to growth. There are others that are far more important and those have to do with the culture, the institutional infrastructure, the physical infrastructure, etc. If those other barriers are not addressed as well, merely putting PCs in rural areas will not achieve much.

But the opinion that ICT will magically transform economically backward regions is widely held. In fact, I am persuaded that precisely because it is a widely held belief that one should start to suspect it. Bertrand Russell warned:

[T]he fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.

Anyway, I struggle on. It is a futile endeavor, like mud-wrestling with a pig — it is a waste of time because you cannot win and the pig enjoys it. Or even, to put it another way, like trying to teach a pig to sing: it cannot be done and it annoys the pig.

  • Saurabh

    What is wrong with people exploring this particular area? The issue is raising important debates that were not even existing a decade ego. Obviously, ventures like ITC’s do not just fit into the framework of “ICT4D” buzz. People like C.K.Prahalad (his new book) and Ken Kenniston already began exploring some of the issues mentioned by you. With the time and process involved and lots more of experimentation, it would become necessary to zoom in on the specific issues. I think, while implementing or debating any ICT related issue its not like “only ICT for development”, i am sure people realize and debate othe issues too with new experiments. Atleast there is room for debate, scope of innovation otherwise what it was a decade ago.

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  • http://apunkadesh.blogspot.com/ Apun Ka Desh

    Well…i am commenting on a post dated way back 2004 – and see – the post remains valid even today!

    India’s Education Problems are not technical as the writer of this post has pointed out… just the way an addtional Cess this year ostensibly for Education will not make more people literate, ICT or Laptops are not going to solve anything.

    The silly planners forgot to note that – last year – the cess was 2% on education, and 50% of that money collected is lying unused in govt. coffers. So what do they come up with! And addtional 1% cess …. ahahaha.