Growing awareness of the digital divide spurred several initiatives by the developed world and the international organizations responsible for development, including the United Nations Development Program UNDP and the World Bank. The DOT Force, composed of representatives of G-8 and developing countries, as well as members of industry and nongovernmental organizations, was asked to make concrete recommendations for fostering policy, regulatory, and network readiness; improving connectivity; increasing access and lowering cost; building human capacity; and encouraging participation in global e-commerce networks.
The private sector also stepped up. Cisco Systems in partnership with the ITU set up Internet training centers for students and ICT and telecommunication professionals in the developing world. The increasing international attention to the digital divide has moved to the forefront a key policy question—just how significant is the divide for the overall prospects for developing countries, and what role should closing that gap play in overall development strategies?
Four characteristics of ICT make it an attractive element of any strategy to meet development challenges. First, ICT is highly versatile.
Second, ICT can help transcend barriers of geography. It allows individuals and entities anywhere in the world access to the same information without the time and cost associated with physical transportation, an advantage substantially enhanced by the advent of wireless and satellite communications, and voice-over-Internet protocol long-distance service. Finally, it facilitates the transfer of know-how across the full spectrum of knowledge, allowing developing countries to reap productivity gains and harness state-of-the-art technology.
Several problems have nevertheless impeded the widespread adoption of ICT in the developing world and led to some deep disillusionment. Images of unused computer screens in rural schools and telecenters attest to good intentions gone awry. Assessing the potential value of ICT in supporting development requires addressing the three different channels through which it could work: its inherent worth in bringing new ideas to those outside the global mainstream; its part in helping to achieve specific development objectives; and its role in fostering broader economic development.
First, ICT has enormous potential to enrich the lives of people everywhere—regardless of any instrumental role it may play in meeting broader development needs. These technologies can help bring ideas and experience to even the most isolated, opening to them the world outside their village, town, and country—including family members and friends who have moved away. It also allows their experience to be shared with the world at large, at the tap of a keystroke or the touch of a cell phone keypad.
The case for including information technology in development strategies would be strong even if it contributed little to explicit development goals. ICT can also empower individuals to participate in the social and political institutions of their community, giving voice to those who have traditionally been excluded. Health care workers in more than countries, for example, are using Health Net to bring needed expertise and help deliver health services in underserved, often remote communities.
The contribution of ICT is not confined to Internet-related projects: radio- and telephone-based services, for example, are making real contributions in areas such as training for health workers in Uganda and Kenya.
Third, in the end the key to self-sustaining development is economic growth. Although supporters have a strong intuitive sense that ICT can make a significant contribution to economic growth by increasing productivity, the empirical evidence remains somewhat uncertain. Anecdotal evidence suggests that effective use of ICT does, at least under some circumstances, make a difference.
In the first place, it can provide an important source of income.
Even more important in the long run, however, ICT can strengthen overall productivity in developing countries by increasing efficiencies and technological competitiveness and by linking local producers to global markets. A recent study analyzing the positive impact of access to telephones on income in rural China has helped further our understanding of the ways in which ICT can contribute to overall development.
Although getting each element right can make a significant contribution, an integrated strategy offers the best promise for greatest gain. A key to success is to bring together all the stakeholders—government, the local private sector, and civil society, as well as the donor community—both to develop the plans and to oversee their implementation. How can the developed world help developing countries make effective use of ICTs?
The lesson of the s was that simply providing technology will have marginal impact. This supply-side approach has led to inflated expectations and mistrust that the purveyors of the technology care more about opening markets than helping the poor.
Rather, the idea behind mainstreaming ICT into a broader development context is to seek ways to leverage ICTs to achieve core objectives. Sharing expertise such as training programs for policymakers and regulators in the developing world and best practices is often more valuable than the hardware itself.
When driving around the village there is no real need for a formal system of road rules because the potential complexity of traffic is not very great and any potential situation can be addressed using common courtesy among friends when it arises. But if you live in a city with a million cars then you need to have rules to govern what to do at intersections and so on in order to avoid the economic and human cost of multiple traffic accidents.
The connection between technology and political structures has worked in this way for most of history. Any technology which increases the number and complexity of social interactions consequently leads to more rules and control being required over a society. To enforce these laws a bureaucracy and some sort of coercive capacity — police and military - are needed.
This book challenges the widely-held view that the information technology (IT) revolution has empowered people in the Third World. Tracing the making of the. Third World Citizens and the Information Technology Revolution. By Nivien Saleh . New York: Palgrave Macmillan, p. $ - Volume 11 Issue 3.
To fund these, a source of income — taxation — is needed. To raise taxes you need good infrastructure and bureaucracy.
To protect your investment in the infrastructure and technology you need more military. And so on until you reach the point where you have territorially defined states exerting what Max Weber famously described as a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within their borders. While the ways in which the laws within these states are created and decided has changed significantly with the rise of representative democracy, the functions of the state itself are no different in a democracy like Finland or dictatorship like North Korea.
The step from state to nation-state is to claim the legitimacy of the state in question is built upon the people it governs' connection to the land it controls through shared culture and history. The internet and its associated technologies have changed the functions of the state in one crucial way — they have created a space that is not physical territory where complex social interactions take place.
The internet is largely, as political scientists would call it, ungoverned space. And although there are constant fears from some quarters that the governments will rein in the internet, and they do in countries such as Iran and China to some extent, the fact that a website like Silk Road can exist indicates the difficulties facing states attempting to govern cyberspace. Fundamentally the methods of controlling a physical space cannot be translated into controlling a nonphysical space like the internet.
Even if this is true, however, there is a limit to how much the power of the state can be eroded. Regardless of the reach of the internet into our daily lives we are physical beings and we live in a physical world. The control of states over the physical aspect of our social interactions and I mean this on a large scale: the production of goods and services, the protection of property rights etc. It is not inherently the best tool for the job in this case the governing of large complex capitalist societies but because it gained an early dominance over other potential options it has become embedded as the way things are done.
In a similar way, the more states claim legitimacy through their appeal to nationalism the more other states will do so as well as they will fear losing their own power and legitimacy to nationalist movements. While the keyboard is a practical tool, the nation-state is primarily ideological.
However as mentioned earlier, international law in the form of the United Nations Charter has also effectively made it a legal necessity as well. That peoples have the right to self-determination may sound self-evident but even this could be interpreted differently, if you were willing to accept self-determination within a broader state framework. Nonetheless, as the current drive for Scottish independence proves, it is hard to convince any one nation that they should give up their claim to statehood when so many other nations already lay claim to states as well. At the same time, attempts to create pan-state or trans-state governance structures like the EU or ASEAN appear to have stalled with the global economic crisis which has also seen the re-emergence of nationalist political parties in much of Europe.
Even the banal nationalist fervour of nation-state based spectacles such as the Olympics show how embedded the concept is in our collective psyche. The nation-state is a key economic construct as well, allowing the exploitation of resources and the trade of goods and services at scales unthinkable without the infrastructure and legal creations of nation-states. Even though transnational corporations and global trade appear to stand as antithetical to nation-states in reality the existence of multiple different nation-states helps large corporations by allowing competition for corporate tax rates and banking laws.
The connection between transnational corporations and the national is less strong, but national identities are reinforced through media output and corporate branding and marketing which exploit them for commercial gain. The franchising of television shows like The X Factor in different countries is an example of this process at work. Put simply, the concept of the nation-state is entangled with so many aspects of contemporary life that for it to be superseded by another form of socio-political organisation would require a global cultural revolution of almost unimaginable magnitude.
Just because the nation-state appears to be here to stay doesn't mean that there will not be changes to its form brought about by technological advances. I think there is at least one way in which the information technology age might shape the future of the nation-state. Most nation-states are highly centralized, with political decision-making effectively in the hands of a few people - whether they are democratically elected or not. One thing the decentralizing nature of the internet might do to this structure is to decentralize it as well. Previous advances in information technology have drastically changed the world.
To pick a famous example, the printing press opened up an age of scientific, social and political revolution in Europe as ideas could be transmitted quickly and cheaply like never before. As I pointed out earlier, this can be seen as one of the key causes of the creation of the modern nation-state.
I suspect that as our ways of thinking become more used to concepts of decentralized networks rather than hierarchical patterns of control, so the pressure to arrange our political organisations along these lines will also mount. In many ways the trend towards decentralisation is a long one already, as it can be argued that the beginnings of representative democracy and universal suffrage were themselves the steps towards removing the control of the state from a centralised elite.
Continuing in this vein Twitter and Facebook have been credited with at least partially driving the Arab Spring, and it is undeniable that there is potential for a whole new way of facilitating political change through information technology by way of networking, engaging, and sharing information with a wide range of people and organisations outside of the physical realm. The nation-state as an underlying concept to the way we order our social and political lives may endure for the foreseeable future but the way in which the state itself is governed still has a wide scope for evolution and development as new technologies continue to change the way people engage with and interact with information and each other.
That's just the tip of the iceberg: we've got many more leads to chase down.
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