IT Giant India Has Feet of Chalk

Has information technology arrived in India? I doubt it has.
Notwithstanding the booming software exports, burgeoning BPO services
and mushrooming software parks.

Let us climb out of our fantasy balloons and do a reality check.

Information technology has not affected people’s lives in any
significant way. Apart from a small e-lite segment of the digirati,
most people have no access to a PC and the internet. Nor has
information technology enhanced the quality of their lives. Other than
remix music, Bollywood stunts and special effects, online train
reservations and a few pilot projects in telemedicine, precious little
has happened that touches people’s lives. E-governance has just not
taken off. Public servants and services remain as inaccessible as they
were two decades ago. Information still lies hidden behind a wall of
red tape.

The gloomiest scenario is afforded by our institutions of higher
education. It is ludicrous but true that in most of these institutions
information technology integration has stopped at word-processing,
web-surfing and e-mail. At the level of their structure and
functioning, these institutions have not really assimilated the
technology in a way that would enable them to develop futuristically
and contribute more substantially to the enrichment of people’s lives.
One obvious reason is the apathy of a proverbially conservative
academia and the want of incentives to prompt it to explore the
potential of information technology.

The long-term consequences of this evolutionary arrest could be rather
bad because it is in the universities that the future is supposed to
be shaped. But with most universities sleeping over their foundational
mandate, India may not any time soon outgrow being a digital
post-colony of the West, a softcolony that is geared to directly
benefit the West but not its own people.

And who is to blame? A whole bureaucratic-academic culture (or is it
the lack of one?) that will not see beyond its nose. For instance, no
structures are yet in place to encourage the conception and execution
of long-term transdisciplinary collaborative projects at national and
international levels. More than a tool of information, information
technology has to be an instrument of innovation and leadership. Are
we tapping its immense potential? Aren’t we instead going gaga over
the mere absorption of educated labour?

The extent of assimilation of information technology in a society can
be gauged by the uses to which it is put outside its own domain. In
the social sciences and the humanities, for instance. A distinctive
feature of information technology today is that it nullifies the
distinction of domains between the arts and the sciences, unleashing
with equal force the potential transformative energies in both. But
look at the state of our curricular organization: we firmly keep IT on
the side of the sciences instead of letting it flow freely over the
borders. We have carved out no institutional spaces to accommodate
both the computer programming skills and the expertise in the
humanities and social sciences. Why?

Let us not raise walls where the spontaneous logic of technology has
breached all old boundaries.

In fact, we have yet to systematically begin creating digital archives
of our long and rich heritage and history, which once prepared would
not only redefine the scope and quality of research but also enable
the deployment of intellectual capital more productively and with the
least wastage. Similarly, we have not yet devised a comprehensive plan
for future studies aided by the technologies of simulation and
virtuality in the context of social change, particularly urban
expansion. In disaster management and environmental monitoring too we
have got little to show.

The realization of India’s dream of a pre-eminent position in the
globalised world will depend on more than the quantum of software
exports and the numbers of BPO workforce. It will depend on the
innovative uses to which information technology is put. And it will
depend on information management and the society’s assimilation of
information technology.

The indicators are not bright as of now.

The most visible signs of the unchanging India are the dusty, mildewed
library and the classroom with its good old blackboard with a box of
chalk-sticks. Teaching and learning remain unruffled by electronic
winds. The paradigmatic shift in the modes of learning has not sunk
in. On account of a widespread ignorance of the potential of
information technology for pedagogic practices, the question of
reorganizing learning in the era of information society has not been

The wages of dereliction are visible already. The world electronic
arts and literary scene has no Indian signatures.

Does it prove the cynics’ point that we have got trapped in
reproducing cyber-coolies only? When shall we father cyber-creators?

Or shall we withdraw into the false comfort that in a global world all
are equal and that digital class disparities are only virtual, not

Rajesh K. Sharma teaches literature and theory in the Department of
English, Punjabi University, Patiala (India). His interests include
technology, philosophy and education also. Some of his work can be
seen here or here.

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