The IT Giant India’s Feet of Chalk

 

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

 

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 impacted 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 the 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 confronted.

 

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 real?

 

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Words: 797

July 19, 2005

Dr. Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Lecturer

Department of English

Punjabi University, Patiala

9316226890

sharajesh@gmail.com

tattvamasi@indiatimes.com

http://litarkay.tripod.com/

http://www.litarkay.netshooter.com

 

*The essay has been published in butterfliesandwheels:

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=142