The book ICT4D – Information Communication Technology for Development, by Parveen Pannu and Yuki Azad Tomar, provides a comprehensive overview of how Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can be used effectively for development. In a country like India, where development is a stated priority for both the government and the private sector, and a great deal of interest is evinced by academics, businessmen and NGOs, this book takes a serious look at how ICT can actually become a useful tool to support the already existing and then new development activities that all these organisations take up. The book provides a broad overview of the range of ICTs available today and looks at the usefulness of these technologies in the context of development.
Divided into 25 chapters, the book looks at the various technologies that constitute ICT and how each one is used. It is, at the same time a wonderful ‘to-do manual’ for both students and practitioners and a book which provides a theoretical framework for ICT for development. The 25 chapters are framed within 12 parts, each part discussing one distinct area of study. Parts I, II and III locate the debate of ICT within the context of India and parts IV to XII discuss the various technologies, both old and new, that constitute ICT and how these technologies can be used in development activities.
Arrival of the internet in the late 1990s as a ‘global’ phenomenon has sparked many changes. One has been a change in terminology. Where before people talked of only Information Technology (IT), today we talk of ICT. This reflects the convergence of digital, computing and telecommunications. This reflects the convergence of the old and the new. And ‘ICT4D’ reflects precisely this convergence.
Changes in technology have also affected the way people view development as well as how governments, corporates and NGOs deal with development. The age of e-development – use of electronic ICTs like the internet to support development activity – has arrived. Donors attracted by the hype and hope generated by ICTs have altered their funding priorities and pushed ICT up the development agenda. Within that agenda has begun to appear the idea that ICT leads to the diminishing of distances, create a ‘level playing-field’ in which the small and the new can compete on equal terms with the large and the well established and permit leapfrogging to an information economy.
The result of this movement has been an explosion of activity and writing, much of it poorly thought out and with little understanding of either history or of development realities. An enduring theme of such work has been an over emphasis on the technology itself, to the exclusion of other parameters. I believe that any writing on the subject of ICT for development today should go beyond the current enthusiasm for derivative description and technological determinism and discuss the social and cultural consequences of the use of such technologies, the appropriateness or otherwise of the new technologies within the context of our societies and so on. This is where the book has failed to make a mark.
Pannu and Tomar, in the first three parts have point out how the home has become a ‘communications hub’ and how new technologies such as the distributed networks of file-sharing applications, the possibilities of uploading and downloading of MP3 and MP4 files, transferring digital video and graphics from and to hand-held devices and mobile phones and synchronising these devices with the PC have dramatically changed the nature of the home and society at large. They have discussed the how these new technologies have begun to create new virtual communities and information heavy homes, but do not discuss the consequences of these. However, the authors go into some depth in looking at the phenomenon of ICT and spirituality. Their analysis of ‘ICTs and Indian Culture and Spirituality’ is broad ranging and astute. The discussion on the challenges India faces regarding uniform access to ICT technologies is partial at best. Although, it seems that the scope of the book is not to discuss in detail all social consequences of ICTs, it seems that any discussion on the subject cannot get away from approaching topics relating to universal access to technologies and their appropriateness and the transfer of technology debate.
However, the authors redeem themselves wonderfully in the next chapter on ‘Development and Communications’ wherein they discuss at length, the modernisation theories, dependency theories, basic needs model, and the constraints inherent in these models. Pannu and Tomar then go on to discuss new paradigms and the concept of sustainability and the use of Communications in development. The ensuing chapters deal, in great detail, with the various ICT technologies, both new and old. The book ends with a chapter critiquing the use of ICT for development based on the challenges faced by people using ICTs in the context of their capacity to receive, process, use and transmit information. The book ends with an optimistic note that ICTs are driving the new world order and impacting every aspect of today’s life and we must learn to deal with it in order to survive. One of the unique features of this book is the comprehension exercises given at the end of every chapter which would be very useful for students of communications and information technologies.
What the authors convey very clearly is the complexity of the contemporary situation. The ascendancy of global technologies in a developing world and the efforts of countries like India trying to deal with new technologies in the face of International pressures at the same time trying to work with the old technologies that are not entirely obsolete and useless. It would have, however been richer if there had been some more critical analysis and some comparison with other countries facing similar situations. The authors successfully bring together a number of pieces that provide an overview of ICT for development. Its contribution to the body of literature in the field is valuable. This book should be particularly useful to students of communications and ICT.
Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean
Himgiri ZEE University,Dehradun, India