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Cyber Quiz: Book Reviews-2: Hundley et al. (2003) reviewed by Dr D.C.Misra

By dcmisra ·
Hundley, Richard O., Robert H. Anderson, Tora K. Bikson, and C. Richard Neu (2003): The Global Course of the Information Revolution: Recurring Themes and Regional Variations, Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation, pb xliv+174 pp, available: (accessed: October 29, 2004).

This is a study, undertaken during 1999?2002, by the well-known think tank, the RAND Corporation, ?to explore the future of the information revolution throughout the world.? This is a multidisciplinary effort with an overarching goal of mapping the likely future of the global information revolution over the next 10-15 years. This effort also includes a series of international conferences on specific aspects of the information revolution.

The book consists of three parts containing 15 chapters: Part I: Recurring Themes, Part II: Regional Variations and Part III: Some Additional Topics (A Brief Look).Part I consists of 6 chapters (1 to 6), Part II of another 6 chapters (7 to 12) and Part III of 3 chapters (12 to 15). The book is wound up with an appendix (Participants in information revolution conferences) and References.Typically the chapters are titled as summing-up findings, propositions or projections.

Part I: Recurring Themes has the following 6 chapters: 1. Introduction, 2. New technology developments will continually drive the information revolution, 3. The information revolution is enabling new business models that are transforming the business and financial worlds, 4. The information revolution is affecting mechanisms of governance and empowering new political actors, 5. The information revolution both shapes and is shaped by social and cultural values in significant ways, and 6. Many factors shape and characterize a nations approach to the information revolution.

Part II: Regional Variations, which is a regional survey of the ongoing information revolution has the following 6 chapters: 7. North America will continue in the vanguard of information revolution, 8.The information revolution is following a somewhat different and more deliberate course in Europe, 9. Many Asia specific nations are poised to do well in the information revolution, some or not, 10. Latin America faces many obstacles in responding to the information revolution: some nations will rise to the challenge, others will not, 11. Few middle eastern and north African nations will fully experience the information revolution, some may miss it altogether and 12. Most countries of sub-Saharan Africa will fall further behind the information revolution.

Part II: Some Additional Topics (A Brief Look) consists of just three chapters: 13. Geopolitical trends furthered by the information revolution could pose continuing challenges to the United States, 14. What future events could change these projections? and 15. The information revolution is a part of broader technological revolution with even profounder consequences.

The book under review is a panaromic survey of the worldwide trends in the ongoing information revolution what we have been calling in these columns as an information and communication technology (ICT) revolution though going by the definition in this book the information revolution is a more general term than the ICT revolution. What this erudite work offers are assessments, generalizations, propositions and projections almost all of which have intuitive appeal and thus ready acceptance. Such aggregation, however, hides the intra-group variation, which often is of greater significance than what the aggregation, by its very nature, reveals. For example, there are many Asian countries which are in the vanguard of the ongoing ICT revolution while there are many Asian countries which appear to have been bypassed by the ongoing ICT revolution.

To freeze the frame and take a view, well analysed and well informed no doubt, is instructive but what is the policy prescription if one wants to, and one must, correct or improve an existing (albeit unsatisfactory) situation? Such policy prescriptions squarely fall within the domain of think tanks, more so if it happens to be a venerable, well endowed 50 year old institution which in the past had often pushed the frontiers of knowledge.(Its budget in 2000 was $140 million).Take, for instance, the case of digital divide (an issue of worldwide concern as it exists not only among the countries but also within countries, developed or developing). And if you take its multidimensional view, as Norris (2001, pp 3-4) does, then you have global divide (between developed and developing countries), social divide (between information rich and information poor in a country) and democratic divide (between those who can and those who cannot use the digital resources to engage in public life). An effective solution of the problem has been eluding the best of policy makers worldwide.

Yet the ICTs offer tantalizing possibilities. The sight of a kabariwala (rag picker in India) in Delhi wielding a mobile phone and organizing his work among the co-workers efficiently, does give you an initial shock, quickly turning into an astonishment and instantly converting you into a technophile. The question here though is not of technology adoption, which is proved beyond doubt by the ease of its use (though by an unlikely adopter in this case). The question here is: can this technology contribute in imparting literacy and numeracy, provide knowledge in health and hygiene and upgrade skills of people on the other side of digital divide? ICTs will increasingly be judged by such criteria. In respect of India, the study reports:

?India has three important advantages in the global IT competition: a plentiful supply of talented IT-trained people; copious numbers of educated, low-cost workers proficient in English; and close ties to the many Indian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. As a result, IT business clusters have developed there, it is a world leader in back-office services and software outsourcing, and its software production has increased fiftyfold over the past 10 years. The prosperity and growth of the Indian software and back-office service industries should continue, at least over the near- to mid-term. However, going beyond software into IT hardware activities may be difficult, particularly in view of China?s growing role in this area. Also, the entire Indian high-tech industry is a thin veneer on top of the Indian economy. Much of the nation is still in the agricultural age, not yet having reached the industrial age, let alone the information age. These factors may place any broader role in the information revolution beyond India?s reach.? (p-34).(emphasis supplied).

This conclusion ?Much of the nation is still in the agricultural age, not yet having reached the industrial age, let alone the information age. These factors may place any broader role in the information revolution beyond India?s reach,? however, does not bear scrutiny. First, Asian tigers (certain east Asian economies) proved it and ICTs only re-inforce it now and then that there is nothing like a linear progression in development, say, from agricultural to industrial to information stage. Indeed what ICTs do, and have already done, is to enable an economy in agricultural stage to leapfrog to information age. India itself is an example of this assertion by developing a thriving business process outsourcing (BPO) sector from nowhere and meeting the needs of the post-industrial societies. Secondly, ICTs have enormous potential in raising agricultural productivity and production through revamped agricultural research and extension by way of establishing appropriate networks and implied faster problem solving of the farmers including providing timely information through agricultural marketing networks. Lastly, the ICTs have tremendous potential in human resource development. This alone can pull out an economy from backwardness and place it on the path of self-sustaining economic growth through acquisition of new skills and increased production and productivity.

Being a panoramic worldwide survey, the book under review inevitably brings to mind the monumental trilogy on the information age by the Spanish sociologist Professor Manuel Castells (1996, 1997 and 1998), currently shuttling between Barcelona and Los Angeles. A central theme identified by him in this magnum opus is the rise of network societ .It is this network, signifying connectivity, which holds the key to the ongoing information revolution. If you are a part of network (connected), you change, survive and prosper. If not, then you languish in your present state. Indeed the learned professor himself invented a term for it ? the fourth world (of unconnected countries, societies and people). Digital divide then ceases to be an empty slogan and bridging it becomes an urgent priority.

The study under review is a notable contribution in assessing the trends of different aspects of the ongoing information revolution worldwide including its inevitable, though undesirable, regional variation. It will be found useful by all those practitioners, researchers and others who are interested in understanding the broader aspects of the ongoing information revolution as it unfolds right before our eyes, very often challenging our preconceived notions necessitating change in our perceptions. And it indeed is a task of the think tanks to capture and then disseminate such broad trends of the ongoing information revolution.

Dr D.C.Misra*
October 29,2004


Castells, Manuel (1996): The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Volume I: The Rise of Network Society, Oxford, United Kingdom, Blackwell.

Castells, Manuel (1997): The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Volume II: The Power of Identity, Oxford, United Kingdom, Blackwell.

Castells, Manuel (1998): The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Volume III: End of Millennium, Oxford, United Kingdom, Blackwell.

Norris, Pippa (2001): Digital Divide: Civic Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet Worldwide, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press.

*Dr D.C.Misra is a New Delhi, India-based eGov and IT Consultant.

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