What Would Gandhi Say? Evaluating the Use and Potential of Information Technology in Effective Decentralization
The common portrayal of Gandhi as an anti-technology prophet fails to comprehend his overall approach to the subject and the context of his writings. Gandhi was fundamentally averse to industrial age technologies that created massive centralized structures that took away individual creativity. At the same time, he was enamored by the potential of the sewing machine to alleviate drudgery, and impressed by the power of the printing press to disseminate information. What would he have to say about information technology if he was around today? In trying to answer this question, we review the different ways in which information technology is being used in India. We also examine the effect it has had on enabling decentralization, a process that was core to the Gandhian notion of development. We found, that although the information technology industry is built on highly centralized structures of ownership and intellectual property, some of its features augment decentralization of information, knowledge and power. There are many instances where these features have been well utilized by citizen groups and sometimes by political agencies. Ironically, sometimes these moves are motivated by the centralized industries that seek to benefit from expanding their consumer base. At the same time, the lack of political will that historically led to poor utilization of electronic media, also often leads to underutilization of the power of these new technologies. The paper analyzes social, political and economic factors that promote and impede the application of new information technologies in decentralization of knowledge and power in India, based on a review of recent policies and practices.
Keywords: Information Technology, Decentralization, Gandhi and Technology, India
Dr. Regi Thomas
Director, Institute of Social Engineering
His interest in information technology related practices are related to his past few years of experience as a business consultant and co-promoter of Trellis Labs Pvt Ltd, that was part of the Business Incubator of the Indian Institute of technology. The company developed technology solutions in Digital Media delivery, and spun off Telenext convergence India Private Limited. He combines his academic training in social science with his work experience with information technologies, linking technology to development questions.