Non Governmental Organizations | NGOs India | NGOs in Bangalore | NGOs in India

The idea that the internet and related technologies might have an important role in aiding developmental efforts has captured a central place in international policy debates. Over the course of the last year, statements affirming the need to close the so-called ‘digital divide’ between social groups with and without access to the internet have been made through several UN agencies, at the G-8 summit, and at meetings of developmental organizations around the world. Many new websites now address this topic, and listserv hosts have moderated endless rounds of debate between digital enthusiasts and digital skeptics.
The idea of digitally-oriented development is as powerful and seductive as the technology upon which it is based. No single technological revolution has changed the lives of current generations in the way that the internet has. No cultural-technological innovation since Television has had this kind of impact on the world’s economy, its politics and its globalizing popular cultures, or even on our cultural conceptions of distance and time. The promise of digital development is that it might have the same reach as the original internet boom of the mid 1990s – only this time, the most disprivileged communities, those who had missed out on earlier waves of technology, might be able to ‘leapfrog’ over their more developed competitors. The greatest obstacles to rural development – large distances and inadequate infrastructure – might be obviated by instant access to virtual institutions that provide banking, education, health care, neonatal information, agricultural advice, and so forth. But skeptics also have good reason. Bill Gates’ now infamous dictum, that a computer cannot benefit someone earning less than a dollar a day, remains a serious challenge to any attempt to ameliorate social and economic disparities through Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).6 In South Asia, where most rural populations lack running water and sanitation systems, where electricity is still a scarce and intermittent resource, where roads are poor and education a luxury, these technologies truly appear to be far removed from the everyday concerns of the poorest sections of the countryside. This article critically examines the problems and possibilities of digital development in order to reveal the larger impact that ICTs could have on rural economies and societies.

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