Information farms in developing countries
© Copyright 1994-2002, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Electric Dreams #34

The greatest effect of the information revolution will be felt in developing countries. While in much of the world, the growth of connectivity means a choice of 500 channels on television instead of 50, this is hardly revolutionary. Allowing people to do more of what they do already is an incremental change over the past. Change is revolutionary when it enables large sections of society to do what they could never have done before - what they could never have even dreamed of, and what could totally change their way of life.

Rural communities throughout the developing world remain largely agricultural. They have remained poor through the industrial revolution. Although their standard of living has improved, their position in society has not. They have remained a source of cheap labour, while wealth, capital and power accumulate in urban population centres.

It is the nature of industry to centralize. Industrial societies prosper when the sources of wealth are collected together in physical proximity, which is why cities are formed. Agriculture, on the other hand, is decentralized - the more sprawling the countryside, the better. Rural communities are intrinsically suited to such a decentralized economy, dispersed as they are, away from any single concentration of power. But there are alternatives to farming wheat and sugarcane.

The information revolution threatens to reverse the industrial economy's magnetic pull to the cities. In the information age knowledge, not the diesel turbine, is power. Luckily knowledge does not have to be carted around from place to place in expensive trucks and cargo trains. Knowledge floats rapidly through far cheaper modes of transport, from radio waves between satellites to flashes of light reflected within strands of fibre optic cable. Knowledge does not need to be geographically concentrated. In fact, an economy based upon knowledge grows especially when it is possible to take advantage of the fluidity of data, selecting at an instant from the vast array of choices available only because they originate from the whole world. If access to information were limited to the physically near, it would lose much of its value.

The creation of wealth in an information economy is not dependent on the fertility of the soil, nor on huge investment in monsters of cogs and wheels in conventional industry's monuments to centralization, but only on the human brain - and the means to get brains together, over geographical distances.

Electronic mail is already available in most countries of the world, even in many poor regions of Asia and Africa. Building an information infrastructure is not as expensive as building an industrial one, and its enormous catalytic benefits for overall growth and prosperity are being recognized in many developing nations. If they act, then people still stuck in Toffler's First Wave of agriculture might leap finally into the Third Wave.

The information revolution could do for rural and poor communities what the industrial revolution could not - distribute control and capital among those who currently rely on their exploitable labour for survival, not possessing large banks of land or money. Capital and knowledge are increasingly becoming equivalent, and nothing necessarily prevents knowledge being created in villages.

  • Electric Dreams Index
  • Homepage