Does ICT turn out to be a great leveler?

Dr. G Venkat Ram Reddy

July, 2020

Many tech pundits and enthusiasts predicted that technology, particularly those made possible by the internet and advances in communication infrastructure- collectively referred to as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as the beacon of a more fair and just world. The ICT was to generate reliable information about the state of the world through a democratic process, simplify the distribution, widen the reach, and amplify the consumption of information so produced. Through these actions, ICT was to challenge the state's sole control over the information supply chain. But has that moral persuasion associated with ICT transpired into reality? Has ICT succeeded in transforming the world into a more equitable information supply chain?

I highlight purported facts on how ICT has impacted the various aspects of the information supply chain for the greater good. I raise questions as a check to the stated facts.

Fact: ICT democratize the ownership of information production.

Check: How does crowdsourcing information and putting a price tag on it, democratic?

Fact: ICT simplifies information distribution.

Check: Does more number of opaque channels mean better the distribution?

Fact: ICT has widened the reach of information.Check: But to whom and how many, is the information access guaranteed?

Fact: ICT amplifies information consumption.

Check: Does unabated consumption of information that belies one's preferences add to well-being?

In a coda, while the ICT appears to have considerably reduced the state's control on information generation, distribution, access, and consumption, they seem to have only substituted them with private ownership that's solely engaged monetizing various aspects of information supply chain fronted by the big tech companies.

How do then the proponents of ICT reclaim their moral vantage? This is a hard question. One famous experiment that attempts to address this question is the open-source model that Wikipedia brought forth where volunteers oversee the information supply chain. However, any volunteer-based models eventually face survival questions because people's motivations are highly volatile. Facebook's attempt at greater user customization and control is another example of a model that could ease the hierarchy in the supply chain. But, such efforts are few, and we need to do more to find supply chain models that could make ICT work for everyone.

About the Author

Dr. G Venkat Ram Reddy is a faculty in the area of Human Capital & Organisational Dynamics at School of Management and Entrepreneurship, IIT Jodhpur.