The Digital Backwardness and Digital Divide Superimposed on Absence of Development Perspective and Development Itself: Manipur scenario


By Amar Yumnam

Time is important, and real time is really important. The significance of this understanding has really risen and at increasingly fastening pace. In the olden days the speed of the capability to run, the speed of the horses and, more recently, the speed of trains, aeroplanes and satellites were the defining features of social strength and social pride. But all these have undergone a fundamental qualitative transformation. Earlier the speed was defined relative to the static space, but now it is defined in terms of the flows. Further speed is now emerging as the necessary feature of any social, economic and political functioning. Still further, while in the earlier phases of human trajectory and global development transformation speed was applicable only to limited arena, but speed is now to be the basis for any agent, action and product. With the emergence of computers and the related developments in information technology, this feature is getting both widened and deepened to paraphrase the idioms of neo-classical growth theory; by the way, the neo-classical growth theory of Economics had taught us the phenomenon of rising inter-country differences in growth and reinforced by newer approaches in growth theory. Besides, the new emphasis on speed is founded on knowledge, ideas and technology.

Now the implications of this new direction of global competition based on real-time focussed speed are intense and genuine. I have just learned this only this week despite continuous readings on these issues. Personal learning and experience are supreme! A young French Economist, Thomas Piketty, has presented to the world a book titled as Capital in the Twenty-First Century in the beginning of this calendar year; I had reflected on this book twice in this column about four-five months back. Now this book is the most talked about and debated book among social thinkers, academics, philosophers and intelligentsia around the world. There are now journal issues, particularly in Economics, devoted fully to the discussion of this book; surveys are being conducted among Economists in North America and Europe on how many of them have read this book. Now the lesson. This book is now being considered as the most significant book since the Capital of Karl Marx and a book which would impact on social thinking for at least the next two centuries. I saw a copy of this book (in the absolutely traditional sense of printed on paper and bound beautifully) only this week at the bookshop in the Terminal 3 of Delhi International Airport. One thing I just cannot resist is: Falling in love with any book I feel like reading. Despite the prohibitive price, I would have purchased the book in the traditional circumstances at least to show to others that I have a copy of that. But I did not buy it. I have two reasons for this. First, the price was rather high as the additional (we call it marginal in Economics) value of having the book in the conventional form of a book would be nil. Second, this consideration in terms of the marginal value has been caused by the now significant form of communication and relationships and what we call networks. The traditional communication and relationships around the globe were based on formal channels and formality, but these have now been replaced by networks; now these networks too must possess speed and made possible by information technology. Through my personal networks I came to know of the significant book by Thomas Piketty within two weeks of its publication, and, lo, I had a soft copy (anything which can be transferred through the medium of computer and information technology unlike the traditional ones printed on paper and bound) of the book the very next day through the medium of information technology in real time. Until this week`™s experience at the Delhi Airport I did not know the significance of at least two earlier experiences. First, when asked for a copy of his paper, an American colleague had sent me a soft copy of his article by terming it `better yet`; I could never understand the term `better yet` and instead I would have rather liked a hard copy. Second, in an online discussion of the Elsevier on the future of print in the libraries I had opined that the charm of the printed and bound copies could never be substituted.

But today, I find and feel myself foolish on these two very counts. Contemporary competition for advancement is in terms of the race of the red herrings. Speed is paramount in this. Further this has to be founded widely and deeply on knowledge and oriented towards technology deepening. This is exactly where I feel drawn to the realities of Manipur and feel really disturbed by that.

Computers and information technology have now become a fundamental need for addressing social transformation requirements and household well-being. Manipur has missed the bus of development in many rounds. But now it becomes salient that she is going to miss it again in an unbridgeable way. There are two significant digital divides that would make it amply impossible to realise development and restore social peace in Manipur. First, the inter-household divide in the valley on this is real. Second, the valley-mountain digital divide is really acute. While the more or less purely business oriented cellular phone network requirements can be easily met and have been met to a large extent, the developmentally more significant knowledge and technology oriented digital networks are yet to have a foundation.

The impacts and implications of these are really dangerous. This absence of participation in the emerging global network of knowledge and technology have really weakened the social capability of Manipur in relative terms and more hazardously in absolute terms. Despite the presence of Manipuri youths around the globe, the absolute and relative capability of the youths remaining within the soils of Manipur have been precariously weakening at very fast rates within the last two decades or so. In other works, the total social capability of Manipur is moving downhill. In this, while the valley might possess some resilient capacity, the mountains do not have. This is not a collectively sustainable social scenario for Manipur.


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