Digital India: Understanding Information Communication and Social Change, Pradip Ninan Thomas, SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, Pp 206, Rs 650.00
PRADIP Ninan Thomas, Associate Professor at the University of Queensland, Australia, says that the full impact of the information revolution on our society and in our lives has not yet been witnessed, though the “viral imprint of the digital is shaping both the formal and informal section in India.”
Besides deepening the engagement with the digital and exploring a range of issues related to India’s informational futures, this volume highlights the relationship between the digital and social change, the role played by structures, policies and products such as the mobile phone in the change processes, the gaps between principle and practice; the many contested contexts of the digital in India and the reasons behind why a key “actor – the State – in the context of both external and internal pressures aimed at privileging the market as the key arbiter of access and growth in matters related to new technologies, is investing in public sector digital initiatives.
In India what makes the digital fascinating is that it is both structure and anti-structure, meaning that the ‘dominant’ digital in India is complemented with a multitude of subversive digitalities – from counterfeit mobile phones to pirated software. And it is this broad spectrum of digital practices in India that make it an increasing subject of study.
The author emphasises the specific instances in which the story of the digital relates the story of India as it grapples with the ‘new’ in the context of the tenacity and persistence of the ‘old’ in all its variety. While the mobile phone is breaking the barrier in agricultural India between the agricultural and informational mode of productivity, it also remains a tantalising symbol of the gaps that currently exist in Indian society.
In a more detailed description, the chapters in this volume are divided into sections. The first section ‘Information Technology in a Liberalised Economy’ includes chapters on software and mobile phone revolutions in India. The second section of government and Information Technology includes two chapters on the challenges faced by government that is caught between delivering on its public sector promises on information access and supporting the IT market within a liberalised economy.
Telecommunications is the archetypical example of government, though it is clear that the mobile phone revolution has to some extent made inroads into the Government’s hold over this sector. The third section on government and Information Technology includes three chapters that highlight a more proactive approach taken by the government on its IT commitments in the public sector. However, the Government’s role reveals multiple tendencies of a Janus-faced government that is involved in an elaborate dance, directed towards satisfying its partners and their competing interests, especially as seen in the government’s response to software patenting.
The digital exists in myriad forms, as product and process and is the common language for multiple projects across numerous productive sectors – in education as much as in agriculture and manufacturing. The book offers insights into some of the highs and lows of the digital moment in India and the gaps between principle and practice. It also provides a window to assess the ambivalent role of the state in India – the enemy of the masses in India, but also ironically, the hope for India’s many poor through projects such as the RTI, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), public sector software and other projects. This complexity points to the fact that the State in India cannot be conceived as a monolithic entity but requires to be seen as a reflection of society, constantly shaped by multiple pressures, trends, claims and counter-claims.
This is a very technical book meant for specific subject readers.
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