Tuesday, September 22, 2009

ICTs: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Recently, I had a conversation with a person cynical of the positivist/optimist hype that ICTs receive within the discipline of International Communication. I have a unique interest in ICTs so I was rather intrigued as to why someone would think of them in a pessimistic or even neutral light. Inspired by my conversation and Elizabeth Hanson’s chapter entitled “The Globalization of Communication”, I started to think of the pros and cons of ICTs. This following is what I have so far…

The Good: ICTs have allowed us to connect internationally in real time, anytime. Aside from the Western world using cell phones, ipod touches, computers, the internet, etc. to connect at the individual level, ICTs are increasingly being incorporated to development plans to link peoples to foster grassroots level participation in development. One example of this is in India, where there is an E-Choupal program that consists of internet kiosks for farmer to communicate to learn of the demand for specific agricultural goods. Granted, the E-Choupal example is growing and considerably more complex now, but it started out small. Another example of the ICTs is the use of cell phones in the diaspora. They allow people to call their families in their homeland to reconnect and reaffirm with their culture. ICTs have allowed the whole world to be more efficient. As Thomas Friedman argues, ICTs have democratized information. The possibilities are boundless, or are they??

The Bad: Some might argue that ICTs have made communication less personable or at least dehumanizes it to some extent. Instead of going to see a family member, friend, or a professor, our society is constructing the norms to send someone an email or facebook message or tweet. Children growing up now are being cultured with the expectation of having information with the click of a button. What happens if and when they are not able to obtain information they need? Clearly applies mostly to the West, but if globalization or “westernization” or “Americanization” is vastly occurring, does this mean that we are commodifying our world to be less reliant on classical forms of communication? There is something special about being able to read someone’s facial expression and body language in face-to-face interactions. Face-to-face interaction is certainly not always possible, especially when two people are communicating internationally, but it is necessary to think about the ramifications of the widgets we use to obtain our information and communication as time passes.

The Ugly: ICTs have led to exacerbating a digital divide between the Global North and the Global South. How do we cope with the fact that as the world’s rich get wealthier, as the poor are getting poor? New ICTs are being produced all the time and the globalized civil society is leaving the people making western widgets less likely to ever own them.

In presenting these viewpoints of the implications of ICTs, I am simply trying to acknowledge conflicting views of ICTs and sometimes the reasons for and how we communicate is just as important as what we are communicating. ICTs have done a lot of good where they have been employed internationally. One thing is for sure, now that we have ICTs we are not going back, and I’m not suggesting that. I am suggesting, however, that “we”, as a global community, acknowledge the consequences of ICTs more transparently and address them more actively as the revolution of globalization and communication continues.

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