Technology in Developing Economies

Handle with Care

On the other side of the coin, many fear that the spread of technology, especially at its current blinding speed, will cause more harm than good from a cultural perspective. The process of globalization creates a necesssary disequilibrium. While the spread of technology to the less developed regions of the globe can lead to many changes for the better, it can also destroy established tradition and cultural identity.

Criticism of Lending Organizations

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have always had vehement detractors. Their critics see their lending as a glorified form ofimperialism. The argument against lending is based primarily on the notion that lending creates deleterious interdependencies and promotes dangerous rates of globalization. When a rich country lends to a poorer country, an inescapable dependency is established in which the poorer country must rely on its lender. Lending nations typically impose a variety of restrictions on borrowing nations, and not just with regard to how the borrowers can spend the money they receive. A developing country's entire political and economic landscape can be altered by forced trade liberalization, business privatization, or subsidy control that might be required by its lender. But the advantages of borrowing money are too great to forego, desipte the constraints, so dependencies are unavoidable in this process.

These dependencies can lead to invasive cultural infusion, often in the form of "Westernization". The innovations driving technological change are products of the developed world, of course — especially North America and Europe. While lending organizations make sincere efforts to minimize cultural interference, some degree of assimilation is inevitable. Rapid globalization creates social tumult and upheaval. When the dust settles, valuable parts of a developing country's culture can be irretrievably lost.

Language

Many also worry that, in addition to encouraging the dominance of Western culture, the spread of the Internet is encouraging the dominance of the English language. English is the lingua franca of modern science and technology, and the popularity of the ASCII character set in computing speaks to the fact that North America has been, and is, the cradle of computing development.

Languages are already a rapdily dying breed: some 5,000 to 10,000 still exist, but around half are expected to be lost to history within just a century. Efforts in localization of software and the development of the UNICODE character set must be redoubled for the sake of preserving tongues and including as many people as possible in the next step of technological advancement.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Modern technology promises unequivocal advantages for the developing world. The spread of this technology must proceed in a careful, controlled manner, however, lest cultural consequences undermine good intentions. Developed countries must be mindful of societal differences as they share their innovations with their developing neighbors. The development of information technology, especially in a global context, is necessarily one of trial and error, so it's important to fight the urge to get swept along with the current. Developing countries need help as fast as possible — but not so fast that they sacrifice what defines them.

by Joe Cackler, Emily Gu, and Mike Rodgers
for CS 201: Computers, Ethics, and Social Responsibility
at Stanford University
on March 17, 2008