I just happened across the book Information Technology and Social Justice (Emma Rooksby and John Weckert, Editors, Information Science Publishing, 2007, ISBN: 1591409683). In it I read the very fascinating article “From Information Society to Global Village of Wisdom? The Role of ICT in Realizing Social Justice in the Developing World” by Sirkku Kristiina Hellsten. This is a solid treatise of the position that we need to move beyond an emphasis on the value of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for economic development, to one of ICT for development of human capabilities. The essential premises of the author are:
“Today … both the technology, and the data, information, intelligence, ideas, facts and figures it transfers, are often considered as commodities that are to be bought, sold and traded in expanding markets, rather than as basic goods in the Rawlsian sense … ICT and information trade is then, in many senses, the final result of the Information Age transition from an industrial economy to information economy, in which information itself is seen as raw material … If we want instead strive for the ideal of a “knowledge society” or “global village of wisdom,” we need to see both technology and information as essential instruments in realizing the various human resources that they themselves can be used to develop each nation culturally, and in a locally sustainable manner. Information and communication technology could play a central role in realizing this ideal, but only if more attention is paid to the development of human capabilities and social, political and economic inclusion that can be realized with the help of the new technologies.”
There was considerable attention given at the most recent Community Informatics Research Network conference in Prato regarding the need to move beyond an emphasis of ICT for economic development. I would encourage people to read this well argued treatise of why a capability approach is valid and useful alternative.