The conventional ‘village’ is being digitalized. In the last decade, India has proudly embraced its new image as the world’s Silicon Valley and back-office (and arguably front office) for global business. This momentum is being driven by information and communication technologies (ICTs); subsequently government policies ambitiously live up to this new found reputation by promising digital change across all sectors, particularly in the rural domain (Aggarwal, 2002). After all, India continues to be an agrarian country despite its new found Silicon Valley status. Central to this effort entails connecting India’s 600,000 villages with computers and the net, signaling one of the biggest rural investments for socio-economic mobility. The net is heralded as the new intermediary to knowledge for the villager. Underlying this is the belief that rural poverty has chronically persisted due to information poverty. For instance, farmers are perceived as being poor due to their limited access to critical knowledge on food prices, fertilizers and market demands for agricultural goods; rural healthcare practitioners are looked upon as lagging behind in the latest knowledge on diagnostics and treatment; and rural students are seen as digital non-natives in this virtual and information economy. This paper critically assesses this premise on the information gap being the key barrier to transformative and positive change in villages in India. Drawing on eight months of ethnographic fieldwork in rural Almora in the Central Himalayas, this paper investigates the role of information through new media technologies in the rural 1) agricultural 2) healthcare and 3) education sector. What is revealed is that there is an urgent need to critique the causal relationship between information and rural poverty and reframe the role of digital technologies in village life. It is seen that the issue of poverty is less about the dearth of information but rather the lack of trust in the intermediaries in existence. Further, it becomes apparent that information that has utility is far less pursued online compared to knowledge that is more social and leisure oriented. Also, we need to problematize what constitutes as local, indigenous and rural knowledge as its boundaries are more porous and cosmopolitan in nature. Lastly, digital mediums and its information does not necessarily replace older resources but adds to the rural techno-social ecology and sometimes even strengthens current agents, agencies and institutions.
ERMeCC - Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture
Department of Media and Communication