Reactions to the thoughtless acquisition and utilization of introduced technology in Southern India.
“Developing countries must not and will not allow themselves to be distracted from the imperatives of economic development and growth by the illusory dream of an atmosphere free from smoke or a landscape innocent of chimney stacks.”
In A.K.N. Reddy’s essay, “Technology, Development, and the Environment: An Analytical Framework,” he asserted that modern societies are developing and utilizing technologies that are perilous to their environmental and social ecosystems without recognition of the inherent risks. He also addresses how the technologies of the developed world are, “. . . in the process of massive transfer to the developing world,” and the increased degradation that these societies have undergone as a result. In response, I intend to address the essay’s major points, as well as apply them to my surface observations of the impact that such technologies have had on Southern India.
Reddy began his essay with a synopsis of the major criticism against modern technology. He first divided these criticisms into three categories- environmental, economic, and social- and then applied them separately to fit the particular contexts of developed and the developing countries. In my use of Reddy’s framework in application to my observations of Southern India, I have allowed the initial three criticism classes to stand, but I have omitted the later distinction; as I believe that, in the intervening years since Reddy’s article was written (1979), the impacts of modern technology have had similar impacts (on a varying scale) on both sets of societies.
The first of Reddy’s criticisms focused on the environmental impacts of modern technology. He wrote that the influx of such technology has had a horrendous impact on the natural world and this, in turn, has not, “. . . resulted in an environment more conducive to the physical and mental well-being of man.” Reddy goes on to say that the modern technologies which humans have created and are currently implementing on a mass scale are threatening us in all aspects of our lives. He states that, “. . . with the increasing deployment of modern technology, man’s welfare has been threatened by the escalating levels of pollution- pollution of the air that he breathes, the water that he drinks, the food that he eats, the quietness that he needs, and the beauty of nature that he enjoys.”
The above statements in regard to the subsequent environmental impact of modern technology are readily apparent to anyone who has ever tried to venture down Bangalore’s traffic packed streets. The shear amount of automobiles, rickshaws, and busses have long ago exceeded the city’s carrying capacity, and it regularly takes over an hour to travel what would otherwise be a short journey. I would speculate that it would be much quicker to walk within the city rather than use public transport if it were not for the fact that it regularly takes over ten minutes to simply cross a street. Another effect of this traffic influx is that the air is completely choked with automobile exhaust. During rush hour the exhaust cloud is so thick that it often times becomes difficult to see through it to the other side of the street.
Bangalore’s exhaust forms a thick blanket over the entire city and its presence is ever-present- its smell, taste, and grit constantly barrage one’s sensory faculties. These emissions cause lungs to ache and many of the city’s residents often wake at night gasping for breath. The effects of long-term exposure to this pollution can scarcely be fathomed.
The next criticism that Reddy acknowledges has to do with the fact that new technologies cause economic disparities which impact all spheres of industrializing society. In a culture that is centered upon modern technology, the ability to access it is absolutely necessary for an individual to be able to participate in the macro-economy. In order for one to be able to access the new technologies they must be a member of the particular wealthy and comfortable classes who, essentially, control it. This in turn causes major divisions between the haves- who use new technologies to their ever increasing advantage- and the have nots- who are outside of the technological pail. Reddy wrote, “and thus, one comes to the next turn of the spiral . . . the increased inequality resulting from the initial unequal access to the new technologies stimulates the development of further advances in technology which will then accentuate the inequality even more. This intensity of class divisions also manifests itself in the dispersal of resources. In a society that has profit as its primary aim, far more emphasis is placed upon the moneyed (technological) minority at the exclusion of the poorer (technology deficient) majority. This grossly unequal dichotomy causes, “. . . technology to respond more avidly to the needs of the rich while assigning lower priority to the needs of those who exert weaker demand.” Henceforth, the wealthy are now able to maintain their historic dominance over the resources of the world through their access to technology.
In Bangalore, the unequal distribution of technological access and the resulting class disparities is demonstrated with exceeding bluntness. The purveyor of wealth in this city is the information technology industry, and access to technological knowledge is necessary to reap the benefits of this economic sector. Throughout Bangalore, huge IT skyscrapers rise out of stick and stone slums, the doors of business that cater to the technological classes are guarded against the intrusion of outsiders, and the complexes of the technological elite are walled off so that they cannot even be viewed, let alone accessed, by the commoner in the streets. The trickle-down effect does not seem to operate here, as money seems to stay within class sanctioned cyclic rounds; upper-class shops and restaurants for upper-class individuals, lower-class ones for the lower-class. In India, more than most other countries, it is access to technology that allows one to obtain and maintain affluence; class is now not only maintained my social lines but by technological ones as well. This dichotomy between the upper and lower classes seems to have created two completely separate spheres of Indian society which are developing away from each other at an ever increasing pace. The culture, beliefs, and, most pertinently, experiences of the technology class are quickly becoming so radically different from that of traditional, rural India that social upheaval is eminent.
The final criticism which Reddy makes is that introduced modern technologies carry with them major social consequences for developing nations. Again, the primary focus of his argument was on the class aspects of this issue and how access to technology is a major point of contention between various levels of social strata. He pointed out that, even though the benefits of technology are out of reach for the poor, they still have, “to live cheek by jowl with its unpleasant features such as pollution.” Reddy expands his criticism by stating that modern technology changes the face of labor by introducing mechanistic means of mass-production which cause the depreciation of traditional craftsmanship. Inherent to the introduction of new technologies, employees who manufacture goods no longer need to possess any strong base of knowledge or skill; as their role is reduced to that of machine.
Under this new system of industrial production, “only a few [workers] are required to possess a high degree of intellectual capability and/or manual skills, while the barest minimum of intelligence and dexterity is expected from the vast majority of the working force. To this majority, ‘soul destroying, meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work is an insult to human nature . . .’” The extended result of this is employment that is neither particularly difficult nor desirable and the creation of a sharp division between work and leisure time. This division of time is in direct contrast to the traditional manner of production, in which work was also a livelihood.
This degradation of work is also clearly evident in Bangalore. Many of the top jobs in this city are in the IT sector and, while they necessitate advanced degrees and evidence of learning, they are incredibly basic. In fact, in western countries, these jobs are only occupied by people who have the barest minimum of education and skills. It is India’s finest, most educated, youth who are engaging upon IT careers that can neither stimulate nor educate them any further. The social impacts of having such large numbers of highly educated people engaged in the most base of professions can only be speculated. But I feel that these effects can potentially seep deep down into the educational institutions of India. For where exactly is the impetus to educate people in preparation for moronic employment? I do not know.
A.K.N. Reddy’s essay very keenly strikes the criticisms of modern technology right on the head. Although he authored it nearly thirty years ago, his warnings remain as pertinent today as they ever did; especially for developing nations such as India. As I have attempted to demonstrate, many of his speculations about how industrializing countries would absorb modern technology have actually occurred, and India is quickly becoming the wasteland that Reddy prophesized. Most importantly, Reddy’s writings force us to take a proverbial step back to take a look at where our society is going; they make us to realize that we do not haveto destroy our ecosystem to survive, that we do not have to work menial jobs, that we canquestion the broader impacts of our collective actions. Who wants to wait ten minutes just to cross the street? Who wants to be constantly poisoned by exhaust fumes? Who wants to live in a deeply bi-furcated society? Who wants to live in a world without forests, pure water, and fresh air? Really, who? Then I must ask, in the spirit of R.K.N. Reddy, why are we doing this to ourselves?
*Written in the Autumn of 2006
Wade from www.VagabondJourney.com
December 21, 2007