Roundtable on ICTs in South Asia at LUMS

Posted on July 6, 2012  /  1 Comments

On July 4th, we were pleased to be able to share some of our research and explore areas of common interest with colleagues at LUMS, thanks to the kind invitation of Vice Chancellor Adil Najam. The slides we used to initiate the discussion are here. But they do not fairly depict the content of the conversation. Here is how it was reported on the LUMS website.

Two representatives of LIRNEasia, a think tank that researches information and communications technology (ICT) across Asia, spoke at the LUMS Faculty Lounge on July 4, 2012 for an event organised by the Internet and Society Initiative.

Dr. Rohan Samarjiva, the founding Chair and CEO of LIRNEasia, and Sriganesh Lokanathan, LIRNEasia’s Senior Research Manager, presented their research on technology used in South Asia, as well as what it is used for, and discussed ICT development, particularly in regards to the poor. They looked at the segment of the population that makes less than USD2 per day. Among this demographic, 96% in Pakistan and 99% in Bangladesh reported having used a phone in the last three months, demonstrating the prevalence of technology throughout society.

Sriganesh Lokanathan pointed out a gap between this group of people and makers of apps for smartphones, who he said are not creating enough apps that are relevant to their livelihoods. Entrepreneurship and innovation, he stressed, are needed to create apps that could potentially solve some of the problems these people are facing.

Dr. Samarjiva called the growth of ICT the “greatest public policy success of our time”. He recalled a time when dial up Internet and CompuServe were just starting to connect the world, when a phone call abroad was not something that most people could easily afford. The digital age has taken us to a place where most people are connected – and in increasingly sophisticated ways. The Internet, he argued, is much more than a plug; it’s communications, information retrieval, transactions, publications, and more. With this in mind, Dr. Samarjiva noted that they’re now going for “something more interesting and more useful than Angry Birds.”

Students, faculty, press, and members of the community were present, engaging in the conversation with questions for the speakers throughout. LUMS Vice Chancellor Dr. Adil Najam moderated the discussion, concluding with the notion that we will one day “wear the Internet” on our eyeglasses or wristwatch instead of holding it in a phone or laptop. He also discussed the power of this technology to transmit information, especially regarding what is happening to the camera, which most of us now carry in our pocket. Indeed, many audience members were snapping pictures with their cell phones during the event, underscoring the digital age that we live in.

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