Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Bottleneck is at the Top of the Bottle

The momentous events of the past week have reminded me repeatedly of an outstanding essay published nine years ago by GrameenPhone founder and Innovations journal co-editor Iqbal Quadir titled "The Bottleneck is at the Top of the Bottle." Iqbal's point in this essay--a key part of our shared motivation for starting  Innovations together--is that information and communications technologies (ICTs) don't just benefit societies by lowering transactions costs and making work more efficient. They also disperse power and create the preconditions for political change:
Countries are impoverished in the first place because their governments have historically been unable to adopt beneficial policies. The attitudes of these governments towards ICTs are likely to be consistent with their past record of failing to take advantage of development opportunities. The real question worth discussing is whether ICTs can transform governments so that they are compelled to pay more attention to their citizens’ broader priorities. By influencing governance, these technologies can release resources trapped beneath vested interests. This impact is far greater than the conveniences for which such technologies are ordinarily known.
Along similar lines, I highly recommend this talk that Iqbal gave at the Long Now Foundation a couple of years ago. (Starts at 4:14.)

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