Frederick Noronha on Tue, 10 Nov 1998 22:23:25 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Meet in India

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Asia's mega IT event logs out

Marking a major milestone for the Rs 2,500-crore software industry here,
Bangalore It.Com `98, the giga international show on information technology...
computer for easy access and on the spot reference. According to an estimate,
nearly 90 per cent of the Web sites in the world are in English, raising
concerns not only among Indians but also among many Europeans, that a certain
American culture would undermine or overide their traditional cultures and
local values. Noting this at the very first session of the three-day technical
seminar with ''The Global Village`` theme, organised as part of the Bangalore
IT.Com `98 exposition, Prof. Kenneth Keniston of the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology said the current ''global monoculture`` was embodied in satellite
TV, CNN, World Cup games, Micorsoft, Intel and such likes. He also pointed out
as to how it was virtually impossible in the present context to use the
computer until one speaks, reads and writes good English.

WARNING: Speaking of cultural and linguistic diversity in the age of global
networks, with special reference to India, he said the nation faced ''critical
choices`` with regard to local language softwares. He warned that if software
was not localised in the near future it would only increase the gap between the
empowered and the powerless, at the same time devaluing local languages and
cultures. He also recommended that software codes in all official Indian
languages should be standardised to facilitate wider use.  Prof. Keniston felt
that localisation of software was absolutely essential if the Information Age
was to cater to the needs of the ''forgotten 95 per cent of Indian computing``.
If software localisation does not take place it may also lead to ''uglier forms
of intolerant cultural nationalism,`` he added. DIGIRATI: As expected it was
the 'digirati`, the new computer literate ruling class, that dominated the
three-day seminar. They dealt in great lengths on their favourite agenda of
'networking` and shrinking the world. But, thankfully, there were a few talks
during the course of the seminar which addressed larger issues like the
possible spread of 'global monoculture` through the Internet and the 'hegemony`
of the English language in the field of information technology. In his lecture
on IT and Indian languages during the third session of the seminar, Prof Rajeev
Sanyal of the Satyam School of Applied Information Systems, explained the
experiments being conducted in the area of machine translation or language
access systems in Indian languages.

He said the ''Anusaaraka`` systems that were currently under development would
allow a Hindi reader to access texts in the Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali
and Punjabi languages. In fact, he said, the alpha-version of Telugu to Hindi
''Anusaaraka`` system had already been released on the Internet as an e-mail
server. Prof Sanyal also concentrated on aspects of mass computerisation in
India and also offered interesting solutions. Mr John Clews, chairman of Sesame
Computer Projects, UK and member of various committees dealing with
standardisation of computer codes, said the European Standards Committee (CEN)
could serve as a model for India another SAARC countries to ensure that IT
systems meet ''real South Asian needs``.  University of California`s Professor
Annalee Saxenian`s lecture on ''IT in the USA: Lessons from Silicon Valley``
gave an interesting comparative sociological analysis of Silicon Valley in
California and Route 128 in Massachussetts, the two leading centers of
electronics innovation and entreprenuership.

Prof Saxenian argued that Silicon Valley had scored over Route 128 after 1 9 8
0 because it had adopted a decentralised industrial system that encouraged
innovation and collective learning. Noted Sociologist Prof M N Srinivas making
an intervention after Prof Saxenian`s lecture sought to know if ethnicity had
anything to do with the sucess of the Silicon Valley, which triggered an
interesting debate. Finally, the incorporation of the point in the Bangalore
Declaration to examine the possibility of setting up a global agency to study
the cultural impact of Information Technology and protect the cultural
diversity of nations comes as a welcome step and highlights the seriousness of
the issues raised by the speakers.  
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