Dear Colleagues,

I have big concerns about using Rostow's five stages of development as
the base paradigm for this discussion (the original title of his work
was "The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto" so it is
clear where his politics lay). Many authors refuted his theories in the
sixties and seventies (see for example Anthony Galt and Larry Smith,
Models and the Study of Social Change, 1976). The final "stage" is
supposed to be the "age of high mass-consumption" which hardly fits the
reality of what is happening in the world today, as "developing"
societies become less equal and maldistribution of resources increases,
not diminishes.

And yet the "stages" mentality lives on. This is evident in the
all-or-nothing perspectives on availability and access to ICTs and
Internet. Either you make broadband available to neglected populations
and areas or they get zilch (nothing). No one considers that there is
and has been for many years a range of gap-filling "intermediate
technologies" (such as email via HF or VHF radio) that could provide,
over time, a platform for creating the higher order "critical mass"
because it can respond to real, existing needs now on a cost-effective
basis. Such needs, for example, probably do not suggest unlimited web
browsing as a priority response. The problem with uncritically
"leap-frogging" over these is that, based on experience, the 'leapfrog'
may truly not happen during our (or more importantly, users') lifetime,
and, second, who is worried about who is doing the leapfrogging and who
is being leapfrogged over?

Even these mostly unsung, simpler technologies could be considered
"disruptive" in the sense of uniquely addressing critical, existing
needs first and then allowing for creative expansion into other topical
areas and geographical locations. For me, one of the prime examples of
this implementation approach is described at
<> (interesting to me is
that "old-fashioned" HF radio-based email is described therein as
"wireless," probably to claim kinship with the latest genre). There may
even be ways to technologically "leapfrog" directly to Wi-Fi (and
special applications, like VoIP telephony) as at
<>, but
in both instances a community-needs/community involvement approach is
paramount, working in conjunction with the technology.

Nevertheless, the discussion is timely as I have frequently wondered if
the nearly fifty-year old ghost of Rostow's "stages" keeps us from
recognizing the value of these experiences and expanding them to all the
hinterlands, even if "take off" to high mass consumption will never be
the end result.

Gary Garriott (former ICTD LAC SURF Adviser) 

On Tuesday, January 4, 2005, Jeff Buderer wrote:

> This is an interesting conversation and I see the points from both
> sides. I think Ken is right in questioning the idea that you cannot as
> Tim says "skip the first three stages and go straight to flying."
> I want to make an important distinction here between infrastructure
> approach and readiness and mental/organizational capacity/readiness.
> There are preconditions to "take off" such as outlined by former
> Kennedy/Johnson advisor Walter Rostow:
> <
> C126/Devolop1.doc+stages+to+take-off&hl=en&lr=lang_en>
> I feel also that these preconditions to nation-state development
> "critical mass" also apply today. Because what Rostow is talking about
> applies not just to nation states but to all aspects of human
> development. His stages to take-off are a generalized set of criteria
> relating to developing momentum towards a critical mass within a
> particular system towards rapid growth and replication.

> The concept of disruptive technologies offers another new concept to the
> mix. When disruptive technologies as well as approaches are applied
> effectively as part of a comprehensive package of solutions to address
> not only development, but world urgent issues like global warming, AIDS
> and loss of biodiversity, we start to see that the old rules of
> development don't always apply.


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