Starting from the assumption that any technology embeds the ideology, politics and culture of the society where it was created, this chapter reconstructs the specific historical and political link between the affirmation of neo-liberal paradigm, which has occurred since the 1970s in Western industrialized capitalist countries, and the dissemination of ICT. More in particular, it analyses the problem of measurement of ICT, emerged functionally to the need to identify new tools to legitimize the hierarchy of development, giving some countries the label of “most advanced” and the others of “developing” or “underdeveloped”. Indeed, the measurement, acting as a scientific justification for the Western superiority, is a part of those structures of knowledge which constitute an essential element in the functioning and legitimacy of the political, economic and social structures of the existing world-system. This contribution reconstructs this methods of knowledge deployed first at the international level, within and through the work of those actors who have taken the leading role in defining the interpretative lines of the measurement of ICT: the OECD, ITU, the World Bank.
Measuring Ict And The Neoliberal Project
The rapid diffusion of new information and communication technologies (ICT) is crucially linked to the early years (1970s) of their development. The paradigmatic changes occurring in that period in the industrialized countries of the capitalist West played a key role both in the dissemination of ICT and for their legitimacy as a criterion for measuring the progress of society. During the 70s, Western societies experienced a period of political, economic and social crisis becaus the Keynesian and welfare models, according to which they had been governed, were losing legitimacy because of creating ungovernable democracies. Therefore these models were deemed by then social systems unable to cope with the growing issues of the social body (Crozier, Huntington & Watanuki, 1975).
In the battle for a new hegemony, neoliberalism emerged as the best model for responding to the attempts to restore class power by the economic and political world elite (Harvey, 2005). Within a few years, the neoliberal doctrine, which had achieved a fundamental reversal of the existing balance in the relationship between the individual and society, economics and politics, public and private, was able to impose worldwide, even as regards the man in the street, a new vision of the world (Harvey, 2005).
There are many reasons why neoliberalism has been a suitable political-ideological terrain for the spreading of ICT and a justification and ideological legitimacy of their development. One possible explanation lies in the fact that, unlike the preceding welfare model, this doctrine maintains that:
the social good will be maximized by maximizing the reach and frequency of market transactions, and it seeks to bring all human action into the domain of the market. This requires technologies of information creation and capacities to accumulate, store, transfer, analyze, and use massive databases to guide decisions in the global marketplace. (Harvey, 2005, p. 3)
The trajectories of neoliberalism have therefore intersected with the incentive to produce new technology infrastructure (software and hardware),because it has been: (a) a new area of prolific development of the capitalist economy, (b) an effective solution to the decrease in production costs and the acceleration both of economic transactions and financialization of the economy, (c) an appropriate solution to the imperative of a more streamlined and less expensive statehood, (d) an ideological tool to reaffirm on a global scale the superiority of some countries over others. This last point deserves particular attention. Indeed, it is necessary to remember that:
the new information technologies were developed in, by and for highly advanced capitalist economies – that of the USA in particular. It is to be expected, therefore, that these technologies are now being employed single-mindedly to serve market objectives. Control of the labour force, higher productivity, capture of the world markets, and continued capital accumulation are the propelling influences under which the new information technologies are developed. (Schiller, 1985, p. 37)
Their legitimacy as a key element of the development of society took place in the historical period that marks the transition in terms of international relations from the framework of the “development project” to that of the “globalization project” (McMichael, 2004). This new frame of development dissemination, which the neoliberal doctrine put in place especially through the central role of international institutions (World Bank, International Monetary Fund),
succeed[ed] the development project, partly because the latter failed and partly because the former became a new exercise of (market) power across the world (as transnational firms and banks grew and as neoliberal ideology took hold, restructuring states and societies everywhere). (McMichael, 2004, p. XXXIX)