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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT. Keynote address at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, New York, delivered by Professor Manuel Castells on 12th May, 2000. (Revised 15th July 2000)

Opening The world is experiencing a major technological revolution, centered around information and communication technologies and genetic engineering. Internet is at the sametime the epitome and the most powerful medium of this revolution. Under the impulse of new technologies and flexible forms of organization and management we are witnessing the formation of a new economy, characterized by rising productivity growth and global competition. During the late 1990s most of the world has experienced reasonable rates of economic growth, in spite of the Asian crisis of1997-98. The perspectives are for a continuation of this economic dynamism in core economies,as well as in selected areas of the developing world. United Nations’ Human Development Reports indicate some improvement in living conditions (education enrollment, life expectancy, infant mortality) around most of the world, when data are considered in a historical perspective. Besides, in the last decade wehave witnessed an extension of political democracy in the planet, the beginning of globalization of human rights, the opening up of horizontal communication channels via the Internet. Overall, people have more say today on public affairs than in any prior time in history. Furthermore, there is a major cultural revolution, as women’s consciousness has risen in the last three decades, and aswomen’s emancipation seems to be an irreversible trend. Yet, at the same time, people around the world fear threatened by globalisation and by new technologies, and a widespread social backlash against the new technoeconomic system is emerging, under different forms, from reactive movements to alternative projects enacted by proactive movements. This is not, as some would think, a matter ofmisunderstanding or an expression of ideological irrationality.


General Secretary Kofi Annan’s report to the Millennium Assembly of the United Nation provides a good empirical basis to understand many of these concerns. In my own interpretation, they arise from a multiplicity of reasons: similar fears have taken place in all rapid social transition periods; there are fears of uncontrolled uses oftechnology (eg. in genetic engineering), and in my view, these fears are founded. There are also growing environmental concerns about the consequences of our development model, precisely because we know more about these consequences,thanks to advancement in science and technology. Governments seem to be facing a major crisis of legitimacy: The UN/Gallup survey of public opinion cited by the SecretaryGeneral in his report indicates that: 2/3 of respondents of a global sample of citizens around the world do not think that their country is governed by the will of the people. Reasons? In my view, some of this distrust is linked to widespread corruption and lack of accountability. But the main reason, I believe, is that governments are the in fact the main globalizers.So, if globalization isperceived as a threat, governments are not reliable in the eyes of many citizens, because they are responding to global interests rather than serving their local constituencies – at least in people’s perception. .Furthermore, people’s lack of trust also arises from the correct perception of the gap in opportunities and from the fact that rather than living in a world divided between rich and poor (anold feature of human societies) we are entering a new world characterized by a cleavage between those who are “in” and those who are “out” of the new system of wealth and power. I shall try to explain this process, then I will elaborate on the policy implications of this analysis. 1. Internet, the New economy, and global development. There is a new economy, expanding throughout the world,...
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