Virtual communities: Boosters of knowledge economy

Virtual communities: Boosters of knowledge economy

The virtual communities, in today’s knowledge-based economy, are playing a crucial role in the socio-economic environment. This virtual community, that shares information and knowledge through the digital networks, has been the biggest influencer on a society. Vibhuti Patel portrays how virtual communities are silently boosting knowledge economy where knowledge is accessible to all, irrespective of region, religion, class, caste, gender, race, etc.

The 21st century has witnessed the emergence of knowledge economy as a sacrosanct since the production of goods and services is primarily based on knowledge-driven activities. The industrialised countries are already a part of this knowledge economy whereas the developing countries are in different stages of progress although both the categories of countries have a different set of economic environment. The growth of knowledge economy in different economic dimensions are enumerated in a specific metrics. The World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) considers all varied variables of an economic system to calculate the KEI of a country.

In the Indian context, BPO sector is one of the important instances for knowledge-driven activity. Experiences of last one decade in the ICT enabled BPO sector has substantiated India’s ability to produce and use knowledge as one of the major factors in economic development. This sector has proved to be critical to India’s competitive advantage.

Knowledge economy framework: What is it for?

As per the World Bank’s knowledge economy framework a successful knowledge economy stands on four pillars of the following segments:

  • First pillar is an economic and institutional regime that is conducive to the creation, diffusion, and utilisation of knowledge. This regime provides incentives that encourage the use and allocation of existing and new knowledge efficiently to foster policy change. The economic environment must have good policies and be favourable to market transactions, such as being open to free trade and foreign direct investment. For the encouraging entrepreneurship and knowledge investment, the government is ought to protect the intellectual property rights (IPR).
  • Second pillar is an educated and skilled population that creates, shares, uses and disseminates knowledge efficiently and judiciously. Education, especially in the scientific and engineering field, is necessary to achieve technological growth. A more educated society tends to be more technologically sophisticated, generating higher demand for knowledge. At the same time, knowledge of ethics and responsible citizenship is also needed in today’s strife-ridden milieu.
  • Third pillar is a dynamic information and communication infrastructure that facilitates the communication, dissemination, and processing of information. The worldwide increase in the flow of information and knowledge has reduced the transactions costs, leading to greater communication, productivity, and output.
  • Fourth pillar is an efficient innovation system of firms, research centres, universities, think tanks, consultants, and other organisations that apply and adapt global knowledge to local needs to create a new technology. The generation of technical knowledge leads to productivity growth.

Contextual scenario

Education in the era of knowledge economy has become a mandate- especially in the current context of “future of work” and industry 4.0 that demands lifelong learning and continuous upgradation of skills to adjust with the rapidly changing world.

India- in its recent National Education Policy 2020, has highlighted the need of education technology right from primary school to Ph.D. with an acute focus on online learning, distance learning and lifelong learning. Additionally, the ‘new normal’ super-imposed by COVID-19 pandemic which triggered ‘physical distancing’ has literally made online education a fate accompli.

Recently, economists have recognised the significant role being played by virtual communities for knowledge construction by the development of a workforce that is well-trained and capable of generating a knowledge-driven economic growth. They share knowledge and ideas through the use of social media* which has a democratizing influence as they de-privatise their knowledge and make it accessible to the underserved communities due to multiple marginalities caused by the intersectionalities of caste, class, race, ethnicity and geographic location; that has subsequently helped in reducing digital divide. Creative and proactive approaches towards new technology, methods of communication that affect the immediate environment of a virtual community and plan of action which explains virtual communities as ‘change makers’ are, therefore, need of the hour.

The current global community uses different online platforms* to get information, share information, connect various people for debates and discussions on common themes, etc. While using these online platforms, the most important task before virtual communities is their commitment to promote multicultural ethos with emphasis on gender justice, economic justice, environmental justice and distributive justice. However, before employing virtual learning environment for erudition and knowledge sharing, it is necessary to make social and cultural interventions. Feminist movement, for examples, has played a pivotal role in reaching out to the millions of women from four generations through the creation of virtual communities.

Democratising reach and influence

Knowledge sharing in a multicultural online learning community exercises has a democratising influence on an individual and groups of all generations who are digitally connected. Communication on plural lifestyle such as food habits, dress codes, ideological moorings, historical and cultural legacies, inter-generational dialogues, role models of different fields and of different regions not only broaden our horizons but also prepare us to respect plural lifestyle; while also having a humbling effect as we start appreciating the best sides of people from other cultures. Stereotypes and myths based on ignorance, lack of knowledge about fellow human beings generate ‘fear of the unknown’ syndrome. Virtual communities continue to play a crucial role in combating xenophobia, misogyny, and intolerance towards the ‘other’.

Three building blocks of virtual communication on WhatsApp Groups, Google/Yahoo groups and other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram contribute to transformation process through life stories, verses, slogans, quotations, visuals and multiple art forms that affect people’s perception. Thus, the virtual world is reaching out to citizens from diverse backgrounds in terms of class, caste, ethnicity, race, religion, age, gender and skin colour.

Over the last decade, we have witnessed that this has been happening in cases of pen-pals, fusion music, online museum and archives, photographic memories, qualitative research on a wide range of subjects- from work-life balance, violence against women, health awareness, cost-effective formal and informal education, trading, environmental concerns, different methods of home gardening, organic farming, self-learning, real-time cookery, healing practices rooted in different cultures, attitude towards senior citizens and differently-abled people.

There is other side of the coin too. Cybercrimes, in the present scenario, such as economic offence, violence, cyberstalking and identity theft have been a bane for digital communities. Hence, while using the digital technology, we need to be guarded from these criminal activities. At the same time, the 5Cs of evolution in an online community, in terms of: content development (allowing anyone to be a creator); conversation (enabling two-way dialogues between citizens); collaboration (facilitating the aggregation of small individual actions into meaningful collective results); community engagement (around a shared idea) and collective intelligence (for social development) have become boon for the humankind.

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Note: Views expressed are personal. This article is licensed under Creative Commons: CC-BY; Editing courtesy: Sneha Rathod, Vibha Dalal and Radhika; Article image courtesy: pixabay

*Social networking: Facebook, LinkedIn; Blogging: Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, WordPress; Microblogging: Twitter, Tumblr; Social Documents: Google Docs, Dropbox, Zoho; Project Management: Basecamp, Huddle; Photo Sharing: Instagram, Snapchat , Pinterest ; Video Sharing: YouTube, Facebook Live, Periscope , Vimeo; Live streaming: Livestream, Ustream; Presentation Sharing: Scribd, SlideShare, Sliderocket; Virtual Worlds: OpenSim, SecondLife, World of Warcraft, etc.

 Prof. Vibhuti Patel is a distinguished academician, social thinker and researcher. She is a former professor of School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is a post-doctoral fellow of London School of Economics and has authored many books, monographs, research papers, commentaries and reviews. Some of her works are included for policy-making as well.

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