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close this bookTechnological Independence The Asian experience (UNU, 1994, 372 pages)
close this folder7. The lessons from Asia: From past experience to the future
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentChina
View the documentIndia
View the documentRepublic of Korea
View the documentThailand
View the documentPhilippines
View the documentJapan
View the documentThe geopolitical environment and the local socio-economic situation
View the documentFormal S&T structure and industry
View the documentThe rural-urban relationship
View the documentInformal and formal sectors
View the documentNew generic technologies
View the documentSocial shaping of technology
View the documentConscious shaping of the technology
View the documentExisting agendas for shaping technology
View the documentConcluding remarks
View the documentNotes

Informal and formal sectors

In contrast to the formal S&T sector, which in some countries exists as an island unconnected with economic activities, there is also the informal knowledge system. This is also the knowledge practiced by the Asian informal economic sector. This sector is responsive to immediate market demands and market openings, and uses knowledge opportunistically wherever it finds it. In the bazaars and small markets of Asia, the informal sector is thus continuously innovating.

Often, products from the formal sector are reprocessed and recycled into new artefacts. For example, an old thrown-away electric bulb and a discarded tin may be made into an oil lamp, a technological product found in many parts of South Asia. By similar innovative processes, new methods are discovered for making 30-year-old vehicles function, and new toys are made from junk. Real technological creativity occurs in this milieu and the formal S&T structure is largely tangential to this creativity.

The same informal creativity also exists at the higher ends of the technology spectrum, when repairmen and hobbyists carry out ceaseless experimentation and innovation in order to repair and modify difficult-to-obtain electronic products and parts, and to make novel customized products. To this same class of creative technology acquisition also belong those small enterprises, such as those found in Hong Kong, where new electronics-based products are constantly created on the basis of reverse engineering, product piracy, direct market pulls, and continuous inventiveness.9

It is also this type of informal creative culture which drove Silicon Valley in its heyday and which gave rise to the original10 computer "hacker" culture, both good examples of technology creativity and mastery at the highest level. It is this dynamic creative relationship that should exist between the formal S&T system and the economy. And, in the country which most successfully transferred technology, Japan, the boundary between the formal and the informal in organizations does not exist.11 In this milieu, different technological cultures can blend into each other seamlessly, synergistically.12 Here, a positive milieu for organizational technological creativity may have been created, in contrast to the more rigid arrangements seen elsewhere.