Thailand is one of the leading countries in the world in the use of mobile communications. But it has a long way to go to catch up even with regional neighbours in tying together the millions of citizens, services and businesses. Successful use of available networks remains the exception when it should be the rule.
The recent plan announced by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to free Thais from the "middle-income trap" was extraordinary for reaching into the past for pedestrian programmes. It should have been a call to unleash imaginative solutions to drive Thailand upward, not slowly push it there. If Thailand were a novel or a movie, the perpetual inability of the government to harness either the reality or promise of available technology would be seen as a conspiracy designed to hold the country back.
The existing and constantly expanding internet and telecommunications systems are familiar to all. Children and grandparents, workers and bosses - almost every Thai - now use mobile phones and feel at home with a worldwide web browser. But if a person has to renew a national ID card, he or she must drive and trudge along to the amphur office, take a number, sit and stand in lines. It seems not to have occurred to the government to take appointments and relevant information by phone, email or website - cutting the lines, ending waiting times and providing digital information that does not require typing and re-typing.
Smartphones and the internet are barely the start to empowerment. Remote medical operations, classrooms in the clouds and "meetings" of generals in the field with ministers in their offices are not futuristic. They have been happening for years. Just not in Thailand.
Most hospitals have finally stepped into the computer age. But the medical system is largely in the graphite age - the kind found in pencils. Clerks and nurses must still swap files to get information from one doctor to another.
It is safe to say that Thailand is far down the list of countries where government and business are using, or even trying, work-from-home programmes. Working from home is no magic bullet, but it has many attractions. Public or private, employers save by requiring less workspace and equipment and lower energy bills.
Working from home is no universal advance. Some businesses obviously need all or nearly all employees on hand. Others can be run without the need of a physical office. Most government offices, ministries and departments would benefit by arranging to let some staff work at home, at least for part of the work week. So, too, could many industries.
Tough realities intrude into the world of working at home. Many workers feel the need to socialise with others. Many supervisors can hardly imagine a workplace where they cannot see and regiment and discipline employees every hour of every workday. The successful government department or business, however, will work through these concerns, as thousands of departments and companies worldwide have done.
The failure or even the refusal to use available, familiar technology is a huge drag on 21st century development. The key to empowering upcountry citizens and rural residents lies in the hands of the prime minister.