We've made the point repeatedly here that mobile phones represent a critical leapfrog tool for the developing world. They provide access to information, contact with friends and relatives, even community business models. With programs like Grameen Phone and efforts like the GSM association's Emerging Markets Handset project, mobile phones are available to growing numbers of people in the poorest countries. The revolutionary utility of the mobile phone hasn't escaped the notice of phone manufacturers or even the gaze of conventional journals like The Economist.
Now the world of international development is picking up on this idea. Developments: The International Development Magazine just published an article entitled "Loose talk saves lives," by Matthew Bishop, describing the poverty-reducing effect of widespread access to mobile phones.
Readers familiar with the discussion here on WorldChanging will find in it little that's new. That's why it's a useful piece, in fact: the article provides a wonderful summary of the major points of the argument. Bishop hits the key issues, including the rapid spread of mobile phones in Africa, the relationship between phone access and GDP, the need for even lower-cost phone units, the Grameen Phone program, and even the mobile phone as a "leapfrog" technology. Bishop uses enough new examples that the piece doesn't simply read as a mashup of various Worldchanging posts, but it's clear that he's on our wavelength.
(Via Smart Mobs)
As cell phones become ubiquitous and global connectivity among all peoples is established and with the internet serving as the nedium I dream of the following: That the news coverage across the globe is wrested away from the powerful few and their self-serving agendas and put into the hands of the immediate and local populations directly affected by all events - the good, bad and ugly. Pictures cross the boundaries of language and literacy and flashing them from the remote corners of 190 countries will hopefully put us back into "truthful" reporting.
The above scenario assumes that outfitting cell phones with inexpensive digital cameras is not an insurmountable issue and also that the internet will remain freely accessible and uncensored in the future as it is now (mostly). It is not hard to imagine a "bitTorrent" company jamming the OC45 backbone cables that carry the internet traffic today across the planet as soon as the "truth" becomes unbearable to the controlling few.
Would an easier proposition for the powerful few be to ban "cameras" embedded in cell phones, say in the interest of national security? Taxing them heavily or "Requiring Registration" are other good ideas to remove them from circulation among the marginalised billions.
But then there are likes of worldchanging.com that will surely step up to the plate and neutralize any such anti-freedom actions to take root. :)
While cell phones may help poor people in developing countries, there are a couple of things about these devices that need to be addressed, and soon considering their growing ubiquity:
1. Technology becoming obsolete. Cell phones are getting smaller, gaining new features, and as camera tech prices come down, their cameras will improve. Unless these phones are made to be recycled, they are going contribute to a horrendous glut of E-Waste.
2. Controversy over microwaves. It seems that many people ignore research that indicates that microwaves from cell phones can have adverse effects on the brain (depsite getting a fair amount of media coverage a few years back). "Solutions" have ranged from ear pieces to supression of research, but the fact remains that microwaves are being aimed at your body. I think more research needs to be done to determine whether this tchnology of convenience is really worth the risks is presents.
Scientia est potentia
Giving people the ability to help themselves is obviouly one of the keys. Kudos. Great post (and great site btw).