The cellphone's future in reducing global poverty, with the extra feature of following a user anthropologist search for clues to the next generation of cellphone design features [Jan Chipchase who also blogs at Future Perfect], is the must read article in Sunday's NYT Magazine (7 Apr 2008). Many of the examples, and the reference to the report The Next Four Billion, will not be new to regular readers. Yet, the article pulls together many threads to demonstrate the promise of what can happen when one shifts from thinking about a new technology to designing user experiences with it that help people become more productive.
Some of the statistics Sara Corbett compiles here focus the opportunity:
- It took 20 years for the first billion cellphones to be sold in the world; 4 years for the 2nd billion to be sold; 2 years for the 3rd.
- 80% of the world's population now lives within range of a cellular network.
- 68% of cellphone subscribers live in the developing world.
- For every additional 10 mobile phones per 100 people, a country’s G.D.P. rises 0.5 percent.
- By microfinancing 'cellphone ladies,' Grameen Phone is now Bangladesh’s largest telecom provider, with annual revenues of about $1 billion.
The nut of the article is in this observation: the cellphone’s ability to increase people’s productivity and well-being, mostly because of the simple fact that they can be reached.
...in an increasingly transitory world, the cellphone is becoming the one fixed piece of our identity. Having the cellphone number is the one way you can be located and connected 'just in time' to arrange anything from a meeting place with friends, to establishing the price of your crop or catch for that day before you get to the marketplace, to setting up a microenterprise cellphone business, to creating formal mobile banking services.
The article notes how text messaging is being used to send reminders to take tuberculosis medications in South Africa and for people to receive answers to questions they can pose anonymously about AIDS, breast cancer and STDs (and a note: we have a pilot project in Zambia using text messaging for follow-up with male circumcision patients and to conduct brief service satisfaction surveys).
Then there is the example during the recent post-election violence in Kenya that at one point saw the government send out this text message: The Ministry of Internal Security urges you to please desist from sending or forwarding any S.M.S. that may cause public unrest. This may lead to your prosecution. And to think at VA Tech last year they were only using email and white boards to alert students to a shooter on the campus!