New York Times gives us a new (well, new-ish) perspective on cellular phones – as a revolutionary technology for eliminating global poverty.. or for making killer profits with “human-centered design”:
Having a call-back number, Chipchase likes to say, is having a fixed identity point, which, inside of populations that are constantly on the move — displaced by war, floods, drought or faltering economies — can be immensely valuable both as a means of keeping in touch with home communities and as a business tool. Over several years, his research team has spoken to rickshaw drivers, prostitutes, shopkeepers, day laborers and farmers, and all of them say more or less the same thing: their income gets a big boost when they have access to a cellphone.
Despite their red robes and shaved heads and the fact they were spending their days in a giant monastery at the top of a windy hill where they were meant to be in dialogue with God, some of the 15 monk disciples had cellphones — Nokia cellphones — and most were fancier models than the one Chipchase was carrying. One of the disciples asked to look at Chipchase’s phone. “So he’s got my phone and his phone,” Chipchase told me. “And as we’re talking, he’s switching on the Bluetooth. And he then data-mines my phone for all its content, all my photographs and so on, which is absolutely fine, but it’s kind of a scene where you think, I’m here, I’m so away from everything and yet they’re so technically literate. . . . ”
This is when I voiced a careless thought about whether there might be something negative about the lightning spread of technology, whether its convenience was somehow supplanting traditional values or practices. Chipchase raised his eyebrows and laid down his spoon. He sighed, making it clear that responding to me was going to require patience. “People can think, yeah, monks with cellphones, and tsk, tsk, and what is the world coming to?” he said. “But if you wanted to take phones away from anybody in this world who has them, they’d probably say: ‘You’re going to have to fight me for it. Are you going to take my sewer and water away too?’ And maybe you can’t put communication on the same level as running water, but some people would. And I think in some contexts, it’s quite viable as a fundamental right.” He paused a beat to let this sink in, then added, with just a touch of edge, “People once believed that people in other cultures might not benefit from having books either.”
Jan Chipchase also writes the Future Perfect blog.