Cell Phones as Transformative Technology

With the planet apparently on track to have 4 billion wireless subscribers by 2010, let’s take a second to look at the effects of the one piece of electronic equipment that will eventually reach just about everyone on Earth. In the words of Salon’s How The World Works,

Whether it’s farmers or fishers suddenly being able to call around and shop around for the best prices for their crop or catch, or the ability of a rural laborer to avoid walking miles in (often fruitless) searches for available jobs, or the possibility, in some countries, to actually use phones as mobile bank accounts, the devices have proved useful in an astonishing number of ways. They represent a true leapfrog technology that directly enhances the lives of those at the so-called bottom of the pyramid.

Phones change lives — how will they change politics? Just as they allow pricing information to pass from phone to phone among participants in a distributed market, they’ll allow information to spread quickly among participants in a distributed political action. We’re already seeing the beginnings of their use as political organizing tools, and that’s mostly just with voice and text. Wait until a phone that handles images, video and other big fat chunks of data is sitting in the hands of every disaffected slum-dweller in the Third World. Quicker than we think…

Update: When I was writing this post, I forgot about an article on Personal Democracy Forum a few days ago: Rural Women To Report Human Rights Violations Against Them Using Mobile Phones. Just a hint of possibilities to come.


Written by
Colin Delany
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