Malcolm Gladwell said “poverty is not deprivation. It is isolation.” Often the smallest technological advances create the largest social impacts, take the Internet for example. Technology impacts the developing world in great ways because the contrast it has to the developed world. Mobile technology is no longer the shiny new accessory; it has succeeded in the developed world and I argue it can help provide a cure against the isolation Gladwell mentions. Companies and governments already know the opportunities mobile technology can bring to the developing world, but what are the social implications? Unable to participate in the global market because of the lack of technology, these developing worlds see the affect of inadequate communication by being unable to compete for a piece of the global profit. Mobile technology can change lives, but in what ways? Despite how fascinatingly different cultures around the world are the inability to understand all of them prove that communication is important and universal. Within this paper we’ll step outside the traditional studies of mobile technology in the developing world and focus on the social implications using case studies and examples. I will look at three social implications: the blurring of livelihoods, family communication and the pursuit of relationships.
When your community is connected through technology, people hear each other and a culture of expectation regarding consistent communication builds. UW professor Kathy Gill said in a November 2009 lecture, “culture is the way we express ourselves as individuals.” Therefore it is plausible to believe that without technology, people in the developing world are unable to express themselves as well as those in the developed world. But what are people saying about mobile technology and the developing world? C. K. Prahalad says, “cell phones are a part of the lives of the rich and poor alike…as a result, awareness of the conditions and nuances of the Bottom of the Pyramid is increasing.” He coins the term “Bottom of the Pyramid” in reference to developing worlds. Richard Ling talks about mobile communication allowing “us to participate in social interactions that were previously reserved for only those who were physically present.” In his interpretation the role of participation has been given another dimension of possibility. Another angle on what mobile technology is creating is a profound insight from Clay Shirky. He states that “when we change the way we communicate, we change society.” This is quite profound and circles back to the reasoning that mobile technology can provide a cure against poverty and isolation.
Prahalad, Ling and Shirky all have something in common, their mention of technology dances around the social implications without much interpretation. So why look at the social implications of mobile technology in the developing world? While it would be easier to look at the effects in the United States, “mobile penetration in emerging markets has grown 321% compared to 46% in developed countries,” and according to a research article by Jonathan Donner, “the next billion new phone users will use primarily mobiles.” Unlike the United States, developing worlds use mobile technology differently. While extracurricular communication, scheduling, email and Internet are important to us culturally in the United States, the developing world uses mobile phones as a link to information and knowledge that can help reshape their communities. Continue reading