13 April 2008

Sunday's read: Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?

Yes, it's a long a**-article from today's New York Times, but it's a fascinating read: Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?

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.”

. . .

Some of the drawings were basic pencil sketches; others were strikingly elaborate, with arrows pointing to different dream features, which were really just a way of pointing — I realized then — to the dreams themselves.

Jung and Tulusan said they’d found this everywhere, the phone representing what people are aspiring to. “It’s an easy way to see what’s important to them, what their challenges are,” Jung said. One Liberian refugee wanted to outfit a phone with a land-mine detector so that he could more safely return to his home village. In the Dharavi slum of Mumbai, people sketched phones that could forecast the weather since they had no access to TV or radio. Muslims wanted G.P.S. devices to orient their prayers toward Mecca. Someone else drew a phone shaped like a water bottle, explaining that it could store precious drinking water and also float on the monsoon waters. In Jacarèzinho, a bustling favela in Rio, one designer drew a phone with an air-quality monitor. Several women sketched phones that would monitor cheating boyfriends and husbands. Another designed a “peace button” that would halt gunfire in the neighborhood with a single touch.

- Sara Corbett, contributing writer to the New York Times

No comments: