Can Mobile Phones Change the World?

The Economist has a special section this week on mobile phone technology in emerging markets. The section includes articles on trends in mobile phone ownership, the role mobile phones are playing in economic development, and new uses for the technology. Mobile phones in developing countries are now used to provide farmers with agricultural information, remind patients to take their meds, gather health information in the field, and transfer money. Jeffrey Sachs has called mobile phones “the single most transformative tool for development.” [%comments]


Olshi

Transfer money via mobile phone ? Did they lost their common sense to make payments with such unsecured device ?

karen lyons kalmenson

they already have. keeping lines of communication open 24/7 wherever, whenever.

jeff

This article UNDERSTATES the importance. But I think the big deal is political and social.

The genius who said..let's put a camera on a phone should get the Nobel peace prize. Because now, in a peaceful demonstration in some faraway place, when soldiers shoot at a protester it is caught on someones cellcam and immediately can be broadcast around the world. Cellphones, cell cams, and such technology makes governments and others behave respectably now.

Nancy B

It's also the single most threatening tool for intrusion into the Good Life.

I don't have a mobile phone, and I know my wired days are numbered. I just saw a television news segment that stated the telephone companies no longer even consider land lines viable and they won't support them.

Over 60 and alone but not lonely, I will begin now to find the ways to use a mobile for safety and security. I am NOT a (full-flegded) Luddite or anti-technology; just happily solitary.

If Freak has come across any guides for us, I'd be happy to know about them. (Don't call me.) And there's always LifeAlert, or other such things you wear around your neck for emergencies.

M.B.

Am I the only one who believes that, at least in the West, life was better before mobile phones. Better driving, quieter bathrooms and so on.

AngelPenaCMS

Yes!!! It's the best thing that could be happening. Mobile phones in emerging markets benefits the economy and the people. This new type of mobile technology falls under the category of physical capital. At first one might think that mobile technology might replace human capital which will result economic disaster. The truth is that it won't replace human capital. In fact it will create more jobs since the demand for phones will increase and the more service from households will be demanded from part of mobile technology firms. Also this mobile technology might result more efficient to produce something than human capital. For instance in agriculture, mobile technology might organize the farm more efficient than human capital. Then if you picture the farms PPF (production possibility frontier) it will result a bow outward meaning it's production of goods will be more efficient. Therefore in my opinion I think mobile technology will result in the best interest for everybody including households and firms.

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Corban

Until we can cure the next AIDS by playing Tetris on our phones, there is still much work to be done. We should not settle for anything less than our best.

RobLL

When I visited the Philippines in the 60s (complements USN), and then again on my dime seeing Peace Corps son in the 90s, I was impressed by two things. Trikes (motorcycle taxis) and cell phones. Their system is really better than the US now. Texting was very inexpensive, and talking more expensive, trikes affordable. NO ONE was isolated any more. The magnitude of the leap in communications and transportation at affordable costs was phenomenal. When the kids were worried that nothing was getting better I felt happy to say how much better things looked than 25 years earlier.

MarboChengCMS

When we think of cell phones we think of new better technology facilitating our needs. Mobile phones are physical capital. Mobile phones it great for the economy because it promotes efficiency by this I mean that cell phones help us save time and not only that but it helps us perform a better job now that it reminds us, helps us, and educate us. For example cell phones help employees of companies, governments, and organizations to communicate quickly and cost efficiently. Not only does this convenient technology help these entities to do their jobs more effectively, but also help them perform better, financially. Mobiles phones are like any other technology that benefits the human by facilitating jobs and helping perform better jobs. Do you know how much time a cell phone can save you? Can you imagine if there were no mobile phones? Who's going to reminds us everything? How are we going to keep in contact? What will happen to international trade when no communication is available? All these are some of the benefit of cell phones. Not to mention that cell phones have Internet, everything you need is provided in a mobile phone where you easy access any information you need and can communicate whenever you want. Economically speaking, it has made our economy more efficient now that we have more time to do more things that we actually did and also it has minimized our transaction cost. When we look at our PPF (production possibility frontier) it shifts outward now that we have become more productive. Just as Tim Hartford says that only a country's economy will grow depends on how productive it is.

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GarboCMS

I believe that mobile can truly change the world. This is one of the best communication tools or what could be called a physical capital, which helps in many ways. Economically, this tool helps reduce a lot your transaction cost of having to go from place to place in order to gather information or to do business. The mobile phones with it, there are many things that could be done in less time and much more easily. When trading, no longer for people to meet each other do they need to waste hours to travel to one place and does not use as much money since transportation is no longer needed. In addition, a person with a mobile phone can make so much more trade in less time than before, the trader can talk with much more people in less time. Not only that, but with the cell phone it can make it much more better for a business man to get better trade that bring them more profit, and make markets much more competitive. This is because now that it does not take as much time to get trade agreements done or for people to check price of products, the traders can get to choose the product that is much cheaper and better from the bad ones. This will lead to production of much better and cheaper products because of competition and the fact that the businessman buying a product can get information of same products in less time.

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David Piehler

I have to say I am a little shocked to see the attitude of some of the responders on a NewYorkTimes blog. What may seem like a pain in the a** to among the top 10% (world-wide) is truly transformative to the bottom 50%.

Imagine you had nothing. By nothing I do not mean you're on unemployment and your credit cards are maxed out. I mean your home is nothing more than a piece of corrugated metal held up by a stack of bricks, you have no access to plumbing, the nearest "landline" is half a mile away and shared by thousands, and you do not know if you will earn $5.00 or $0.05 tomorrow. It does not take much imagination to see how a mobile phone might significantly improve your life.

I have spent a huge amount of time in India (mostly Delhi) in the past three years. The mobile penetration in the cities is now so high that some beggars have phones. (India has 15 million new mobile subscribers per month.) I don't they could comprehend how someone could thing life would be better without a mobile phone.

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Y11

In a coastal city in India, the introduction of cell phones reduced waste in the fish industry and allowed for prices to be constant throughout different markets.

Jensen, 2007. The Digital Provide.

Quarterly Journal of Economics.

it's all about how you use the technology

Sleek718

Forgive me if I'm wrong...but aren't these things supposedly part of the reason why bee populations are drastically shrinking in our world? What does the farmer need more, a cell phone that relates what I just said, or a bee to pollenate his crops?

And while at it...to Y11's claim that it's all about how you use technology...

What impact has various metals and resources that go into the making of cell phones had on the social scene in the third world? Blood wars in Africa are as much related to technologically inclined resources as they are diamonds.

There is no end to the mayhem.