The standard narrative around technology in the developing world usually focuses on the positive: cell phones make it easier to check crop prices, transfer money, and understand violence. But a new study, summarized in Foreign Policy, finds that all this connectivity can also increase political violence in violence-prone regions and countries:
A new study by Jan Pierskalla of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies and Florian Hollenbach of Duke University looks at the relationship between mobile phones and political violence in Africa. They found that from 2007 to 2009, areas with 2G network coverage were 50 percent more likely to have experienced incidents of armed conflict than those without. The clearest overlaps between cell coverage and violence were observed in Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
The authors think that improved cell-phone coverage helps insurgent leaders overcome what’s called the “collective-action problem” — that people are reluctant to join group endeavors when there’s a high level of personal risk. But better communication helps leaders recruit reluctant followers, whether they’re demonstrating for higher wages or killing people in the next town.
Maggie Koerth-Baker of BoingBoing interviews Brough Turner, a phone system expert, about why it’s hard to make cell phone calls during an emergency. Turner addresses the mechanics and limitations of cell phone networks and points out that, nostalgia notwithstanding, the pre-cell phone era faced its own technical problems:
Well, say you’d have an earthquake in California. This was for the old Bell system. The national long distance routing has a set of standard, predefined routes and it had network control centers in New Jersey and other places. Things would get overloaded and they would manually intervene by putting access restrictions on new calls coming into the area that was congested. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s they would let through one out of every five call attempts. They were doing that manually and just arbitrarily to reduce congestion.
(HT: The Big Picture)
My good friend Massimo Young recently moved to Kenya, where he is seeing what happens when you mix a little American ingenuity into a thriving but chaotic developing economy. In what I hope is the first of many blog posts, Massimo reports on just what it takes to succeed in the banking industry in Kenya. (Massimo does not have a financial interest in any of the companies discussed in his post, although he wishes he did!)
M-PESA: The Story of the Most Successful Bank in Kenya
By Massimo Young
It’s not easy to do business in Kenya. Business people complain all the time that despite a wealth of opportunities, there are often major roadblocks to accomplishing much on the ground, especially at scale. In fact, Kenya ranks 121st out of 185 countries in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” survey.
On the other hand, there are some amazing examples in recent years of businesses that have managed to accomplish a lot very quickly. In particular, the wild success of mobile banking in Kenya has changed the way people use money here. Launched just 5 years ago, Kenya’s leading mobile money transfer service, M-PESA, now processes a total of about $5 billion in transactions per year, equivalent to an astounding 15% of the country’s GDP. Before it launched, only 14% of Kenyans participated in the formal banking sector. Today, about half the adult population uses M-PESA. Read More »
Research in Motion, the Waterloo, Ontario, company that makes BlackBerrys, has been hemorrhaging market share in North America. But a blog reader named Jon Markman, a lawyer living in Washington, D.C., has discovered a land where the BlackBerry still dominates:
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I wanted to send along an interesting thing I noticed on a recent trip to the Dominican Republic to visit my in-laws.
In the past when I’ve been there, I’ve noticed that everyone uses a BlackBerry; my wife and I were the only people I’d ever seen using anything else (other than a “dumb” phone, but those are pretty rare these days everywhere!). I figured it was only a matter of time; trends and technology seem to often lag a little when making it to the island. Given that BlackBerry has fading for years, I thought, soon it would fade there, too.
You’ve probably heard by now that the NTSB has recommended that states forbid drivers to use cell phones, whether hands-free or not. Here is a good AP article by Joan Lowy about what is known and not known about phone risk. She makes the excellent point that it’s harder to argue for a ban when highway fatalities keep falling — but that a falling death rate hardly means that cell phone use isn’t dangerous. (Off-topic but not too dissimilar: Americans are losing their taste for the death penalty, theoretically because it’s sometimes applied so haphazardly — but in truth it’s a lot easier to argue against the death penalty when the murder rate has fallen as dramatically as it has.)
In the AP article, Marcel Just of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon, puts in words why phones may cause a particular risk of distraction:
“When someone is speaking your native language, you can’t will yourself to not hear and process it. It just goes in,” Just said. Even if a driver tries to ignore the words, scientists “can see activation in the auditory cortex, in the language areas (of the brain). “
This would also explain why hearing someone else’s cell-phone chatter in public is more annoying than it ought to be.
We’ve blogged before about the many applications of mobile phone technology in developing countries, especially when it comes to mobile banking. In much of the developing world, particularly in Africa, mobile phones are thriving in remote villages, while access to electricity, clean water, schools and government services is weak at best; yet cellular service is strong.
A new research paper by Jenny C. Aker, Rachid Boumnijel, Amanda McClelland and Niall Tierney analyzes the effectiveness of yet another mobile application gaining strength in the developing world: cash transfer programs. After a drought in Niger in 2009 and 2010, Concern Worldwide, an international NGO, provided “unconditional cash transfers to approximately 10,000 households during the ‘hungry season,’ the five-month period before the harvest and typically the time of increased malnutrition.”
Instead of distributing cash in the usual way, the NGO conducted a randomized experiment: one-third of targeted villages received a monthly cash transfer through a mobile system called zap; another third received manual cash transfers, and the remaining third received manual cash transfers plus a mobile phone. Read More »
A three-day Blackberry service outage last week in parts of the United Arab Emirates once again demonstrates the value of “distracted driving” laws. According to an article in The National, an English-language paper in Abu Dhabi, traffic accidents in Dubai last week fell 20 percent from average rates on the days when BlackBerry users were unable to use its messaging service. In Abu Dhabi, the number of accidents last week fell 40 percent, and there were no fatal accidents. According to the article, on average there is a traffic accident every three minutes in Dubai, and a fatal accident every two days in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi recently launched a campaign against cell phone use while driving and plans to use electronic evidence in traffic cases. Read More »
A new poll from the Pew Research Center asked Americans about how they use their phone, and in particular, their phone’s non-voice features. They got predictable but still staggering results about sending and receiving text messages, especially from the younger demographic. The summary states:
Read More »
Some 83% of American adults own cell phones and three-quarters of them (73%) send and receive text messages. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project asked those texters in a survey how they prefer to be contacted on their cell phone and 31% said they preferred texts to talking on the phone, while 53% said they preferred a voice call to a text message. Another 14% said the contact method they prefer depends on the situation.