How are mobile phones being used differently in the developing world? Are they the technology that will bridge the digital divide?

Recent news that approx. 75% of the world has cell phones and that mobile phone usage in the developing world has surpassed that of the developing world could do much to close the digital divide. Access to cellular services gives you access to a host of applications, news and communications that may have previously been too expensive.¬† The media’s view on the issue as so far been mixed.

For the middle class population it may do a great deal to spur the economic development of small businesses; farmers will be able to contact businesses, stores to their suppliers. It will connect them to the outside world and allow them to research information about there business in order to grow and succeed; e.g. advice on how to grow a crop. It can connect people to job services and people in rural areas to university programs to enhance their education. As seen in last week’s blog post it can also aid in political activism in at risk areas. In this population mobile phones provide an infinite number of options. The below image from PC World gives optimistic statistics on mobile phone usage in developing countries:

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(source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407335,00.asp)

It’s a little optimistic to suggest that it will close the digital divide as it doesn’t do a lot for the world’s poorest unless there is an organization that is willing to donate and support these devices for educational purposes; e.g. One laptop for very child. You still are required to subscribe to a mobile service, have access to electricity and reception to be able to use the service and you still need to be able to pay for the handset. For those families who are struggling to even provide food for their families or send their children to school it is unlikely to have an impact. It would be more beneficial to finance traditional aid; such as agriculture, education and food rather than technological services. Using such devices also may be dependent on your basic literacy skills; if you cannot read the internet becomes difficult to use.

TED Talks: Iqbal Quadir: How mobile phones can fight poverty