The mobile revolution starts now?

In spite of the recent hype surrounding the iPhone and Gphone, I have serious doubts that mobile phones will become the primary access point to the web anytime soon. According to a recent study by the Pew & American Life Project, 58% of adult Americans have used a mobile phone or PDA for what they call “non-voice data activities” such as texting, emailing, taking a picture, looking up map directions or recording a video. Other than clumsily orchestrating the occasional text message, I fall squarely on the short end of such technophilia when it comes to using mobile phones. In short: I use it to stay in touch with family and friends and won’t bat an eyelash about ever leaving my cell at home when I go out. I never have used my mobile to access the web, and here’s the kicker- I wouldn’t even know how to

But this post is intended to be less of a confessional than an exploration of the question: When and how will the so-called “mobile revolution” take shape, particularly in the context of the developing world? Christian Kreutz recently addressed this question in his blog, focusing on mobile use in the collaborative web of wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, etc., citing the argument that the mobile phone already is more useful in developing countries than the personal computer for accessing the web. This argument seems well justified by the fact that there are now more than 3 billion mobile phones in use worldwide and the fastest growing markets for mobile subscribers are found in the developing world. But Kreutz also wonders “why so little has been developed in order to interact and collaborate via the mobile phone in the social web.”

Kreutz’s concerns are well justified. At development conferences, one commonly hears about the impending mobile revolution for sharing web-based information and how such technologies will allow poor people in developing countries to “leapfrog” many of the communication barriers experienced in the North. Yet aside from the occasional story of people in rural Africa receiving RSS feeds or reporting on election results from their mobile phones, I suspect that the vast majority of citizens of the developing world will suffer from the same lack of knowledge about how to get the information they’re looking for delivered to their mobile phones (the “pull”) as many here in the developing world still do. And getting them to “push” information from their mobile phones to the collaborative web may lie even further off on the horizon.

In sum: having the proper tool is no guarantee that information will be widely exchanged among citizens of the developed and developing world. Now that new tools offer the possibility of more and more citizens of the developing world to receive timely information that they can use toward bettering their life conditions (e.g., market prices, drought and flood warnings, educational content, etc.), it is up to the development communities to work with these partners to make sure that they know where to find it and how to take ownership of it themselves.


One Response

  1. […] #comments wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptIn spite of the recent hype surrounding the iPhone and Gphone, I have serious doubts that mobile phones will become the primary access point to the […]

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