My bet, though, is that even in 2020, 10 years after this writing, the poor – even the mobile-owning, Internet-surfing, technology-savvy poor – will still be with us. Mobile phone owners won’t be much better off than they were before, and owning a mobile phone, however fancy and Internet-enabled, won’t do squat for helping a person out of poverty, illness, ignorance, or misery. Sure, we’ll hear a heart-warming story of a poor basket weaver climbing out of poverty because of the dial-a-job-mobile-service-for-migrant-laborers, but that will be a handful of cases. Meanwhile, we’ll also see the heart-wrenching story of the parents who forewent food for their children to feed their phones (see Kathleen Diga’s PhD thesis for early evidence in Uganda [x]). Technology will help some and hurt some, and in the end, it’ll all come out a wash.
Powerful stuff. And probably true. My sense, though, is that cellphones tend to defy the notion that technology is impoverishing–poor people going into debt to buy televions, cars, refrigerators and computers–because of what I would call ‘coping technologies’, not least the missed call. Which is a way of transfering the cost to someone else (either the person who has to call back, or, more likely, the operator whose masts the missed calls travels over.
The other thing is that cellphones are getting cheaper, both to buy and use. I wonder whether there’s a point at which it does become, like the telephone before it, a social and economic enabler? Maybe the Jester is only half right?