Foreign Policy Blogs

Cell Phones More Powerful Than the Web

This Wired blog post is  a couple weeks old now, but interesting if you didn't see it. The article discusses a presentation given by Joel Selanikio of the non-profit tech consultancy Datadyne. He makes a convincing argument that cell phone based text messaging are a more important and powerful tool for development than the internet. The internet offers a much higher level of functionality – I can make this blog post as long as I like, for example – but cell phones are already pervasive in the developing world because the technology is less expensive and easier to use. The internet requires a lot more infrastructure, so you don't get the returns to scale as quickly.

It sounds like Selanikio's presentation was just meant to scratch the surface of what text messages can already do, or could do with some improvements, but those he listed are all good ideas. My favorite is providing parents with a text message reminder of when to get their children vaccinated. I like this because it fits into existing project models, but offers a less expensive and more effective way of doing it. It requires office support, but nothing that we don't know how to do.

It's more fun to think of world changing programs that take a lot of time and money to work out, but more useful to suggest these tiny changes to improve on what we already do.

PS: On a completely unrelated note, I just noticed that the spell-checker on the blogging software we use here at FPA does not know the word “blog”. How did I never see that before?



Kevin Dean

Kevin Dean is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in international conflict management and humanitarian emergencies at Georgetown University. Before returning to school in Fall 2006, he spent six years working in the former Soviet Union - most of that time spent in Central Asia. He has managed a diverse range of international development programs for the US State Department and USAID. He has also consulted for several UN agencies and international NGOs, and is fluent in Russian. Kevin is originally from Des Moines, Iowa and studied Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Iowa.