Saturday, January 29, 2011

Losing a Leg

Historically, the autocrat's strategy for control could be the three legged stool of poverty, malnutrition and ignorance. Recent developments indicate that smart phones have knocked one leg out from under that stool. It is increasingly difficult to keep a populace ignorant of what is going on in the world.

Years ago I read Iqbal Qadir's provocative article on the impact of ICT on development and governments- much of what he discussed is now coming true.

"By influencing governance, these technologies can release resources trapped beneath vested interests. This impact is far greater than the conveniences for which these technologies are ordinarily known."

The other two legs may be cut short as well. Iqbal's brother helped develop Cell Bazaar in part to transmit better market data to Bangladeshi farmers so they could get better prices and higher incomes. And a recent story on NPR detailed efforts by Mercy Corps to use mobile cash to replace more traditional forms of aid (including often disruptive food aid).

The impact of the smart phone on the BOP dwarfs the impact of most aid, development and social entrepreneurship programs. In recent days, it also seems to also be dwarfing the impact of national intelligence, diplomacy and news media.

Some refer to mobile phones as "just" a tool. You know, like fire, the wheel, agriculture, genetics....

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