Think about it: Who doesn’t have a cell phone these days? And who doesn’t have internet access, either at home or at work? Sure, there are segments of the population and large areas of the world that haven’t yet joined the communications revolution, but their numbers are dwindling.
In Africa, for example, where widespread internet access and wireless communications still seem decades away from hestablishing a true presence, cell phones are already empowering people to take control of their future:
“Running up to the December 2000 election, Radio phone-in shows pilloried the hand-picked successor of the outgoing president. During the election itself, voters used cellphones and talk radio to report voting fraud: “Whenever someone at a polling place reported fraud, the called the radio station, which broadcast it; the police had to check it out, not having the excuse that they did not receive a report.” The combinition of new technologies contributed to the end of nearly two decades of one party rule.”
The rest of the world is following suit, and advances in technology are changing the way people use their cell phones:
“In addition to voice calling, cell phones are becoming a platform for other kinds of information services like text messaging, email, and basic Web browsing.”
“Text messaging was used by protesters in 2001 revolution in the Philippines to rapidly coordinate demonstrations that helped topple president Estrada.”
“During the 2002 presidential election in South Korea, a demographic shift in the population reverberated at the polls, mobilized by electronic media: In a matter of minutes, more than a million e-mails were sent to mobile phones and online accounts urging supporters to go out and vote. This online rallying cry sent young voters to polling stations nationwide and delivered a narrow 2.3% election victory to the self-proclaimed political outsider Roh [Moo-hyun], who had been summarily rejected by South Korea’s conservative media.“
“Cell phones were used extensively to coordinate autonomous rural social movements in Bolivia in 2003.”
“In May 2004, Fahamu and a coalition of women’s rights organizations launched the first continent-wide campaign using SMS (Short Message Service) text messages in Africa. The electronic petition campaign urges African governments to ratify the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. Users can sign via their Web site or can via SMS from their mobile phones. Since the launch of the campaign both Nigeria and South Africa have ratified the Protocol.”
The list goes on. (Information courtesy of backspace.com) But political activism is only one of many areas revolutionized by cell phones and wireless technologies.
Several years ago, writing for Hardware Central, Jeffrey Tseng wrote:
“Many countries, such as China, do not have the technology infrastructure to run physical lines into every household and business, so much of the world’s population is still “un-wired”. However, cellular phones are widespread in these regions because of their mobility and ease of implementation–they have a much higher penetration in the world as a whole than internet-enabled PCs. With new wireless technologies such as WAP enabling internet access through cell phones, the impact on the internet stands to be phenomenal. It is estimated that, by the year 2003, more cell phones will be connected to the internet than computers.“
“It is interesting to note here that for many countries it is wireless technology which will bring them into the information age. Many will be using wireless handsets with Internet capability even without ever having used telephones.”
And he was right: People around the world are buying internet-enabled wireless phones much faster than they are buying PCs. This means that the majority of people around the globe who will access the internet for the very first time this year will do so from a cell phone, not a computer. This trend will continue to increase in the coming years.
It isn’t to say that home computers will someday be obsoleted by hand-held internet-capable wireless devices (the next generations of what we still call cell phones), but in terms of lifestyles, of empowerment and of access to information, the convenience and affordability of this technology is bound to completely change the way we live, communicate, shop, travel, work, learn and play. Not just here, but all around the globe. Not twenty years from now, but very soon.
From political activism to marketing, from commuting to shopping for the best car deal, from booking flights to studying, from following breaking news to blogging, from banking to sharing live video of yourself with loved ones, this evolution in portable wireless communications technology will absolutely change the way we live… and in so doing, will change the world. The global divide between digital haves and digital have-nots is about to get a lot thinner, and that’s exciting.
The technology itself is only a means to an end: With a truly global network of affordable and convenient access to ideas, to information, to education, to dialogue through voice, text, sms, message boards, chat rooms, video, blogs and the slew of new communications formats yet to show up, things are bound to get pretty interesting. Will it spell the end of exploitation? Will it help governments and corporate entities become more transparent? Will it help people learn more from each other? Will companies connect more organically with their customers? Will lives be saved faster in times of emergency? Will we find in this a weapon to make illiteracy, poverty and disease a thing of the past?
Only time will tell, but things definitely seem to be moving in the right direction.