There are thousands, literally, thousands of features these days on mobile phones and it’s not going to reduce any time soon. And yet, for most of the people reading this blog, the things you do with your mobile phones (for those of you who have one) is minute compared to many places in the world. Games, text, reminders, surf the internet, music, calendars, etc etc and oh yes, of course, talking. In some places, mobile phones are security mechanisms, in others used to detonate devices, in others to send threats, in others to send cash, and the list goes on.
In the Congo, I began to wonder and get excited about how mobile phones and other technology can be used to assist communities – not in a hand out way, but rather in a way that allows them to better protect themselves and better provide for their families. Stories abound about uses that have been done in the past – from having midwives use their mobile phones to connect with doctors and hospitals when they are with women far away from the institution, to men and women paying for taxis using the credit on their mobile, to these same people sending money home to the village through the mobile phone, to “phone ladies” setting up tiny businesses in their communities – in essence they become “mobile phone booths” – and on and on. So in the Congo, can we connect communities with each other to warn of militia movement? Can we connect communities to the MONUC? Can farmers be connected to share information about price of the produce and thereby be able to negotiate better prices? And on and on. In western societies where democracy is crumbling and has little to do with the concerns of the people, can mobile phones be used to re-vitalise the involvement of people and to hear the voice of the people?
I have no idea if any of these ideas would work, but without failure, there is no creativity and no innovation – things remain stagnant and eventually decay.