Handheld Technology in Remote Areas of the Developing World

I am one of those people who enjoy food and travel shows like Globe Trekker and hosts such as Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman. I happened to catch a few minutes of one of Zimmerman’s Bizarre Foods episodes the other day. He was visiting a floating village of fisherman who lived literally on a river in Southeast Asia. He had been invited into the home of one of the fishing families where the wife prepared a meal of fresh fish for her family and their guest Zimmerman. Because she washed the fish in the water just below the boat house, which was full of diesel fuel slicks and fecal matter, Zimmerman debated whether this meal might be too extreme even for him. In the end, however, he ate it in the interest of being a good host. One brief scene in particular caught my attention, however, more than the interesting lifestyle or the exotic meal.

Here was a village of fishing families living in the most primitive of situations, literally preparing their food in the same water where the dumped their garbage and relieved themselves. But for 2-3 seconds, the camera settled on a battery sitting on a deck. Attached to this battery was a cluster of cell phones that were being charged. While the point of the show was to fixate on the drama of eating the potentially contaminated fish, I thought the scene with the cell phones was by far the most important message in the segment, because it underlines the revolution that is occurring around the world. Here was a group of families who lived in the most primitive of conditions, yet they had mobile phones and with them, access to ideas and information from around the world.

Almost everybody can afford a cell phone, even when a computer is beyond their reach. It is mobile technology that is finally closing the divide. NPR estimated recently that there is currently 1.5 billion desktop computers in the world, but 5 billion cell phones. This positions handheld mobile devices to be the technology that finally brings access to information to every corner of the world. The opportunities that will be created by the rise of mLearning and smart phones over the next 5-10 years in the remotest of places will be staggering. It is an exciting time for education.

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