The rapid spread in use of mobile telephony around the world has sparked interest from the research, policy, and practitioner communities, particularly around the roles even simple mobile phone calls and text messages might play in promoting socioeconomic development and broader participation in a global information society. Yet the next stage of this boom—as basic phones are replaced by “smartphones” and other internet-enabled devices—presents new challenges for those who seek to assess, critique, or harness mobile technologies for social good. This informal and interactive talk, taken from a book in preparation, details the growing importance of ‘mobile-centric internet use’ in the developing world. It offers an integrative lens through which we can might understand the sociotechnical and developmental implications of an internet that is becoming more global and inclusive as it becomes more mobile. Through the lens, it is easier to see how the technological affordances driving widespread adoption are creating opportunities for people to reconfigure their relationship to physical space and time, but are simultaneously constraining other behaviors (‘surfing’, production, even technical reconfiguration) which some might consider central to internet use. In some closing remarks I present a new agenda for research and practice in the field of Information and Communications Technologies and Development (ICTD). The field must guide the design, deployment, and use of digital tools and policies not just for poverty alleviation, but also for broad-based inclusion in the informational society.
Jonathan Donner is Senior Director, Research at Caribou Digital. Over the last decade, Jonathan has published extensively on the remarkable growth in mobile telephony in the developing world, focusing on its implications for socio-economic development and inclusion in the information society. His projects have covered topics such as Microenterprise Development, Mobile Banking, Citizen Journalism, Mobile Health, and Youth and New Media. Prior to joining Caribou Digital, Jonathan was a researcher in the Technology for Emerging Markets Group at Microsoft Research, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and a consultant with Monitor Company and the OTF Group in Boston, MA.
He is the author, with Richard Ling, of Mobile Communication (Polity, 2009), and co-editor, with Patricia Mechael, of mHealth in Practice: Mobile Technology for Health Promotion in the Developing world (Bloomsbury Academic, 2012). His research also appears in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, The Information Society, Information Technologies and International Development, The Journal of International Development, and Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization. His Ph.D. is from Stanford University in Communication Research. He is currently working on a new book, provisionally titled After Access: Mobile Internet in the Developing World, which will be published by MIT Press in late 2015. Further details on Jonathan’s research can be found at www.jonathandonner.com, or on Twitter as @jcdonner.