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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Internet, Cell Phones, and Economic Development

Jeff Sachs says that when it comes to ending extreme poverty, cell phones and the internet will prove to be "the most transformative technology of economic development of our time":

Internet and mobile phones spur economic development, by Jeffrey D Sachs, Project Syndicate: The digital divide is beginning to close. The flow of digital information – through mobile phones, text messaging, and the Internet – is now reaching the world’s masses, even in the poorest countries, bringing with it a revolution in economics, politics, and society.

Extreme poverty is almost synonymous with extreme isolation, especially rural isolation. But mobile phones and wireless Internet end isolation, and will therefore prove to be the most transformative technology of economic development of our time. ...

Mobile phone technology is so powerful, and costs so little per unit of data transmission, that it has proved possible to sell mobile phone access to the poor. There are now more than 3.3bn subscribers in the world, roughly one for every two people on the planet. ... Probably a significant majority of Africans have at least emergency access to a cell phone, either their own, a neighbour’s, or one at a commercial kiosk. ...

The rural poor in more and more of the world now have access to wireless ... systems... The information carried on the new networks spans public health, medical care, education, banking, commerce, and entertainment, in addition to communications among family and friends. ...

On the fully commercial side, the mobile revolution is creating a logistics revolution in farm-to-retail marketing. Farmers and food retailers can connect directly through mobile phones and distribution hubs, enabling farmers to sell their crops at higher “farm-gate” prices and without delay, while buyers can move those crops to markets with minimum spoilage and lower prices for final consumers.

The strengthening of the value chain not only raises farmers’ incomes, but also empowers crop diversification and farm upgrading more generally. ...

Education will be similarly transformed. Throughout the world, schools at all levels will go global... Universities, too, will have global classes, with students joining lectures, discussion groups, and research teams from a dozen or more universities at a time. 

In my book The End of Poverty , I wrote that extreme poverty can be ended by the year 2025. A rash predication, perhaps, given global violence, climate change, and threats to food, energy, and water supplies. But digital information technologies, if deployed co-operatively and globally, will be our most important new tools, because they will enable us to join together globally in markets, social networks, and efforts to solve our common problems.

    Posted by on Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 05:22 PM in Development, Economics, Technology | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (23)

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