Mobile Phones in people’s lives

Noted researcher for design for Nokia Phones, Jan Chipchase, has traveled around the world using various research methods such as focus groups and ethnography to observe how people use their mobile phones.  I had posted in earlier posts here and here regarding the demographics, psychographics and some design issues of the mobile phone as well as its prominence as the next big media, and in so displacing the internet.  However, all my earlier postings related to mobile phone use in North America. 

In one of Mr. Chipchase’s trips, he visited Uganda, and the usage of the mobile phones is quite different than in North America.  As Uganda can be considered as a third-world country, its banking infrastructure is quite rudimentary compared to North America.  Since banks and ATMs are sparsely scattered, obtaining money is a cumbersome process.  Through grassroots innovation, a connection between the exchange of telephone cards with cash was forged.  Suppose one wanted to send some money from a major center like Kampala to a someone living in a village.  That person would buy a telephone card, call a person in the village that has a mobile phone (who acts as both a phone operator and a bank in some instances), and exchanges the telephone card number.  Of course, by obtaining the telephone card number, the person with the mobile phone can make more telephone calls.  This person would take 10-20% commission as an intermediary, and give the remaining cash (from bartering the telephone card number) to the intended person.  

It is certainly interesting how the mobile phone can be used differently than here in North America.  In the end, universally, the mobile phone transcends space and time.  It transcends space by the ability for the user to make a telephone call, and it transcends time by the ability of the user to receive/send text/voice messages at their convenience.  

In my opinion, with the emergence of the mobile phone as the next medium,  as well as the emergence of grassroots innovation, the possibilities to bring about positive change in people and their communities is endless.


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