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April 2008

Mobiles

To get a sense of how rapidly cellphones are penetrating the global marketplace, you need only to look at the sales figures. According to statistics from the market database Wireless Intelligence, it took about 20 years for the first billion mobile phones to sell worldwide. The second billion sold in four years, and the third billion sold in two. Eighty percent of the world’s population now lives within range of a cellular network, which is double the level in 2000. And figures from the International Telecommunications Union show that by the end of 2006, 68 percent of the world’s mobile subscriptions were in developing countries.

— from The New York Times article focusing on the work of Jan Chipchase (and colleagues), Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?.

… have you ever stopped to wonder why? Why, regardless of culture, age, gender and increasingly context you're likely to find a mobile phone in the hand, pocket or bag of the person next to you? Put simply - the ability to communicate over distances in a personal convenient manner is universally understood and appreciated, and it's easy enough to get the basics without going to night school or taking a PhD. It certainly helps that, as a functional tool that can be used discreetly or with a flourish, the mobile phone makes an ideal vehicle for projecting one’s status and personal preferences - from the choice of brand, model, ring tone or wallpaper, or simply that (because you're connected) you've arrived.

Today over 3 billion of the world's 6.6 billion people have cellular connectivity and it is expected that another billion will be connected by 2010. But what is often overlooked is the disproportionate impact of mobile phones on different societies, which is one of the reasons why as researchers, we increasingly prefer to spend time in places like Cairo and Kampala: there is simply more to learn. These are places where for many, it's the first time they have the ability to communicate personally and conveniently over distances - without having to worry whether someone can overhear the topic of their conversation - communicate with whom they want, when they want. It makes new businesses viable and creates markets where there was none. For many it's the first time they can provide a stable fixed point of reference to the outside world - a phone number, which in turn creates a new form of identity that in turn enables everything from rudimentary banking to commerce. And not least - each new feature on or accessible through the mobile phone brings new modes of use - unencumbered by my, and probably your entrenched (and increasingly outdated) notions of entertainment, the 'right' way to capture and share experiences, the internet. If you work or study in the mobile space and you're expected to innovate, these are places that bring fresh thinking and new perspectives.

— from Jan Chipchase's article, Small Objects, Travelling Further, Faster.

The human race is crossing a line. There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth. ... we've passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history -- faster even than the polio vaccine.

"We knew this was going to happen a few years ago. And we know how it will end," says Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Google. "It will end with 5 billion out of the 6" with cellphones. ... "Eventually there will be more cellphone users than people who read and write. I think if you get that right, then everything else becomes obvious."

"It's the technology most adapted to the essence of the human species -- sociability," says Arthur Molella, director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. "It's the ultimate tool to find each other. It's wonderful technology for being human."

— from The Washington Post, Our Cells, Ourselves.