The Disconnect of Poverty and Smartphone Penetration in Developing Worlds

Voice & Exit is very similar to TED Talks, an online video distribution model where prominent people from different fields are given a venue to talk about their ideas that are worth sharing. These videos are accessible to almost every one with an internet connection, except of course for countries like China where websites like YouTube are subject to censorship.

Both are very amazing sources of information and inspiration but lately I've been more keen on consuming media from Voice & Exit because of one small iteration in their communicationtheir content, they claim, is focused on ideas worth implementing. They are actionable and concrete whether it be in policy reform or technological advancement. This website was shared on the local libertarian Facebook group by my friend and I've been enjoying it since.

While watching one of the presentations on Voice & Exit  with speaker Zachary Caceres, Executive Director of the Startup Cities Institute, I was so surprised that it was very similar to a TED talk by economist Paul Romer that I've actually blogged about before. What's striking is that their insights both came from something so contradictory and confusing: why is it that most people are suffering in poverty-stricken places yet have ubquituous access to a technology like a smartphone?

On the video above, Zachary tells the story of a woman who risks her life just to get plastic from a dump site and yet has access to a mobile device.

This is very true even here in our country. I don't have the exact figures but given that we've been dubbed as the SMS or selfie capitals of the world, penetration is definitely in volume making it not limited to the upper A or B market. With mobile devices getting cheaper and cheaper, free Facebook access, and mobile data becoming very affordable, many are able to own smartphones and be globally connected -- and yet bare basics like food, shelter, education, jobs are a struggle for many to attain.

On the video above, Paul Romer starts with the story of children studying under lamp posts
because they don't have electricity in their homes and yet have access to mobile devices.

I admire both proposed ideas from creating competing small cities with autonomy from national policies to giving the developing world new “social technologies” that can be imported just like a mobile device.

I see the smartphone becoming the strongest touchpoint in empowering and informing the people. Just look at social media's role in the Arab Spring: even the foulest and most feared of tyrants won't live to tell the story of how they underestimated 140 characters.

And look at other disruptive tech that has so much potential., a homegrown remittance service that uses Bitcoin, was recently mentioned by  The Wall Street Journal as "[disrupting] traditional cash-transfer firms by offering nearly instantaneous, zero-cost services." This helps OFWs send money to the Philippines, fast and free. 

This rate of smartphone penetration is an opportunity for policymakers, cause advocates, NGOs, and civil society to help improve people's lives and standards of living.

It's always been inevitable for technology to be the catalyst in creating a freer and more prosperous society. That being said, it's something we should allow to flourish and not be stomped by red tapes, special interests, or age-old laws that no longer apply today. 

Remember when bureaucrats tried to fight Uber or Tripid? The State and its bureaucracies are designed to be self-preserving and to protect their monopoly on industries. They will always challenge disruptive technology that seeks to reclaim power from them and bring it back to the people.

And we, those who they govern only at our consent, must always be mindful and vigilant in protecting and supporting disruptive technologies that seek to improve the life of the Filipino.


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