The End of Typing: The Next Billion Mobile Users Will Rely on Video and Voice

Voice

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The internet’s global expansion is entering a new phase, and it looks decidedly unlike the last one. Instead of typing searches and emails, a wave of newcomers – “the next billion,” the tech industry called them – is avoiding text, using voice activation and communicating with images. They are a swath of the world’s less-educated online for the first time thanks to low-end smartphones, cheap data plans…

 

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No, Google’s Not a Bird: Bringing the Internet to Rural India

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Babulal Singh Neti was sitting with his uncle on a recent afternoon, trying to persuade him of the merits of the internet.

…Mr. Neti, 38, pressed on earnestly, suggesting that he could demonstrate the internet’s potential by Googling the history of the Gond tribe, to which they both belonged. Since acquiring a smartphone, Mr. Neti couldn’t stop Googling things: the gods, Hindu and tribal; the relative merits of the Yadav caste and the Gonds; the real story of how the earth was made.

Access to this knowledge so elated him that he decided to give up farming for good, taking a job with a nongovernmental organization whose goals include helping villagers produce and call up online content in their native languages. When he encountered internet skeptics, he tried to impress them by looking up something they really cared about — like Gond history.

His uncle responded with half-closed eyes, delivering a brief but comprehensive oral history of the Gond kings, with the clear implication that his nephew was a bit of a good-for-nothing. “What does it mean, Google?” his uncle said. “Is it a bird?”

…So it is instructive to follow Mr. Neti as he tries to drum up a little interest in Taradand. Young men use the internet here, but only young men, and almost exclusively to circulate Bollywood films. Older people view it as a conduit for pornography and other wastes of time.

Women are not allowed access even to simple mobile phones, for fear they will engage in illicit relationships; the internet is out of the question. Illiterate people — almost everyone over 40 — dismiss the internet as not intended for them.

How teachers use mobile phones as education tools in refugee camps

Global 20170314 Dryden 2

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Through long-term research in Dadaab, we found that students use Facebook groups to get feedback on their school essays as well as to interact with peers who can help them face challenges, like being the first girl in their family to go to school. Teachers, too, are using phones as teaching tools. One refugee teacher in Kakuma told us, “I actually use my phone when I am making class presentations… When it happens that a student asks me a very difficult question that I cannot answer, I will even pretend that I am [going] out for a short call or am going to handle any problem in the office, then I can use my phone to google [the answer].”

We asked teachers of refugees in Kenya who they communicate with using their mobile phones. Many have formed instant messaging groups with their peers to discuss teaching challenges and topics covered in their professional development programs. These groups are not initiated by programs, but by the teachers themselves, usually using Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.  As one teacher explained, “Around my area, I have a group of friends and also some of my colleagues who are working under [a teacher training] program too, and we have developed a WhatsApp group where we discuss issues concerning teaching. Like if we have a problem in school, we can discuss it and find a solution before we take it forward to our line supervisor or the community mobilizer.”

Putting Technology in Its Place

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Kentaro Toyama went to India with noble intentions for using technology to improve people’s lives. Now he’s wrestling with why the impact was so small.

…I ultimately took stock of 50-odd projects that I had either been directly involved with or supervised. Very few were the kind where we felt, “This is working so well that we should really expand it.” Very often, it was because there were just limits to the human and institutional capacity on the ground that could take advantage of the technology.

For example, in education, one of the most difficult things to overcome is the way in which education is done—everything from how the public school system is managed to how it’s administered to how the government interacts with it. In India, we found instances where teachers were often called away by the government. The government feels that they’re government employees and, therefore, can be called upon to help with other government tasks.

Another example is the health-care system. If you go to a typical rural clinic, it’s not the kind of place that anybody from the United States would think of as a decent place to get health care. Bringing along a laptop, connecting it to wireless, and providing Internet so you can do telemedicine is just an incredibly thin cover. It’s a thin, superficial change.

 

Facebook users in the Middle East and Africa use the site in some surprisingly different ways

M-Pesa

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Facebook now has 191 million users in the Middle East and Africa, 85% of who are visiting via mobile.

Mendelsohn described what a difference that makes: “I was in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier this year and their whole payment system there is mobile. M-Pesa is unbelievable. So you can be walking down the streets of a market, and the market will be no different to something that you could have been in a thousand years ago, but everyone is trading by using their mobile phone. And you kind of go, ‘well how come I can go shopping on the streets of London and it’s unfathomable [to be able to do that]?’ So there’s a lot we can learn from being over there.”

…Mendelsohn told us she met a number of female entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia through an organization called Glowork. They’re using Facebook as way to sell their products.

…In 2014, Facebook introduced “missed call” units in India. When a user in India sees an ad on Facebook they can place a “missed call,” by clicking that ad from their mobile. In return, they’ll receive a call such as music, cricket scores, or messages from celebrities, from the advertiser.