The cell phone is the Gutenberg printing press of our time – making available opportunities for communication that never before were possible. Unlike the printing press, which allowed one person (who owned the press) to reach many people, the cellphone allows direct communication between people, and through SMS broadcast services like FrontlineSMS, many people to communication to many people. Internet guru Clay Shirky‘s book Here Comes Everybody illustrates this brilliantly.
So where are the likely growth areas?
In developed countries, IBM is betting that the largest growth will be amongst over-65s. They are are currently researching how to best support this market.
IBM’s two-year research program, which also involves the National Institute of Design of India and Tokyo University, will explicitly focus on making cell phones easier to use, for both the elderly and the illiterate. Moreover, the software it develops will be open-source, so all governments and businesses can take advantage.
As societies grow older, this market will only grow. But how to best provide older people with tools that will enable them to remain engaged and participate in government, politics and society?
But its still kids who are the biggest users. The New York Times reports that Mediamark finds that 36.1% of 10-11 year olds had a mobile phone.
This is the generation for whom mobile communication is entirely natural, and who will no doubt expect to interact primarily through this medium. What are the implications for civic engagement, democracy and and participation?
In many developing countries the cellphone revolution is all the more dramatic as there werent many printing presses and fixed line phones. As cell phone penetration spreads, so too do the opoprtunities that cellphones bring (great pay-for Economist article on different cellphone applications, and an older free one from AfricaResource).
One limiting factor for cellphone expansion has been power – in many places there is no electricity. But Nokia is now researching a ‘self-chrging cellphone’ that power up through user movements.