Seriously cellular

Still remember the days of house phones, pagers, chunky ‘big brother’ (大哥大) car phones, and the (then) miraculously thin Motorola StarTAC phone. Still recall a certain friend pooh-poohing the use of mobile phones, in particular tsk-tsking their use in the midst of company. Still tickled by her swift submission to both faux pas with the passage of time.

After more than a decade of mobile phone usage, the least stressful experience has been with Nokia (except for the nutzoid messaging problem I had a while back), though I have had some fun with an LG and frustrated dalliances with Motorola.

I’m currently joined to an N72 with pink flowers on its casing. As it’s a gift and bought in Dubai, I can’t (a) replace it anytime soon with an iPhone, and (b) read any Chinese messages on it. So it goes, and I don’t mind. I’ve come to see that technology, no matter how nifty, should serve a need, not form a false need leading to flagrant spending.

The Greek word tēle means ‘far off’. Used in English, it refers to distance. Telecommunication, then, means communication over a distance — surely a form of modern magic. It’s easy to take for granted how easy things have become because of our phones, whether we’re arranging a meeting or trying to meet as arranged (in a crowded netherworld, perhaps).

Hence I am deeply impressed by the ground-level research commissioned by Nokia as detailed in this New York Times article, in which a descriptive (giving you what you need) rather than prescriptive (telling you what you need) approach to mobile phone design appears to be at play. The emphasis is on how owning a mobile phone has reaped exponential returns for people who can barely afford one, but even if you’re not interested in all that jazz about human struggle, it’s a good read — the words flow as readily as the data.

And now for my favourite (and deliciously easy) way of ending a post — by leaving you with a choice bit:

Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?
Published: April 13, 2008

… This is when I voiced a careless thought about whether there might be something negative about the lightning spread of technology, whether its convenience was somehow supplanting traditional values or practices. Chipchase raised his eyebrows and laid down his spoon. He sighed, making it clear that responding to me was going to require patience. “People can think, yeah, monks with cellphones, and tsk, tsk, and what is the world coming to?” he said. “But if you wanted to take phones away from anybody in this world who has them, they’d probably say: ‘You’re going to have to fight me for it. Are you going to take my sewer and water away too?’ And maybe you can’t put communication on the same level as running water, but some people would. And I think in some contexts, it’s quite viable as a fundamental right.” He paused a beat to let this sink in, then added, with just a touch of edge, “People once believed that people in other cultures might not benefit from having books either.”


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