Talk for CITRIS now on YouTube

The talk I gave to CITRIS on February 11th is available on YouTube.  It was titled, “Co-Evolution of the Mobile Phone and Its Users in Rural Uganda.

Abstract: Mobile phones are being rapidly and enthusiastically adopted in rural, even non-electrified regions in Uganda. The potential for engineering applications to effectively reach poor, rural populations is immense given this substantial baseline of technology use. These phone owners possess for the first time a small amount of digital data storage, some processing power, and network connectivity. In this talk I will argue against the notion that technologies impact society unidirectionally and will emphasize instead the creative role of users in making these devices useful and relevant within their own particular cultural context. A particular case is the successful repurposing of the phone to facilitate money transfers. This was accomplished by sending air-time codes via text message. In this way users have extended and improved the utility of the mobile phone. The local logic of money transfer is part of broader efforts to cope with resource-constraints and reflects a low-cost, lightweight solution for daily living, insurance, survival, and risk management. Engineering efforts that recognize and build upon the momentum of existing technology use have the potential to be far more efficient with resources and more broadly influential and more in tune with the interests of potential users than those that seek to introduce entirely novel devices and systems.

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