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Blurring Livelihoods and Lives: The Social Uses of Mobile Phones and Socioeconomic Development

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Blurring Livelihoods and Lives: The Social Uses of Mobile Phones and Socioeconomic Development
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  innova t ions volume 4 | issue 1 | winter 2009 Aquarterly journal published by MITPress Mobilizing Markets  Lead Essays Mo IbrahimPrerequisite to Prosperity Thomas KalilHarnessing the Mobile RevolutionIqbal Quadir and Nicholas NegropontePhones vs.Laptops Cases Authored by Innovators Roshan:Connecting a NationKarim Khoja commentary by  Al Hammond and Loretta Michaels CellBazaar:A Market in your PocketKamal Quadir and Naeem Mohaiemen commentary by  Kim Wilson  Analytic and Policy Articles David PorteousMobilizing Money through Enabling RegulationJonathan DonnerBlurring Livelihoods and LivesPatricia N.MechaelThe Case for mHealth in Developing CountriesGautam Ivatury,Jesse Moore,and Alison BlochHealth HotlinesWilliam J.Kramer,Beth Jenkins,and Rob KatzICTs and Opportunity  ENTREPRENEURIAL SOLUTIONS TO GLOBAL CHALLENGES T ECHNOLOGY | G OVERNANCE | G LOBALIZATION  Lead Essays 3Prerequisite to Prosperity:Why Africa’s Future Depends onBetter Governance Mohamed (Mo) Ibrahim 9 Harnessing the Mobile Revolution Thomas Kalil 25 Phone vs.Laptop:Which is a More Effective Toolfor Development? Iqbal Quadir and Nicholas Negroponte Cases Authored by Innovators 33Connecting a Nation:Roshan BringsCommunications Services to Afghanistan Karim Khoja 51 Case discussion: Roshan Al Hammond and Loretta Michaels 57CellBazaar:A Market in your Pocket Kamal Quadir and Naeem Mohaiemen 71 Case discussion: CellBazaar Kim Wilson  Analysis 75Mobilizing Money through Enabling Regulation David Porteous 91Blurring Livelihoods and Lives:The Social Uses ofMobilePhones and Socioeconomic Development Jonathan Donner 103The Case for mHealth in Developing Countries Patricia N.Mechael innova t ions T ECHNOLOGY | G OVERNANCE | G LOBALIZATION volume 4 | issue 1 | winter 2009  Perspectives on Policy  119A Doctor in your Pocket:Health Hotlines inDeveloping Countries Gautam Ivatury,Jesse Moore,and Alison Bloch 155Large Companies,ICTs,and Economic Opportunity  William J.Kramer,Beth Jenkins,and Rob Katz Organization ofthe Journal Each issue of  Innovations consists offour sections: 1.Lead essay. An authoritative figure addresses an issue relating to innovation,empha-sizing interactions between technology and governance in a global context. 2.Cases authored by innovators. Case narratives ofinnovations are authored either by,or in collaboration with,the innovators themselves.Each includes discussion ofmoti-vations,challenges,strategies,outcomes,and unintended consequences.Followingeach case narrative,we present commentary by an academic discussant.The discussanthighlights the aspects ofthe innovation that are analytically most interesting,have themost significant implications for policy,and/or best illustrate reciprocal relationshipsbetween technology and governance. 3.Analysis. Accessible,policy-relevant research articles emphasize links between prac-tice and policy—alternately,micro and macro scales ofanalysis.The development of meaningful indicators ofthe impact ofinnovations is an area ofeditorial emphasis. 4.Perspectives on policy. Analyses ofinnovations by large scale public actors—nation-al governments and transnational organizations—address both success and failure of policy,informed by both empirical evidence and the experience ofpolicy innovators.The development ofimproved modes ofgovernance to facilitate and support innova-tions is an area ofeditorial focus. mitpressjournals.org/innovationsinnovationsjournal.net  Consider your own mobile phone use over the last 24 hours.Recall the family pho-tos you might have set to appear as caller ID,the ringtone you have chosen,and thebookmarks or applets you may use to check everything from sports scores tomovie times.But mainly,just think ofthe basic flow ofincoming and outgoingcalls;chances are,you may have used your handset to call a colleague one momentand your mother the next.Even ifyou haven’t made any calls today,your phone isprobably on,waiting patiently to connect you to the office,to students,to friends,or to family.As technologies go,mobile phones are quite flexible.GSM and CDMA net-works provide coverage to homes,to workplaces,even to the wilderness.Peoplecarry handsets with them as they move from place to place and between social sit-uations.By enabling and strengthening social and economic relationships at a dis-tance,mobiles shift time and place,and complicate contexts and roles to an evengreater degree than the landlines that preceded them.Carrying a mobile invitesconsideration or even reconfiguration ofbeing “at work,”“in transit,”“at home,”or“at play.” 1 Mobiles blur the lines between livelihoods and lives,and not just amongsmartphone-wielding information workers.Rather,this blurring can be experi-enced by almost anyone engaged with work.Around the world,farmers and fish-ermen,artisans and day laborers,community health workers and primary schoolteachers are carrying handsets and using them for both productive and personaluses throughout their daily routines.This paper focuses on how this intermingling oflives and livelihoods,as medi-ated by the mobile phone,figures into the micro-processes ofeconomic develop-ment.It neither broadly elaborates the core contributions ofmobile phone use toeconomic development (synchronizing prices,expanding markets,reducing trans-port costs,etc.),nor suggests that one kind ofmobile use is more important thananother.Instead,it argues simply for a perspective on work and on livelihoods thatis broad enough to account for (and perhaps even take advantage of) the socialprocesses surrounding these activities.Analysts,policymakers,and technologists© 2009 Jonathan Donner innova t ions / winter 2009 91  Jonathan Donner  Blurring Livelihoods and Lives The Social Uses ofMobile Phones andSocioeconomic Development  Jonathan Donner is a Researcher (Technology for Emerging Markets)with Microsoft Research India.  92 innova t ions / winter 2009interested in the application ofMobiles for Development (M4D) should notignore the way mobiles blur livelihoods and lives;the developmental and non-developmental uses ofthe mobile are not in competition,nor are they always dis-tinguishable.Instead,the uses ofmobiles for developmental and non-developmen-tal purposes are often interrelated and sometimes mutually reinforcing.The socialfunctions ofthe mobile (in matters ofconnection and self-expression) are helpingdrive its widespread adoption,and these same functions inform the very behaviorsthat make the mobile a tool for economic development.MOBILES BLUR BOUNDARIES BETWEEN LIVES AND LIVELIHOODSLike the landline telephone,mobiles offer connectivity at a distance.By replacingtravel,reducing isolation,improving coordination ofeconomic activity,andimproving market efficiency,connectivity contributes to productivity and,there-fore,to GNP per capita. 2 Some ofthe best mobile-specific evidence for this comesfrom studies by Jenson and Aker, 3 who illustrate how mobiles improve the efficien-cy ofmarkets,enforce the law ofone price,reduce waste,and increase productivi-ty.In specific domains,the mobile is proving to be a promising platform for high-er-order applications,such as the M-PESA for m-payments and Cell-Life for m-health. 4 Both systems,and numerous others like them,are mobile applicationsdesigned to support instrumental,productive,and essential activities,and each hasbeen lauded for its contribution to socioeconomic development.However,mobiles are not always viewed or used by individuals in such exclu-sively instrumental ways—even when they are using these same applications.By examining the mix ofcalls made by individuals,the content ofthose calls,and thedistribution and use ofmobiles in a community,we can see the pervasiveness of the social and non-instrumental uses ofthe mobile phone and the ways in whichthese other uses affect the receptivity to and use ofM4D-related applications.The easiest place to observe this blurring oflives and livelihoods is at the levelofthe call mix.Few individuals make exclusively business or workplace-relatedcalls on their mobile.For example,a survey ofthe call logs of277 operators of micro and small enterprises (MSEs) in Rwanda found that roughly one third ofthetotal calls and text massages (incoming and outgoing) were business related.Therest ofthe calls were chitchat or other interactions with friends and family. 5 Similarstudies,with payphones (not mobiles) in rural contexts in Africa and India,foundsimilar skews toward personal calls,rather than business or commerce distribu-tions. 6 Since people carry mobiles from place to place and since mobiles are almostalways on,placing us and our contacts just a few key presses away,we have becomeincreasingly able and willing to conduct business from home,take a personal callat work,and to multitask while in transit from one place to another.Richard Lingdescribed how these shifts in availability and reachability lead both to micro-coor-dination (a natural flow toward coinciding actions between geographically distantactors) and to a finer interlacing ofvarious conversations,goals,and activities dur-  Jonathan Donner 
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