Africa is leading the world in year-over-year growth in mobile penetration, and other parts of the developing world are close behind. Most of the people who are now gaining access to cell communications and Internet via cell phones have no other method to access the Internet: their paradigm for Internet use involves mobile devices and small screens, unlike developed country users that generally use cell phones for voice calling, with Internet access being an occasional activity.
This dependence on mobile devices for Internet access means that developers in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world can see the mobile device with fresh eyes: not as a replacement for a desktop, or an imitation of a laptop, but as a platform in its own right. There is a very high chance that they will “see” possibilities that we, with our long history of computing, are blinded to.
By helping to foster a community of developers in developing countries, I believe we can reap tremendous dividends, with new perspectives being applied to old problems, and with the potential for as-yet-unimagined applications.
Dr. Joel Selanikio is a pediatrician, former Wall Street computer consultant, and CDC epidemiologist with a passion for combining computer science and public health to address health inequities in developing countries. He leads DataDyne’s efforts to develop and promote new technologies for health, and is a pioneer in the promotion of open-source development for public health.