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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Power of the Cell Phone

I have recently read Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs' (Director, United Nations Millennium Project &
Director, The Earth Institute at Columbia University) OUR COMMON HUMANITY IN THE INFORMATION AGE. He has provided an excellent treatise on the power and the value of the cell phone as a tool to eradicate poverty and to promote peace. When we see the power of the cell phone to disrupt classrooms or bus rides or hamper a meal in a restaurant or interfere with the enjoyment of a movie, play, or religious service, Sachs has shown how the cell phone is important for farmers in Africa.

Sachs' points begin with a discussion of how Asian farmers produce more than African farmers. The key has been to unisloate them via the cell phone. With the cell phone farmers can obtain a truck to transport their goods to the right market. They have access to weather forecasts, to market information, and to information to improve their crops. As more and more towers are being erected, the centralization of cell access and ultimately power is being dispersed and spread among the people. What I found stunning and revealing was that the east coast of Africa is bereft of fiber optic which means broadband is non existent and explains much of the turmoil happening in Somalia. We are well aware of how the cell phone helped those in Tiananmen Square, Bosnia, Iran and elsewhere to get news out. To break the isolation of these landlocked and isolated farmers and communities, the cell phone will become instrumental in breaking the cycle of poverty and maybe even political tyranny.

Placing kiosks in communities is the beginning. While we take the cell phone for granted and use them for everything it seems unbelievable that areas of the earth are bereft of these ubiquitous tools/toys.

In our schools, we ban the cell phone. I have watched some of my students use their sidekick in very creative ways. While they are using the computer in front of them to do research they use their sidekick to write the essay on their webpage or in an email to themselves. Sachs makes perfect sense about how the cell phone can change the world and then in our schools we are banning them and not teaching teachers how to use them in powerful ways in their classrooms, in spite of Secretary Duncan's recent comments about the use of cell phones in classrooms.

We are at a crucial time in our history and it is amazing how a simple cell phone is at the center of this change.

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