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Beyond communication: How functional is your mobile phone?

Justine Espina-Letargo's picture
Noel Aspras in the Philippines says that "even the lowliest of farmers owns a cellphone now" because it has become a necessity. Watch the video below.

When I lost my mobile phone two years ago, I felt dismembered. After all, my cellphone was constantly by my side, serving as alarm clock, calendar, and default camera for those ‘Kodak’ moments you couldn’t let pass. It was also a nifty calculator that I turned to when splitting restaurant bills with friends.

After grieving the loss of my “finger” for two days, I pulled myself together and got a new, smarter phone that allowed for faster surfing on the web, audio recording and a host of other functions that, well, made me quickly forget the lost unit. A blessing in disguise, I told myself.

So when no less than a farmer from Pagsanjan in the Philippines’ Laguna province told me that mobile phones were “no longer a luxury, but a necessity,” and added that “even the lowliest of farmers riding on a carabao (water buffalo) owns one,” I couldn’t agree more.

His use of the technology, which wasn’t even a smart phone, showed it has more important functions that help his livelihood.

The farmer, Noel Aspras, has been regularly texting and receiving replies from a call center which manages the NM (Nutrient Manager) Rice Mobile program of the Department of Agriculture in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute. Aspras is all praises for the reliable information he gets on fertilizer use which has helped increase his harvest, and which is all ‘just a text message away.”

Outside the Philippines, cellphones are also very useful in helping grow small businesses. In Anhui province in China, businessman Sun Yingzhi hails the technology for facilitating transactions that support his small grape farm.

Out on the field most of the time, tending to a business that needs constant investment, he says he was granted a loan by simply making a call to his bank. An agent from the bank went to the farm to verify information, after which he got his loan approval via text message.

Their experiences reflect one of the findings of a recent World Bank report ‘Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile’.

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According to the report, the information and communication capabilities of the mobile phone is more valuable in dispersed rural communities isolated from knowledge centers.

Elsewhere in the East Asia region, mobile money is widely used where, “at a click of a finger”, funds can be transferred conveniently using smart phones. The ATM network in Bangkok, Thailand is wide enough to serve the financial needs of consumers, the report notes, but most residents are thankful for the handheld device which saves them from sitting through heavy traffic just to get to an ATM .

Given the traffic situation in large cities across the region, how often have you used your mobile phone to pass the time while waiting to go home or to get to work?

Apparently we regularly check our phones because we see them as a lifeline and feel anxious without them. A recent TIME Mobility poll which asked 5,000 people across 8 countries revealed that 1 in 4 people check it every 30 minutes while 1 in 5 do so every ten minutes. Are you like three-quarters of 25-29 year-olds who go to bed with their phones?

Arguably, parents like myself living in the typhoon belt in particular, are among the most appreciative of the tool, since we get useful information from schools on the suspension or cancellation of classes due to weather disturbances. In early August, a deadly monsoon hit Manila and surrounding provinces.The so-called ‘fastest fingers in the East’ were busy texting information about weather and flood updates. The Philippines is not called the texting capital of the world for nothing.

In Vietnam, schools have taken this a step further though by texting parents a lot more information – from grades to their children’s behavior in class. While some might prefer a face-to-face encounter with teachers on their children’s progress in school, the ‘digital communication notebook’ used in Hanoi schools undoubtedly serves parents who are away from their homes.

With phones getting cheaper and smarter, the World Bank report estimates that around three quarters of the planet’s population now have access to a mobile phone. The stories above are proof that the mobile communications story is indeed moving to a new level which is more about the creative use of the gadget. How have you used your mobile phone today?

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