Cell phones get a bad rap in most parts of America. Self-help gurus promise serenity if we turn off our Blackberries, planes ban their use, and public conversation is largely frowned upon in crowded places. This is a marked difference from most parts of the developing world. Why? In America, mobile devices have come to epitomize convenience but are underutilized for valuable information sharing. In the developing world mobiles are obviously still used for conversation and staying in touch, but they also provide an outlet for cheap and long-distance transfer of information that was previously impossible. However, despite their ubiquity, some people are still ignorant of their usefulness.
The use of mobile phones has been used for all types of initiatives that typically fall under the umbrella of development work. Text messages have been used to monitor elections and share market prices for milk. As long as mobiles continue to improve daily life, their importance will grow. If monitored correctly, governments can harness this trend to garner another source of foreign and domestic direct investment to gain desperately needed capital. Doubly productive, the explosion of mobile technology also acts as a "leap frog" technology preventing governments from needing to expend huge sums for the development of traditional infrastructure needed for analog phones and land lines.
Despite all their benefits I would argue that cell phones are still underused in the developing world. In areas where education of youth is prevented either by conflict, distance or terrain, or simply a lack of time due to hours spent working, mobile technology can help provide educational materials and resources that may traditionally be unavailable.
It may sound a little unusual, but radio technology was used throughout Australia in the 1950s and 1960s to educate children where Outback distances prevented collective schooling. If countries are really going to ensure universal primary education by 2015, then governments may be better off distributing cell phones than laptops. Especially with the rapidly growing number of people who use mobiles to access the internet, the new marketplace for ideas.