Over the years I've uncovered a number of serious studies of the social and economic impact of mobile phone adoption in emerging markets. In fact, my list of links (embedded in various blog posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) has become a reference for several people, for example here. I've been somewhat less organized regarding the social and economic impact of Internet access, but I've resolved to track such references as well.
Here's something I stumbled on this weekend -- a study by Paula van Hoorik and Fred Mweetwa of TNO Information and Communication Technology in the Netherlands, entitled "Use of internet in rural areas of Zambia."
What struck me in this study was the parallels between the social and economic benefits they found and those conventionally associated with the adoption of mobile phones.
Based on our study, the most important social benefits are:
• Internet enables people to keep their network and enlarge it by communicating with friends, family and others
• Internet enlarges the world of people in rural areas by giving access to information
• Internet brings knowledge and supports education
The most important economic benefits are:
• Reduction of commute time
• Saving money in a lot of different ways, such as only traveling to pick up something when you know it is actually there instead of having to return multiple times
• Bringing new opportunities and using them, such as learning new farming methods or opening an internet café to make a living.
Most studies of mobile phone adoption in emerging markets, especially amongst the poor, show that social reasons - communicating with friends and family - come first, economic advantages come second. And among both social and economic advantages, the ability to eliminate journeys, i.e. save time by not having to walk to the next village to ask a question, is extremely important.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. At root, they are both communications technologies and our use of such technologies is driven by basic human needs that are remarkably similar, for everyone, everywhere.