Digital Transition

Today, I was very interested and inspired to blog by Mike Gurstein’s post, advocating a move away from the Digital Divide discourse and towards the consideration of a concept called Digital Transition. At the background of the post was glimmering the understanding that not all digital media are alike and some ICTs are preferable to others in terms of the social transformation they enable.

I found Mike Gurstein’s references to mobile phone penetration rates particularly engaging. I agree with him that person-to-person mobile phone communication, be it with high intensity and frequency, could probably not match the efficiency gains experienced in societies which have gone through a Digital Transition, societies which have formalized asynchronous modes of communication and where complex interactions and transactions among multiple parties are enabled by technology.

Still, I think that mobile communication might hold the key to unlocking a Digital Transition in pre-Transition countries. I am largely thinking about the development of the Mobile Web, and continuing efforts in Africa towards the introduction of mobile applications aimed at enabling market transactions (listing services e.g. Trade at Hand, money transfer service e.g. M-PESA, etc).

I strongly believe that in terms of technology development the Mobile Web has the potential of inducing a Digital Transition  in some African countries such as Ghana and Kenya. In saying this I am using the term Mobile Web as it has been defined by the recent “Mobile Web for Social Development Roadmap” published by the W3C.  There, Mobile Web is “understood in its widest sense as accessing and interacting with Web content from a mobile phone. It is not limited to Mobile Browsing.” The roadmap considers different technologies including voice applications, applications using the signaling channel (i.e. SMS, USSD, Cell Broadcast) and services based on data transfer.

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