Phoning home for sustainability

Kelman, Ilan | March 25, 2012 | Leave a Comment

By Ilan Kelman

Will mobile phones create sustainability? A recent media article listed the many positive contributions of mobiles to international development.

That echoes what many researchers have long been advocating. One example from amongst many is a Spare Time University fully described by Michael Glantz for the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.

University-level information on development and sustainability can be condensed into “nuggets” and sent as text messages or voice mails to mobiles anywhere, for people to access in their spare time or, for example, while in the fields or on public transit. With the advent of smart phones, tablets, iPods, and others, audio and video become easier to disseminate to mobile devices.

This technology undoubtedly opens up a wide swathe of possibilities, giving interactive access for day-to-day sustainability information, such as weather and soil conditions, to people who are a long way, in distance and time, from internet access. With solar, wind, or wind-up charging, even unreliable access to electricity can be overcome.

Nothing is a panacea. Waste from electronic products is filling up landfills and releasing pollutants. Reusing and recycling are not always straightforward. Mobiles require many rare elements, leading to environmentally harmful mines and market oligarchies.

We must also be cautious regarding the power relations in filtering and providing information. Is information is ever neutral? If corporations selling sugary drinks or tobacco were willing to sponsor information dissemination to have their name on each message, should we agree? When farmers and fishers pay mobile phone charges, who benefits from that money?

Nonetheless, using mobile devices for development and sustainability should never be avoided. It is one needed option within a large portfolio of possibilities. Before phoning home about it, we must always be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of making that call.

The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.