Colloquium: Jonathan Donner discusses mobile internet and digital inclusion in the developing world

Jonathan DonnerThe UW Department of Communication is hosting Microsoft Researcher Jonathan Donner for a colloquium titled, “After Access? Mobile internet and digital inclusion in the developing world.” It will be held in CMU 126 on Thursday, September 25 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

DESCRIPTION: A breathlessly optimistic narrative has proclaimed the mobile phone the device which will finally close the ‘digital divide’, but the digital world does not run exclusively on mobile handsets. This talk, taken from a book in preparation, details the growing importance of ‘mobile-centric internet use’ in the developing world, and assesses its implications for social and economic development. In the talk, I revisit some of my previous studies in three domains of socioeconomic development: microenterprises and livelihoods, citizen journalism, and secondary education. The mobile phone is a boon to each domain, Yet, by reframing access and use in terms of “digital repertoires,” I identify how the capacity to generate, produce, and curate information may remain concentrated among those with better resources to secure more diverse digital tools, and the skills and incentives to use them.

In other words, while the person with $30 basic data-enabled phone and the person with a smartphone and a state-of-the-art $1000 desktop computer both can connect to the internet, my analysis suggests it is not the same internet. I argue that these persistent digital stratifications can be reduced if technologists, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers work to ensure that mobile-centric digital repertoires enable not only coordination and consumption (which phones already do well), but also contribution (which they do less well). From natural user interfaces to language support and bandwidth pricing, there are concrete ways in which more empathetic design and policy can help a greater proportion of the world’s inhabitants be more productive with their ICTs.  In some closing remarks I present new agenda for research and practice in the field of Information and Communications Technologies and Development (ICTD).
The field must guide the design, deployment, and use of digital tools and policies not just for poverty alleviation, but also for broad-based inclusion in the informational society.

BIO: Jonathan Donner is a researcher in the Technology for Emerging Markets Group (TEM) at Microsoft Research. For the last decade, Jonathan has published research on the remarkable growth in mobile telephony in the developing world, focusing on its implications for socioeconomic development and inclusion in the informational society, as well as its uses in everyday life.  His projects at TEM include Microenterprise Development, Mobile Banking, Citizen Journalism, Mobile Health, and Youth and New Media.  Prior to Joining Microsoft Research, he was a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and worked with Monitor Company and the OTF Group, consultancies in Boston, MA. He is the author, with Richard Ling, of Mobile Communication (Polity, 2009), and co-editor, with Patricia Mechael, of mHealth in Practice: Mobile Technology for Health Promotion in the Developing world (Bloomsbury Academic, 2012). His research also appears in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, The Information Society, Information Technologies and International Development, The Journal of International Development, and Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization. His Ph.D. is from Stanford University in Communication Research. Jonathan is based in South Africa. He is currently working on a new book, provisionally titled, “After Access: Mobile Internet in the Developing World.” Further details on Jonathan’s research are at and via twitter as @jcdonner.