The New York Times today is running a story on how data has surpassed voice usage on cell phones in the United States. Even in the US, where we have long had easy access to information through television, phones, libraries, radio, cheap transportation, and more recently the internet, phones have still become essential information management tools:
“For many Americans, cellphones have become irreplaceable tools to manage their lives and stay connected to the outside world, their families and networks of friends online. But increasingly, by several measures, that does not mean talking on them very much…
“The number of text messages sent per user increased by nearly 50 percent nationwide last year, according to the CTIA, the wireless industry association. And for the first time in the United States, the amount of data in text, e-mail messages, streaming video, music and other services on mobile devices in 2009 surpassed the amount of voice data in cellphone calls, industry executives and analysts say.”
While phones are no less essential in the developing world, they are used less frequently, for fewer purposes, and almost exclusively for voice, rather than data, in the world’s poorest communities. But, the trend could shift dramatically with the roll out of innovative apps in the developing world that deliver the right types of information, in forms that are fun and easy to use, and that are affordable for the billions of cell phone users who earn in a month less than half of what Americans spend on their cell phone bills.