Myanmar in Mobile: A Reminder of How Easy It Is to Make Assumptions

January 25, 2016

I suggest you read the write up “The Facebook Loving Farmers of Myanmar.” Useful information. You can work through the article and get a sense of the importance of connectivity to farmers in a region which is quite a bit different from Silicon Valley and Route 128.

I want to highlight two points which I noted. My hunch is that these will be different from many other folks’ reaction to the article.

The first point is a reference to the failure of the “one laptop per child” thing cooked up by someone in the US of A’s right coast. Here’s the quote I highlighted:

But the more we probe, the less justifiable the Samsung premium becomes. The Chinese phones are cheap but capable. I wonder if this makes Negroponte happy. His one laptop-per-child dream was never fully realized but one smartphone-per-human—far more capable and sensible than a laptop, in many ways—has most certainly arrived. I take notes.

The point is that traditional desktops and laptops are not what has captured the attention of the farmers of Myanmar. The shift to phones, Chinese phones in particular, can be described as a miss, a big miss for the “one laptop per child” idea. How many other high tech beliefs are going to be shown to be just wrong enough? This, for me, is a reminder that what seems obvious to those on the left and right coasts in the United States are pitching the equivalent of snowshoes to people who live where it does not snow.

The second point I circled was:

I realize then that smartphone tech crossed the Good Enough threshold years ago.

What if the money pumped into improving smartphones by making them bigger, smaller, in different colors, etc. is a living, breathing example of diminishing returns. No mater what the phone designers and manufacturers cook up, the pay back will keep getting smaller. Apple is becoming mobile dependent. Google is becoming mobile dependent. What if these investments creep toward lower and lower returns. In a lousy economic environment, could there be financial trouble ahead for these and allied companies?

My hunch is that there are more farmers in Myanmar type folks than there are those who can get hired at the likes of the sparkling tech citadels on the left and right coast of the US, the silicon fen, and the other confections of techno-wizardry.

The one laptop per child play was not just wrong by a little; it was wrong by a mile unless Google knows something the folks in Myanmar do not. See “Google Donates More Than $5 Million to Give Chromebooks to Refugees.”

Stephen E Arnold, January 25, 2016


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