Development of Mobile Technology and its Accessibility in Developing Countries

In the developed world mobile devices have become our addiction, for most it is almost unfathomable to even consider the thought of spending a day without their mobile phone. In fact mobile technologies are such a ubiquitous part of our lives that it is almost comical when we encounter someone who can’t use them. The issue of accessibility is not that comical when mobile technologies have many economic and social advantages in developing countries. Mobile phones allow many countries to bypass infrastructural deficiencies in the ways of creating a communication network.

Telegraph Machine: Early form of long distance communication, transmits electrical impulses which are converted into audible beeps.

In the mid 19th century the advent of the telegraph brought with it an era of communication that had never been seen before (Farman 2012). At the same time in the United States the transcontinental railroad made it possible to translate a message from the east coast to the west coast very quickly. The industrial age also demanded that the telegraph network to be built spanning great geographic distances. As the United States and other developed countries developed so did our communication networks and proportionally our cultural understanding of the technologies that make up those networks.

Today in developing countries it is very difficult to build a network connecting towns and villages because of limited resources, money, and manpower. Mobile Technologies make it possible to skip the step of setting up a cabled infrastructure in these countries. This is great because communication can now be improved in these countries cheaply and effectively, however there is also a negative side to this. While mobile technologies allow the developing world “skip a step” in building the infrastructure they are also skipping the step of cultural understanding. In this way literacy becomes a huge hurdle for companies that are attempting to bring these technologies into under developed areas.

Jan Chipchase writes extensively on the kind of difficulties nonliterate people face when using mobile phones. In his study Chipchase explores some of the ways mobile phone companies need to adapt for nonliterate people. He mentions iconography being one of the most suggested forms of leaping the literacy hurdle. The concept basically is using icons or pictures to represent the different functions of the phone (Chipchase 2008). For instance, a person may not be able to read or understand the word phonebook so instead of writing that into the interface they replace it with a picture of a handset phone. This raises a number of issues. First of which is not all icons are recognizable to different cultures, and it would be incredibly costly for phone manufacturers to develop an icon based interface tailored to different regions of the globe.

Save Icon- The next generation will have no idea what this is.

Take for instance the save icon on almost any word processing program. It is a picture of a floppy disk, which by anybody’s definition extremely outdated yet still recognizable. In 10 years younger generations would very likely not have a clue what a floppy disk is or how it works, much as the majority of generation X may not know what a vacuum tube is or how it worked. Iconography is heavily seated in social and cultural archetypes, which makes it a really inefficient means of giving access to those who are textually illiterate.

Some other solutions that Chipchase posed would tailor the technology to those who were textually illiterate in many ways. One way was elimination soft keys and rocker buttons, which serve really no inherent purpose other than the functions that they are assigned to by the user (which is nearly impossible for nonliterate people to do on their own). In the place of these keys would be hard buttons with universally recognized functions that would make the process of using the device easier and more intuitive (Chipchase 2008).  Another suggestion was to standardize settings like time and date and the more intricate settings of the phone, which are complex and difficult to understand. In doing so Chipchase suggested a phone menu with very few functions such as phonebook, calling, and texting (Chipchase 2008).

This begs the question of why the solution of dumbing down the device is the best solution? The answer is that it isn’t or shouldn’t be the ultimate solution, for phone companies would only serve to benefit from this in the short term. The inferred goal of doing this would be to market and sell an easier more simplistic phone to those areas that are not literate and slowly phase in more features that would be learned by those who use the phone. Implementing training and classes for phones could also increase the understanding of the technology, its functions, and uses in the long term. So while mobile technologies in developing areas may be hindered by illiteracy, they may in fact serve as a solution to it in the long run.


Farman, J. (2012). Historicizing Mobile Media: Locating the Transformations of Embodied Space. The Mobile Media Reader

Chipchase, Jan. (2008). “Reducing Illiteracy as a Barrier to Mobile Communication.” In Katz, J. E. (Ed.). Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. P. 79-89

History Channel. “An Early Morse Telegraph Machine” JPEG. Retrieved from

Ruby Software. “Save Icon” PNG. Retrieved from

Judge, M. (Director) (2006). Idiocracy [Web]. Retrieved from


3 thoughts on “Development of Mobile Technology and its Accessibility in Developing Countries”

  1. I found this essay to be very interesting and you raised some great points. I strongly agree with your point in saying that mobile phones allow many countries to bypass infrastructural deficiencies but it skips a major step of the understanding of those technologies. The iconography argument was a great example of this. If you have no prior knowledge of the icon symbols on a phone, how can you understanding it’s function? I also agree that dumbing down these devices is not necessarily the solution for this problem. Overall, this was well-written with a few grammatical errors but nothing major. Great job!

  2. Hello!

    This essay was really awesome. It raised some great questions regarding cultural development. You mentioned how developing countries can now “skip a step,” to a better communication system, but noted that the society will be culturally impacted in a different way with the introduction of this technology, compared to witnessing the technology change over time as it advances. I also agree with your comment that phone companies can market to an illiterate population and achieve sales in the long run, rather than immediately. Illiteracy is something to be taught out of, and if phone companies helped with the teaching for it’s users, the users maybe more willing to use their services. The post read smoothly and was organized well!

  3. Your essay raises a great question as to what the best solution would be to “dumb down” mobile devices, making it easier for developing nations, the handicapped, and or the illiterate to use and access digital information technologies. You started off by stating developing countries have it difficult to build physical connecting networks from town to town due to limited resources and mobile technologies would help advance their digital infrastructure. My question to you would be; what are the “cultural understandings” that undeveloped countries may be skipping out on through the introduction of digital technologies? To me, the introduction of digital technologies to such nations provide them access to digital information, thus providing the opportunity for a decrease in illiteracy.

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