Cell phones and handhelds in humanitarian, aid and development

For the world’s poorest, cellphone technology provides access to information and resources few ever imagined possible.

Back in October 2001, I wrote an article for the United Nations (originally part of the UNITeS online knowledge base) on handheld computer technologies in community service/volunteering/advocacy. It was on both cell phones and stand-alone tech used for reference and recording in the field and then connected to a network later. It provided some of the earliest examples of volunteers/citizens/grass roots advocates using handheld computer/personal digital assistants (PDAs) or phone devices as part of community service/volunteering/advocacy, or examples that could be applied to volunteer settings.

Text messages and other mobile applications have created platforms for aid groups to reach the most remote farms and crowded urban slums of Africa, Asia and Latin America as well. This article back in September 2010 was the latest in profiling some of these activities.

I’ve continued to pay attention to this subject, though I haven’t been in a position to do any further in-depth research at all. Some web sites that keep me up-to-date on what’s going on:

A word of caution: cell phones and other hand held technologies also provide a way to instantly misinform. I touched on this back in 2001:

Hand held technology must be used with great caution, however. Musician and U.S.A. Green Party activist Jello Biafra noted in an article on Zdnet.Uk: “Be careful of the information gossip you get on the Internet, too. For example, late in 1997 I discovered out on the Internet that I was dead.”

More about how quickly misinformation can now be spread in this resource: Folklore, Rumors (or Rumours) and Urban Myths Interfering with Development and Aid/Relief Efforts, and Government Initiatives. Also lists tips on how to address widespread misinformation.

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