Why mobile can be the world’s greatest social equalizer

This will change the world.

That’s literally what I thought as I looked in envy as a co-worker unpacked his Apple Newton circa 1997. It was, to the gadget inclined, a piece of technology that would forever change the way I looked at my clunky old PC. I had the same feeling when I finally got my hands on the first Compaq iPAQ in 2000, my first Palm, my first BlackBerry and my first iPhone – these devices were going to help transform the world.

I’ve believed this since those early days and believe it more today. I set my sights on being a part of this industry and ran a mobile game company and a mobile enterprise software company. I’ve sold games, apps, ads. I’ve sold to you, your mother and your company. It has created a joy of work like I’ve never known before and a sense of excitement not seen since the early early early days of the web.

But it wasn’t really until a very recent conversation that I was reminded about the sheer impact this industry is going to have on mankind. I mean, literally, all humans that inhabit this earth.

I live in North America so my views are localized. I see entrepreneurs creating apps, creating companies to build apps, creating consultancies to help other companies create apps. I see less innovative companies looking with lust as upstarts disrupt the business as usual crowd with new ways of doing things through mobile. I see retailers struggling to understand that the invention of a simple bar code scanner may very well put them out of business. I see large companies buying the talent they require with reckless abandon and a bottomless chequebook. I see a bubble being formed around the number of users, eyeballs, drawings and photos and people rationalizing $1 billion purchases as “smart.”

This is North America. A kaleidoscope of apps, services and innovations focused on the issues we face as consumers. Where can I get the latest fashion the cheapest. How do we target 18-25 year olds while they stand at a bus stop in downtown city X. Legitimate questions all but not exactly what I was thinking back on the day when I looked at that Newton and thought “this is going to change the world.”

I spent quite some time in Asia when I was a little younger and was struck by the number of people focused on their phone screens. It didn’t take a genius to see what was happening. While we were basking in the glow of our 17 inch monitors enjoying the richness of the sedentary Internet, the rest of the world made do with their phones. There would be no massive infrastructure roll out here. No computer on every desk, no browser wars, no dialup or broadband or even conversations about the last mile. They carried the Internet with them. Always. I saw this and thought “this is going to change the world.”

These things get lost sometimes. That vision of how mobile will create democracies and raise economies and educate the under educated and bring parity to the under privileged and democratize entrepreneurship gets lost in the filter battles and IPO’s. Sometimes you forget why this is so important. Sometimes I forget.

Then I met Anne Shongwe.

Anne is the founder and CEO of AFROES, a South African company that creates mobile applications and tools for social change. Her company has created a mobile game for feature phones that is helping to identify gender violence and affect personal behavioural change one player at a time.

I sat with her over SKYPE and as she talked I realized that I had forgotten about what inspired me to get involved in this industry. She talked about young men who realized that they were rapists but had no idea it was wrong until they played her game. She talked about changing behaviour through mobile. She talked about reaching the youth through their phones and ending violent patterns – banishing them through education that was previously not available.

This hit home. This industry really does have the potential to change the world. People are doing it right now. People like Anne in Pretoria. People who are looking at a real problem, one with significant impact on a population or society and applying a mobile first solution to solving it. This is earth shattering, mind-blowing, world-changing and happening.

Anne has a beautiful philosophy around mobile and the impact it can have. This is a simple technology and one that we shouldn’t over complicate. Attack one problem at a time to succeed. One outcome. Do too much and it becomes useless. This is the mobile mantra – simplicity.

As you can probably tell I was incredibly moved and inspired by this meeting I had with Anne. More so it reminded me of what this industry’s potential is and that it is our duty to make sure it reaches that potential. The one that disrupts minds, creates ideas, brings parity and allows everyone to experience opportunity.

This mobile thing is going to change the world that’s for damn sure.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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