Commonalities Across Cultures – The Cell Phone: Part 2
Thank you dedicated blog reading crowd! From all of us here in Tanzania, we hope you continue to follow our adventures and tell us what you think about them! Let this be the first official interactive blog post: Yes, that means, once you read it, we REALLY REALLY hope you comment about it. Let us know what you think! Give us your input! What questions might you have that we haven’t even thought to ask yet?
So here goes Part 2 of our findings about the huge impact cell phones and cellular infrastructure have had on the people of Tanzania. As we progress in our project and are getting to understand the daily lives of rural villagers here, we are leaning more and more towards focusing on a solar solution to charge cell phones.
Our conversations with villagers have exposed needs they face every day. Children must study at night by kerosene lantern, a light source not nearly strong enough for reading. For simple pleasures like radio news or music, Tanzanians must spend a large sum of money on replacement batteries. Some people have even told us of the inability to solder to wires together because the lack of electricity to heat a soldering iron or the inability to raise chickens because they cannot light an incubator lamp. Yet, many of these needs have functioning “work-arounds” that it doesnt quite make financial or social sense to uproot. However, charging a cell phone seems to be an entirely prevalent need that has to date, no good solution, and the portion of the population this affects is exorbitant… and growing every day.
Let us take you on a short journey to understand the lives of some particularly interesting Tanzanians. Olais, the proud Maasai who kindly invited us in to his house for a homestay, depends on his cell phone to communicate with his family (who are living in many different places) and help conduct his business in town, the bar. In his rural boma, his cell phone still had full signal from the incredible cellular infrastructure in Tanzania. It’s almost guaranteed that in the middle of the vast stretches of flat Tanzanian landscape, you can spot a far off cell tower positioned on the hills.
Recently, in the village of Mogesho, the most rural and poorest village we have been to yet, I was blown away by the growing role of cell phones in these villagers’ lives. A particularly memorable moment was when we asked a group of 15 Mogesho villagers who was carrying a cell phone. Sheepish grins spread on their faces as they looked around. Show us!, we asked. At the same time, they all reached under their robes, or into their pants pockets, or in a holder around their neck to grab their cell phones to show us. WOW! I remain convinced that when people who make under a dollar a day and still consider a cell phone to be important enough to spend a large sum of money on, providing a solution to easily charge these phones where there is no access to electricity would make such a difference in their lives.
And besides the sheer number of cell phones we have seen, the culture around these cell phones is just as fascinating. Cool fact: you can send cell phone minutes/money to a friend through your phone if they are out of minutes. Cool technique: Peter owns two cellphones which he carries with him at all times. Each phone has a SIM card with a different carrier so he can call different people who have different carriers. Over time, he said it’s much cheaper to do it that way as calling within the same carrier is cheaper. Cool fashion statement: Momoi, Olais’s second wife, has started to adapt the famous Maasai beading art to cell phone neck holders. She’s making this for herself now, but hopes to make them for others soon. Cool usage scenario: Three village leaders we met, Songoyo, Samuel, and Ibrahim consider their cell phone an absolute necessity because they need to be accessible to anyone in their village who needs them at a moment’s notice.
From these stories, and many others, we have identified the need to charge cell phones in these rural villages as an important, prevalent, and unsolved need. The next questions we hope to answer are: for whom exactly are we designing this product? For the wife who stays close to home all day and needs to charge only 3 cell phones a week, those of her family. Or maybe for that entrepreneurial barber who wants to start a side business off of charging cell phones for less. But one thing there is no question about is how important the cell phone is in the Tanzanian’s life.
What do you think? What questions are you left wondering? What can we do to really delve deeper into the area of cell phone usage and charging habits?
Cant wait until Monday when we bring out our prototypes to the villages!