The guy at Radio Shack tried not to laugh when I asked if they had a prepaid smartphone. Not one with an annual contract, or even with a month-to-month contract like Verizon’s, but an honest-to-goodness pay-as-you-go smartphone. Where you buy a minutes card, load the minutes, use up the minutes, buy another card and get more minutes.
A pay-as-you-go smartphone would bridge the digital divide the way electricity brought rural America onto the power grid.
Remember the outrage over a man at a soup kitchen who used a cell phone to take pictures of Michelle Obama when the First Lady was serving food? The underlying message was, these people shouldn’t have this equipment. If they can afford a cell phone they don’t need a soup kitchen.
The fact is, cell phones are available for as little as ten dollars. The fact is, you need a phone to get job callbacks. A pay-as-you-go smartphone would cost more than ten dollars, obviously. But remember when the prices of DVD players dropped? Or home computers?
Think of the number of times a day you use Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn to share information, establish connections, network in your field. Try to remember the last time you read the “help wanted” ads in a newspaper. Then think about people who have no or limited access to digital technology.
On the digital evolution scale, I’m evolved enough to have a digitally distinct rating, but not evolved enough to know how to embed the widget that tells the world about it. Still, I realize many people wish they were where I was. That’s why Monday I’m attending the Digital Inclusion seminar at The Humphrey Institute.
Expanding digital access enriches people’s lives by opening them up to vital sources of information and opportunity. Expanding access also enriches the digital conversation by bringing in new ideas and perspectives. When the same people with the same ideologies share the same information, social networks can easily become echo chambers.
New media marketer Jeff Korhan recently blogged about the need to find uncharted social waters. Bringing rural America to the power grid was a foray into uncharted waters. Bridging the digital divide would be another. And a pay-as-you-go smartphone would be the vehicle that makes it happen.
This post was written by Susan Maricle and originally posted on Poultry and Prose. Follow Susan on Twitter: @poultryprose.