More than half the world has made a phone call

by phil on Thursday Oct 2, 2003 1:56 PM
technology theory

The sacred phrase that "more than half the world hasn't made a phone call" is wrong.

The Phrase is such a serious and important statistic that only the boorish would question its accuracy. There is a kind of magical resonance in advancing arguments on behalf of half the world's people, and it allows the speaker to chide the listener for harboring any lingering techno-optimism ("You think there's a revolution going on? Half the world has never made a phone call!") The Phrase establishes telecommunications access as a Big Problem and, by extension, validates the speaker as a Thinker-About-Big-Problems.


Virginia Postrel, in her book "The Future and Its Enemies", (ISBN: 0684862697) suggests that the old distinctions of right and left are now less important than a distinction between stasists and dynamists. Stasists are people who believe that the world either is or should be a controlled, predictable place. Dynamists, by contrast, see the world as a set of dynamic processes. This distinction is the key to The Phrase. Anyone who uses it is affirming the stasist point of view, even if unconsciously, because they are treating telecommunications infrastructure as if it were frozen in time.

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