Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cell phones in Afghanistan: How will they transform the country?

Christopher Beam of Slate has an article about phones in Afghanistan that gives us some interesting numbers.  Owing to the recent introduction of cell phone telephony the number of mobile phones users is now about 10 million, 32 percent of the total population -- in a country that had only a few dozen phone lines a generation ago.  The price of a cell phone has fallen from $300 to $11 and the price of a call has fallen to 10 cents a minute.  All this has taken place since 2001, most of it probably in the last three years. 

The social implications of such changes in interpersonal access are so large as to challenge our ability to grasp how the country is changing, or what the country will be like in a mere decade.  Obviously, the pace of other changes in aspects of the society has leaped also.  The new intensity of social contact enables many things to take place so much quicker.  For one thing, as someone said to me when I was in Kabul in 2008, the postal service is now moribund. 

It's true that Afghanistan has been isolated from the world for millennia.  Not so now.   In many ways Afghanistan cannot be the country that it was.  What will that mean for the future?