Technology is not so much “tech” in the sense people think of it, as the putting together of the giant puzzle of the world.  Sand was here before anyone knew you could make it into glass, or lenses, or semiconductor chips, or beach resorts.  But God knew from before the Creation.  Technology is thinking God’s thoughts after Him.  Technology is the pushing back of the Curse.  Technology is the gradual elimination of scarcity, which is to say, poverty.

Sometimes people can see this with the big advances, like Salk’s polio vaccine, but miss it with the smaller things, like a better iPhone keyboard.  Dr. Anne Bradley explains below why both matter more than you think.

How the Innovations of the iPhone 6 Help Eradicate Poverty

by Dr. Anne Bradley
The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics
October 7, 2014

If you could have any hardware feature added to your cell phone, what would you request?

I would love it if my phone communicated with my crockpot so I don’t overcook dinner when I am putting in a long day at the office. Some women do not have the luxury of even desiring this.

Your list probably doesn’t include a hook so you can hang your phone on an interior wall above rising floodwaters, a “peace button” to diffuse conflict when the phone registers nearby gunfire, or a long-lasting charger that can be hooked up to a car battery. These are a few of the requests Jan Chipchase received during a research visit to Buduburam, Ghana, in 2008.

Jan worked for Nokia as a “human-behavior researcher” or, alternatively, a “user anthropologist.” Local geography and weather patterns, day-to-day activities, family rituals, and cultural norms all influence the decisions informing technological design processes. To cell phone engineers, the contents of a woman’s purse provide insight into more than just the woman’s identity; they reveal “what she considers essential, the weight she is willing to bear.”

Insightful Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs like Jan play an essential role in the research and development of technologies we so often take for granted. These individuals are highly observant, innovative, and risk seeking. They are willing to assume the liability for failure, liability without which there would be no inventions.

An entrepreneur’s observations are key for the development of new products, and for honing and refining existing ones.

As seen with the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Watch, Apple addressed user needs that arose with previous models or responses to competition.

  • Screen size is notably larger on each phone, competing with the larger Samsung models and accommodating older users.
  • With iOS 8, texting will allow more media options to compete with Snapchat and Facebook messaging.
  • Activity-tracking technology will cater to fitness conscious users.

These are only a few recent innovations, and they carry implications beyond improving the user experience.

Driving Poverty Eradication

Remarkably, design changes in the newest technology can be indicative of the direction and impact of technology being adapted in developing countries.

Instead of going through all the steps to achieve the levels of technology and prosperity at which the US and other developed countries have arrived, these emerging economies can benefit from knowledge developed over many years and many hard lessons.

Next month, the Myanmar government will loosen regulations so that 30 million SIMs will become available. The market for cell phones is a strange mix of “feature phones, entry level android smartphones, and super-rugged feature phones,” but as the nation becomes more dependent on mobile technologies, the technologies being demanded will grow more complex. As Chipchase and his team remark in one study,

It might seem counter intuitive, but in some regards the mass market consumer in Myanmar is at the global cutting edge in terms of mobile adoption, unencumbered by legacy business models and assumptions.

Rather than beginning with the landline, many people will make their first personal phone calls from mobile VoIP services. Amazingly, these technologies allow countries to jump from abject poverty to having access to capabilities previously unimaginable.

Technology and innovation look different now in developing countries than they did when the US went through its own growing pains during the Industrial Revolution. But they are still opening doors of opportunity for poor women and men around the globe, giving them a chance to improve their living conditions.

Implications for Flourishing

The flourishing from one area allows for flourishing elsewhere.

This is indicative of a kind of flourishing in which we at IFWE take great interest. As Hugh Whelchel has written,

Biblical flourishing is missional, priestly, and outward focused, motivated on spreading God’s glory throughout the earth. We flourish when we help others flourish (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Economic prosperity does not guarantee biblical flourishing. It does, however, necessitate an outward-focused attitude. Flourishing comes when we affirm the dignity of others and encourage them to pursue their gifts in the ways God designed them to work.

When we embrace the gifts and talents the Lord created in each of us and encourage others around us to do the same, we will experience greater flourishing.