Smartphones Allow Developing Countries Greater Access to Reading

The proliferation of the smartphone is having an unforeseen effect on developing countries, as people are reading more thanks to the ability to surf the Internet or read books via the smartphone’s various applications, according to an article by Hector Tobar in The Los Angeles Times. A report from UNESCO stated that people who had limited [...]

The proliferation of the smartphone is having an unforeseen effect on developing countries, as people are reading more thanks to the ability to surf the Internet or read books via the smartphone’s various applications, according to an article by Hector Tobar in The Los Angeles Times.

A report from UNESCO stated that people who had limited access to books were now reading more because of smartphone technology.  The report contained the results of a survey given to 4,000 people in Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe.

WorldReader, a nonprofit that distributes digital readers, along with Nokia were collaborators in the survey project.  What the survey results showed was that people from under-developed countries are enjoying reading more and are reading books and stories to their children — and 90% of those surveyed said that they would be reading more on their phones in the coming year.  A man living in Zimbabwe was quoted as saying:

“We live in a remote area where there are no libraries, and the books I have in my own small library are the ones which I have already read. So this is now giving me a chance to choose from a variety of fiction titles.”

A Zimbabwean student reports that “I actually read more on my mobile than I used to. I think it is because I can carry my phone everywhere I go and it is quite easier than carrying a book, and it is always there when I want to read.”

The United Nations also stated that the of the approximately 7 billion people inhabiting the planet at this time, 6 billion have access to a working cell phone.  By comparison, those who have access to a toilet number 4.5 billion.

UNESCO’s report also emphasized that smartphone technology will easily and cheaply make text accessible to those who have not had access before.  The author of the report, Mark West, said that the most important conclusion from the survey was that mobile devices are going to play a part in the development, sustainability, and enhancement of the literary skills of people worldwide.  He added that these improving skills would result in “life-changing opportunities and benefits”.

An important and positive result of the increase in this technology is the affordability of downloading text.  A book can be read on a mobile device in Zimbabwe for about 5 or 6 cents, while a paper book there might cost as much as $12.  That, along with the the lack of libraries and the scarcity of personally owned books, makes mobile reading a popular choice.

The most popular reads, according to the survey are romance novels.  The next most read genre was religion.  It also revealed that women are more active readers than men.

UNESCO seeks to make this technology helpful and accessible in the following ways:

1) Diversify mobile reading content and portals to appeal to specific target groups

2) Increase outreach efforts to create opportunities to potential users to experiment with mobile reading and learn about its benefits

3) Lower cost and technology barriers to mobile reading

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