Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?

If you need to reach Jan Chipchase, the best, and sometimes only, way to get him is on his cellphone. The first time I spoke to him last fall, he was at home in his apartment in Tokyo. The next time, he was in Accra, the capital of Ghana, in West Africa. Several weeks after that, he was in Uzbekistan, by way of Tajikistan and China, and in short order he and his phone visited Helsinki, London and Los Angeles. If you decide not to call Jan Chipchase but rather to send e-mail, the odds are fairly good that you’ll get an “out of office” reply redirecting you back to his cellphone, with a notation about his current time zone — “GMT +9” or “GMT -8” — so that when you do call, you may do so at a courteous hour.Keep in mind, though, that Jan Chipchase will probably be too busy with his job to talk much anyway. He could be bowling in Tupelo, Miss., or he could be rummaging through a woman’s purse in Shanghai. He might be busy examining the advertisements for prostitutes stuck up in a São Paulo phone booth, or maybe getting his ear hairs razored off at a barber shop in Vietnam. It really depends on the moment.Chipchase is 38, a rangy native of Britain whose broad forehead and high-slung brows combine to give him the air of someone who is quick to be amazed, which in his line of work is something of an asset. For the last seven years, he has worked for the Finnish cellphone company Nokia as a “human-behavior researcher.” He’s also sometimes referred to as a “user anthropologist.” To an outsider, the job can seem decidedly oblique. His mission, broadly defined, is to peer into the lives of other people, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about human behavior so that he can feed helpful bits of information back to the company — to the squads of designers and technologists and marketing people who may never have set foot in a Vietnamese barbershop but who would appreciate it greatly if that barber someday were to buy a Nokia.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/13/magazine/13anthropology-t.html

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