High-tech gadgets such as cell phones are bringing profound
change to developing nations, and not just economic progress. Text
messaging, the Internet and other innovations are having wide ranging
social repercussions, from exposing human rights abuses by repressive
governments to breaking traditional taboos governing courtship and
other human relationships. VOA's Bill Rodgers has more in this final
report from our series on how technology is changing society and
politics in the developing world, with additional reporting by Rosyla
Kalden & Steve Herman in India.
Young people in India, like everywhere else in the world, have
embraced the cell phone, using it for everything from calling home to
contacting members of the opposite sex.
Indian sociologist Radhika Chopra says the cell phone and other
technological innovations are having an impact on how some young people
are courting each other these days, mainly because parents have less
"The behavior of teenagers, and young adults in the public space was
much more visible and regulated, you might say," Chopra said. "You
couldn't express unwanted [unsanctioned] love, let us say, in a public
space - and you still can't, actually."
"But the Internet and
the mobile phone have created a kind of subset of society of youngsters
in same age group, of the same kinds of backgrounds or even across
class and caste backgrounds and so on. And I think this has actually
enabled them to be much more independent in their thinking about, let's
say, what kinds of marriage would they look for," she continued.
Not all young Indians welcome these new freedoms. Isha, a
fashionable young woman in New Delhi, rejects overtures via text
messages. "Once or twice it happened, some unknown people texted me and
I just told them to mind their own business and not to disturb me,"
Advances in communications via the Internet and cell phone are
having similar impacts on other traditional societies such as Iran.
They are helping to break down religious and other restrictions,
according to Arthur Molella, director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson
Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation in Washington.
"If you have a society that is very restrictive about public
relationships between men and women, men and women still have to get
together in some way, and these technologies provide a means of making
appointments with one another that weren't available before. So I think
inevitably they have this kind of subversive effect on authority,"
Such an effect on authority can include exposing repression in
closed societies. Images of the protests in Tibet earlier this year
were caught by digital cameras and transmitted to the outside world.
The resulting international outcry over the Chinese crackdown is still
resonating, and threatens to spill over into the Olympic Games, which
China is hosting.
In China itself, the Internet has served as a way to organize
opposition to the construction of chemical plants and other projects
viewed as harmful to health and the environment.
The New York Times recently reported that residents of the
provincial capital of Chengdu took to the streets early this month in a
peaceful protest against the construction of a multi-billion dollar
petro-chemical plant. The article says the protest was organized
through Web sites, blogs and cellphone text messages.
Anti-government protests in Venezuela also have been staged through
text messages sent out by organizers. Molella says governments are
finding it increasingly difficult to stop these political
"Just as the resistance in the Soviet Union took advantage of the
fax machine at one time, these are infinitely more powerful
technologies for getting information out very quickly," Molella said.
"Governments usually have to catch up if they want to stop something
proliferating on the Internet. I think it's this instant communication
and talking back to authority, as it were, that is changing the
Molella and others say the full magnitude of these technological innovations and their impact on societies have yet to play out.