2008: India now has 261 million cell
phone users, and the number is climbing rapidly. China, with nearly 500 million
cell phone users, has a slightly larger percentage of its population equipped
with these very popular wireless devices. In poor countries, with low Internet
use (there are only about 200 million Internet users in China), the cell phone
is simultaneously the first phone and personal computer (a cell phone today is
both) most people get their hands on. While many people use texting (it's
cheaper) most of the time, their cell phones give them an unprecedented ability
to send, and receive information, to or from anywhere in the world. This has
brought on many changes.
phones are radically changing the way warfare, and peacekeeping, is conducted.
This was first noticed in Iraq, where cell phone use went from nearly zero in
2003, to nearly a third of the adult population today. A similar revolution is
underway in Afghanistan. While cell phones gave the bad guys better
communications, it also made them vulnerable to eavesdropping. It gets worse. In
both countries, cell phones enabled people to express their dislike for
terrorist violence by quickly and discretely reporting the location and
activity of local terrorists. The bad guys have found no countermeasure for
this. Trying to collect all the cell phones in the vicinity, or blowing up cell
phone towers, merely make them more hated, and drives more people to risk their
lives fighting the terrorists.
really like their cell phones, and in the past few years, over half a billion
people have gotten one for the first time. China's cell phone use has more than
tripled in the last six years, as the cost of the phones, and connection time,
has plummeted. But it's not just terrorists who have taken a hit from all this.
It's much harder to run a police state now. With all those cell phones out
there, the state can no longer control information flow by simply seizing a few
radio and TV stations. The cell phone use leads to Internet use, and, as the
Chinese government is learning, that means no one has the kind of control
dictators were accustomed to for the last century. Some police states have
tried to solve the problem by simply not allowing the public to have cell
phones or Internet. That, however, has a side effect of crippling the economy
(even more than the damage a police state inflicts). Even tyrants like their
luxuries, and you need some kind of economic activity to get the goodies.
enough to say "death to the dictator", and many people have. But it's the cell
phone, not bombs or bullets, that has been the most effective weapon ever
deployed against the police state.