“Dead China-Make’’ Phones Off the Grid: Investigating and Designing for Mobile Phone Use in Rural Africa Susan P. Wyche The Center for Human-Computer Interaction Computer Science Department Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA 24060 USA firstname.lastname@example.org ABSTRACT
Laura L. Murphy Department of Global Health Systems and Development, School of Public Health Tulane University New Orleans, LA 70118 USA email@example.com of these technologies . Visions of a network age of integrated information systems on a global scale— expressed in contributions to the Pivot25 conference  and the new iHub technology innovation center in Nairobi—are removed from the reality of rural areas of Kenya and other developing countries. In Kenya, only 20 percent of country’s population of about 40 million have access to electricity; the majority of those who do without live outside of the country’s cities [1,26]. Unlike their urban counterparts Kenyans living in rural parts of the country subsist on the equivalent of $1.50 to $2.00 a day . The “digital divide” is real, and attached to infrastructure, income, and location. Despite sub-Saharan Africa’s rapid urban growth the continent still remains predominantly rural and peri-urban . In Kenya an estimated 67% of the population live outside of the country’s major urban areas of Nairobi (the capital), Mombasa, and Kisumu—places where hard-wired internet reached only in 2009 [16,43]. This population differs from the urban areas: they tend to be older, less educated and less informed about the latest ICTs compared to their urban counterparts . Cities and towns have more infrastructure than the peri-urban and rural areas frequently referred to as “the village.” Villages, like those we visited, tend to be located off electricity grids, lack access to water, and the roads linking these areas to cities are poorly maintained [5,26]. Rural areas often offer residents few employment opportunities other than small-scale agriculture . No wonder that we still know little about rural Africans’ ICT practices, since cellphone and other ICT uptake is recent. Consequently, we lack knowledge on how to design for them. This paper addresses this gap in understanding rural users, relating findings from an empirical study in Kenya. We draw out design and research implications for the HCI and DIS research communities. During our fieldwork, we asked diverse rural users in Kenya: “How do you use your phones?” and “What problems do you face?” Our rich descriptions of the intricacies of interface, access, and choices help construct a more empirically accurate picture of mobile phone use in parts of rural Kenya and motivate a new design agenda.
Mobile phone users in rural parts of the developing world, especially Africa, adapt to lack of electricity, poverty, remote locations, unpredictable services, and second-hand technology. Meanwhile, the technology developers are forging ahead, designing for “smartphones,” high-speed data packets, and Internet access, not the “dumb” phones and parsimonious voice calls of the rural householder. We draw from fieldwork in Kenya with mobile phone owners to relate specific practices and issues facing rural users. Problems such as “spoiled” phone batteries and “Chinamakes” suggest larger design implications. We use our findings to motivate a design agenda for the rural poor built on the assumption of off-grid use and limited power, simple cheap phones, and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) protocol. A key part of this agenda calls for developing usable technologies aimed at the infrastructure rather than mobile phone interface level. Author Keywords
Rural users, Developing countries, Mobile phones, Kenya, Infrastructure, HCI4D, ICTD and Sustainable HCI. ACM Classification Keywords
H5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (e.g., HCI): Miscellaneous. General Terms
Design and Human Factors
Rural subsistence on small farms far off the...
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