Nalaka Gunawardene at Groundviews writes on the empowering rise of mobile phone usage among Sri Lanka’s poor — and the regulators who seem determined to stop it. Just as the controversial adoption of pants 40 years ago blurred class lines, elites are fighting the spread of mobiles among the tech-saavy poor. Sadly, regulators seem all-too-willing to protect the interests of the wealthy.
There is a numerically small (but influential) privileged class that resents information and communication access becoming universal. They might talk glibly in public on using ICTs for social development or poverty reduction. But back inside the corridors of power, they make policies and regulations to undermine the very utility of these tools. This is no accident.
The mobile phone is the biggest social leveller in Sri Lankan society since the trouser became ubiquitous (initially for men, and belatedly for women). Our elders can probably recall various arguments heard 30 or 40 years ago on who should be allowed to wear the western garb: it was okay for the educated and/or wealthy mahattayas, but not for the rest. Absurd and hilarious as these debates might seem today, they were taken very seriously at the time.
Make no mistake: the mobile is the trouser of our times — and thus becomes the lightning rod for class tensions, petty jealousies and accumulated frustrations of an elite that sees the last vestiges of control slipping away.
By way of endorsement, Groundviews is a fantastic citizen journalism project based in Sri Lanka. Best of luck to them.