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While people in the US have the first world privilege to complain about wasting time on their phones, millions of people in the developing world are using their cellphones to pull themselves out of poverty.

Paul Matzko
Tech & Innovation Editor

Chelsea Follett is the Managing Editor of Human​Progress​.org, a project of the Cato Institute which seeks to educate the public on the global improvements in well‐​being by providing free empirical data on long‐​term developments. Her writing has been published in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, Forbes, The Hill, The Washington Examiner and Global Policy Journal. She was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for 2018 in the category of Law and Policy. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Government and English from the College of William & Mary, as well as a Master of Arts degree in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia, where she focused on international relations and political theory.

Marian L. Tupy is the editor of Human​Progress​.org and a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. He specializes in globalization and global wellbeing, and the political economy of Europe and sub‐​Saharan Africa. His articles have been published in the Financial Times,Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The U.K. Spectator,Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, Reason magazine, and various other outlets both in the United States and overseas. Tupy has appeared on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, CNN International, BBC World, CNBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, and other channels.

Katherine Clayton is the CEO and Co‐​Founder of Omnivis. She hails from San Francisco but moved to Purdue University for a PhD in mechanical engineering. In 2009 she studied abroad in Thailand, where she decided to focus on appropriate healthcare technologies for low resource settings. She used the principles from her PhD for the current OmniVis product(s).

If you had to choose one technology that has done the most to transform peoples’ lives for the better in the past forty years, you could make a strong argument for cellphones. While people in the US have the first world privilege to complain about wasting time on their phones, millions of people in the developing world are using their cellphones to pull themselves out of poverty, move from subsistence farming to global markets, access credit and bank the unbanked, and learn about the broader world.

In this episode, Paul is joined by Katherine Clayton, founder and CEO of Omnivis, a startup that has created a smartphone‐​based device to cheaply and quickly test for cholera in water. Then he is joined by Marian Tupy and Chelsea Follett from Human Progress to talk about the transformative effects of cellphone technology.

What is the social and economic impact of cellphones in the developing world? How can cellphones be used as medical devices for people who do not have access to medical facilities? Do we rely too much on cellphones?

Further Reading:

OmniVis, Rapid Cholera Detection Platform

Human Progress

The Miracle that Is the Smartphone, written by Marian L. Tupy

Mobile Connectivity in Emerging Economies, by Laura Silver, Aaron Smith, Courtney Johnson, Jingjing Jiang, Monica Anderson, and Lee Rainie

Has Your Phone Hacked Your Brain?, Building Tomorrow Podcast

The World is Getting Better (with Marian Tupy), Free Thoughts Podcast

Making the World Better, written by Aaron Ross Powell



00:05 Paul Matzko: Welcome to Building Tomorrow, a show about the ways tech and innovation are making the world a better place. Now, how is this for romance? The first Valentines Day I celebrated with my partner a decade ago or so, I bought her the perfect present. It wasn’t chocolates, roses, a teddy bear she had to pretend to like… No, it was shares in an African cellphone company. Now, let me give you all a bro tip. When you give a present like that and your significant other doesn’t mind, you know you’ve got a keeper. Now, why would I do something like that? Well, that year we decided to give each other presents that we thought would help make the world a better place, and I believed then that the spread of cellphone technology would do more to end global poverty than any other technology or a contribution to a charitable organization could. And you know what? We were right? Our stock purchase, as small as it was, coming from two poor newlyweds, helped finance investment in cellphone infrastructure in the developing world. Towers, satellites that brought cellphone technology to folks living below the UN’s global poverty guidelines. Goat herders in sub‐​Saharan Africa, Cambodian rice farmers. That’s the kind of technology that can transform lives. And over the last decade, we’ve seen it do so, and there’s all kinds of cool applications that can be built on top of that cellphone technology.

01:26 Paul Matzko: This kind of technology is now so widely available that people in the developing world, from sub‐​Saharan goat herders to Cambodian rice farmers are carrying smartphones. And now that smartphones are commonplace, there are fascinating new applications built on the back of that technology that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. I had the chance recently to talk with someone who’s developing precisely that kind of application. Katherine Clayton is the co‐​founder and CEO of OmniVis. It’s a device that will make testing for cholera outbreaks faster, cheaper, and it could ultimately save thousands of lives in developing world, and it’s all built around the smartphone.

02:06 Katherine Clayton: OmniVis as a word means to see everything, but what we first…

02:09 Paul Matzko: Ambitious.

02:09 Katherine Clayton: [chuckle] What we first wanna see is the cholera pathogen in water, because cholera, it affects five million people in 41 countries every year, and this disease in many places is seen as a disease as what affects the most vulnerable and most poor. And so, what we wanted to do was take what’s currently a seven‐​day detection process down to 30 minutes, and we made a platform that takes the water sample anywhere in the world and can detect for cholera in 30 minutes, and it’s enabled by a smartphone, which also has GPS data, and time‐​stamping data to see where cholera has been detected in the world. So, someone at an NGO could send healthcare workers chlorine tablets, filters, and help this community. Before we read about an outbreak in the newspaper.

02:54 Paul Matzko: Now, what’s the baseline that you’re improving upon? How did this have to happen prior to your device?

03:01 Katherine Clayton: Right, so before it was a lab test. Somebody would have to go out to the field and get a water sample in a bucket, usually, bring it back to the lab, and then, after that, the lab would have to do an enrichment process, then TCBS streaking. So, thinking about petri dishes. After that, they would have to isolate the colony, then they would have to do serology to figure out the serotype of the bacteria, and then do Polymerase chain reaction. And then, after that, results, send it oftentimes for a secondary confirmation.

03:31 Paul Matzko: And that’s gonna take… You said seven days, I think, in the presentation. And that equipment’s expensive? Is that the…

03:37 Katherine Clayton: Very much. So, each of these things, it has its own disposables about it, it has its own equipment for it. A Polymerase chain reaction machine is very different than the incubator that you need for growing the cholera, for example. All of these things are equipment that are thousands and thousands of dollars and that I got to see in my own PhD laboratory.

03:56 Paul Matzko: Yeah, right, yeah. Which a lot of places in the world, they’re not so…

04:00 Katherine Clayton: Exactly.

04:01 Paul Matzko: Privileged to have that kind of equipment around.

04:03 Katherine Clayton: Exactly.

04:03 Paul Matzko: So, we’re talking about almost an exponential gain from thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars of expense for the old system, and seven days down to 30 minutes, real‐​time communication of data. That’s a real big improvement. What was the motivating impulse for you behind this project?

04:25 Katherine Clayton: I’ve been interested in disease diagnostics for a long time. I went into the medical field, because when I was a little kid, my own uncle died from HIV, AIDS, and that was the 90s, and so I said, “I wanna go do something in medicine.” And I was studying abroad in Thailand and was working with Engineers Without Borders on a water recovery project. Being a biomedical engineer at the time, I noticed that there were no hospitals nearby. And thinking, “How do people get medical care?” So, I decided to do my master’s and PhD, because I wanted to do something about this problem, but I didn’t know what or how, but I thought I could gain the skills to figure that out. And a gal came back in my lab, and told me that she’d been studying in Haiti for two months and was talking about this disease, cholera. And growing up in San Francisco, I wasn’t that familiar with cholera. And learning about it, and seeing that it was affecting so many vulnerable people, it was for me that opportunity of working on something that I was so passionate about, bringing that water background and that disease diagnostic background together and taking my technology and doing it. And I really hope that this helps people.

05:36 Paul Matzko: Yeah, very cool. Now, it’s… For our viewers… Our listeners obviously can’t see the device, it looks like a box attachment that you slide a smart phone into, which is interesting. Why did you decide to go with a smartphone as the kind of base of this device?

05:53 Katherine Clayton: Right, so I think it’s over five billion people in the world have a phone. So, that means familiarity with phones is much more there. And so, thinking about that simple platform, but also, phones are so powerful. They can do so many advanced computations, they can GPS things, they can timestamp things, they can talk to the cloud. There’s so many opportunities that you can use with a phone and translate that to take what was once a huge computer system down into something that’s in the palm of your hand. And so, that’s why we wanted to go with the phone. Somebody can toss that system into their backpack and go right out to the field instead of logging it on a truck and having multiple people take it off and sit under a tent, and wait for it to process.

06:36 Paul Matzko: And even in the remote parts of the world, where there’s no wired access, they are more and more likely to have cell access, or satellite access through cellular networks.

06:46 Katherine Clayton: Absolutely.

06:47 Paul Matzko: It makes a whole lot more sense to train a smartphone to do testing than to train testing equipment to reinvent the wheel to be a smartphone, to be a super computer. And that’s actually kind of a… It makes sense, it makes sense. It’s a very quick process. You said 30 minutes. It’s cheaper, how much cheaper are we talking? What does that actually look like? What are you selling?

07:10 Katherine Clayton: Right. We talked to a lot of our partners before we went down this rabbit hole that is OmniVis, and saw that it was taking about $100 per test for cholera, so going to one water sample and doing this whole test was $100. So, we decided to make our disposable test kits $10, much more affordable to be able to do. And so, that’s the component, that’s the toss away. The second is what we were just talking about. The smartphone with the sliding platform around it, and that is $1,000. And so, if we compare that to a laboratory with all the infrastructure and all the equipment that we need, it is much less than these tens of thousands of dollars worth of lab equipment. And then, having that mapping capability and data is a nice addition to it to now create this reporting, etcetera.

08:01 Paul Matzko: You’ve mentioned before on stage that you’re interested in other… Going beyond cholera. Can you describe that for us?

08:08 Katherine Clayton: Yeah, so by just changing the chemistry in that disposable we were just talking about, we can detect for different diseases, because we do the basis of DNA amplification and RNA, basically, going to DNA amplification. And so, as long it has DNA or RNA, we can do it. And my huge vision is to be able to work on disease diagnostics all around the place, anything that’s infectious, because I really wanna work toward disease elimination.

08:39 Paul Matzko: Yeah, now you’ve mentioned a few specific examples. What’s the next wave after cholera?

08:43 Katherine Clayton: The very next one from stakeholder analysis is doing E. Coli, but not any E. Coli, because there’s good E. Coli and band E.coli. So, we’re looking at the hemorrhagic one, which is, O157: H7 strain, that’s where we going next.

08:57 Paul Matzko: Okay, cool. So, you hear that there a… What does that look like on the ground potential? You get an alert that there might be cases of hemorrhagic E. Coli in a village out in the province?

09:09 Katherine Clayton: Yeah. And even here in the United States. A lot of the spinach and other kind of products that we’re getting also has that E. Coli in it. So, around the world, this is a huge issue. And affects people in different ways. Sometimes just with the water that they drink, but sometimes with the food that they later eat, so…

09:27 Paul Matzko: So, you’d send someone with the device and a test…

09:30 Katherine Clayton: Yup.

09:31 Paul Matzko: To test the water supply at a restaurant or something that is…

09:34 Katherine Clayton: Water supply at a farm, water supply in a different country that somebody just might be drinking from. So yeah, either way.

09:40 Paul Matzko: That’s very cool. Well, Katherine, thank you so much for your time.

09:43 Katherine Clayton: Of course.

09:43 Paul Matzko: Really appreciate it, and best of wishes and best of luck OmniVis.

09:47 Katherine Clayton: Thank you.


09:54 Paul Matzko: Since we’re discussing the social and economic impact of cellphones in the developing world, I thought, who better to talk to than our friends over at Human Progress? And do check out their website sometime. If you look down in the show notes, you’ll see a link to human​progress​.org, which just contains a massive set of databases, full of facts about the ways that the world on‐​net is becoming more prosperous, healthier and freer. So, I asked Human Progresses editors Marian Tupy and Chelsea Follett to join me. Welcome to the show, guys.

10:25 Chelsea Follett: Thank you for having us.

10:26 Marian Tupy: Thank you.

10:27 Paul Matzko: Now, to start, Marian, you wrote an article last year titled, “The miracle that is the smartphone.” What’s so miraculous about smartphones?

10:35 Marian Tupy: Well, maybe you should start by acknowledging that we are making this podcast on a day when three people who were involved with the development of lithium‐​ion batteries got the Nobel Prize for chemistry, I believe. And it is the lithium‐​ion batteries which power cellphones. And that particular article had to do with a concept in economics called dematerialization. And dematerialization refers to a process through which you are able to get more value from less input of resources. So, when you think about the cellphone, which you have in your pocket, it is, for a lot of lay people, non‐​professionals, a replacement for things like cameras. Obviously, you wouldn’t expect a wedding photographer to be shooting pictures with a cell phone, but for normal people going about their daily lives, cellphone camera is perfectly sufficient. It has replaced a video camera for a lot of us. It has replaced alarm clock, post‐​it notes, it has replaced white noise machines, and all sorts of other things that would have previously required not just a lot of materials, but a lot of energy to run. So, we are saving both materials but also energy by relying on this one object. And that’s not just good for us from a consumer standpoint, not only our house is less cluttered and we are spending, but… And also, that we spent much less money on it, but it’s probably good for the environment as well.

12:33 Paul Matzko: And most of those substitutes are, if not 100%, a perfect substitute, it’s 90‐​plus percent, it’s pretty close for most ordinary uses, I think, as you pointed out. I’m always amazed with cellphone cameras. Now, it’s common to have an algorithmic engine that can interpret, “What would this photo look like if there was more light?” A night vision‐​type photo cameras. It’s astonishing levels of capacity for someone who just wants to snap photos of their kids, or their pets or like…

13:05 Chelsea Follett: In some cases, the app that’s replacing another object is actually even better than what it’s replacing. Take maps, for example. A handheld map not only costs more in terms of clutter and waste, the trees that have to be sacrificed for that paper etcetera, but using a map on your smartphone is so much easier and intuitive, because it can track your location and it can very quickly estimate the length of time it’ll take you to get to your destination, etcetera.

13:36 Marian Tupy: And safer. Imagine opening a map in the middle of a drive. Although. I hope…


13:42 Marian Tupy: Yeah, the value of cellphones, it doesn’t have to be that cellphones completely replace every last camera in the world, but if they do replace cameras for 80% of the world, that’s still a lot of savings.

14:00 Paul Matzko: And I think your point is well put that it’s not just a function of consumer welfare, that that’s certainly true, and people, if… My understanding is… And I’ll put a link to a Pew survey at the bottom. They went and ask folks across the world, “Do cellphones make your lives better?” And people overwhelmingly say, “Yes.” Now, they often will also then go on to be less certain that make society better off, but when it comes to their own individual experience, they feel better off. But, as you point out, the benefits are not just to the individual consumer. This takes fewer resources, less electricity, which I imagine is especially important in places with less infrastructure that provide those things, with less reliable electrical generation, with less reliable infrastructure. A cellphone combines services that are important in… That are important for everyone, but they’re particularly important in the emerging world. So, where do we see the important role of cellphones, not just across the world, generally, but the role it’s playing in the developing world in emerging economies?

15:08 Marian Tupy: Well, let me start with one statistic and then hand it over to Chelsea. During the era of fixed phone lines, that was an era when most of the phone companies, even in developed world, were owned by the government and there was usually a phone monopoly. In Britain, for example, there was a phone monopoly by the British government until the 1980s. And in fact, the fixed phone line coverage grew very slowly and it peaked in 2002 at 21%. So, let me just repeat that. The fixed line coverage in the world peaked at 21%. Of the people who could have had a phone, 21% did. In the developing countries, it peaked at 1.6% of the possible coverage. Because if you think that phone monopoly, fixed line phone monopolies, were very bad in developed countries, they were substantially worse in countries which were underdeveloped or poor countries, especially in Africa. So, in those places, at best 1.6% of people ever got a cellphone… Ever got a fixed phone line in the first place. So, cellphones were able to basically leapfrog this particular bottleneck and in societies… Essentially in societies which never had phones because the fixed line monopoly is so useless, they moved straight from not having phones in the first place, to cellphones.

17:07 Chelsea Follett: And the spread has been rapid. When we’re talking about the benefits of cellphones and smartphones both to the consumer and to the environment and to society, I think it’s important to get a sense of the scale we’re talking about. Today, in sub‐​Saharan Africa, the poorest region in the world, there are about 85 cellphone subscriptions per 100 people. That is huge. And globally, there are 110 cellphone subscriptions per 100 people. There are actually more cellphone subscriptions globally than there are people. And of course, that number it gets even higher in developed countries. In the US, it’s 122 per 100 people. And this is just a huge increase. In 1990, just 2% of Americans had a cellphone. Now we have more cellphone subscriptions than people. And as for smartphones, globally today, they’re around 2.5 billion smartphone users. That’s around a third of humanity.

18:08 Paul Matzko: It’s interesting too that we see this explosion that you guys are describing in cellphone adoption, smartphone adoption, is kind of an ongoing boom as well. But there’s an entire ecosystem built on top of that technology. Obviously, literally, there’s apps and software and the like, but I don’t mean it in that limited sense. I mean the sense that we build the infrastructure of our modern financial system on top of cellphone technology, potentially, especially in places like sub‐​Saharan, Africa, where once upon a time, unless you were part of a very thin elite of government officials, a very small number of folks in capital cities in sub‐​Saharan Africa, you had no reasonable access to banking. You had no way of… Even the national currency might be unreliable, you couldn’t open a bank savings account, couldn’t get credit, couldn’t work your way out of a subsistence farming kind of lifestyle. But now. Because of cellphones, there is a financial ecosystem built on top of cellphones that give access to, I don’t know, your sub‐​Saharan goat herders and a whole new class of people who can join the global economy. This is where I think M-PESA comes in or…

19:30 Chelsea Follett: Right, that’s an app for people who do not have access to traditional banking, it fulfills a lot of the same functions.

19:36 Paul Matzko: So, how’s that work for folks who aren’t… In our audience who aren’t familiar with M-PESA and the concept of mobile banking.

19:44 Marian Tupy: Well, this is a Kenyan system. I believe it was developed in Kenya and you pointed out that the lack of access to banking is part of problem with poverty. In other words, there are very few banking branches that you would expect to find in a rural Kenyan village or somewhere. And of course the road system is broken and so getting to town… To nearest town, to open a bank account and then use it in the way that we used to prior to cell phones was near impossible. So vast majority of the people who were stuck in the rural areas, would never have access to that. So, M-PESA is essentially a phone app that allows you to move money between people, between phone numbers essentially. You don’t have to have a bank account in order to do that, you can send money through your phone company to anybody you want and it’s very similar in… A very similar system has developed in Zimbabwe after their hyperinflation, where people can send money to each other in different currencies. Thereby, side stepping the problem of a collapsing currency.

21:06 Marian Tupy: So these apps have a profoundly positive effect on people, especially who are in dire, dire straits places like Venezuela, places like Zimbabwe cell phones and the ability to transfer money in a currency that is not as I said, that is not being deteriorated by hyperinflation, is actually very important.

21:35 Paul Matzko: Now, so there is an economic effect of the proliferation of cell phones and smartphones around the world which is positive. There was one study in the magazine, Science, which suggested that M-PESA alone… And I believe it was in Kenya brought 2% of the population out of poverty in the course of a year or two, which is impressive that an app would have that large of an effect. But it also has a role in political movements is my understanding. So maybe we can talk about that for a minute. What role have cell phones, smartphones played in spreading, not just economic liberty and prosperity, but political liberty and prosperity around the globe?

22:21 Chelsea Follett: Right. Right. So not only are smartphones, particularly beneficial for people in poverty, but for people lacking freedom as he points out, they can be very valuable. We’ve seen this with the Hong Kong protests for example. Smartphones can enable ordinary people to access censored content, to document abuse or brutality by Government agents and just share information with one another and to organize politically. And so we’ve seen smartphones as a driving factor behind a bunch of movements around the world.

22:53 Marian Tupy: Yeah, in North Africa during the Arab Spring, I believe that cell phones proved to be quite useful in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere. Where else? Hong Kong is the obvious example where it has been used during the Umbrella protests, but also more recently. So, politically it has a role to play, but let’s not forget what I think is the most important contribution of cell phones and that is that people have access in their pockets to the stock of knowledge of the entirety of human civilization. And I think this is absolutely extraordinary. You no longer have to go to a library, you no longer have to borrow books, you no longer have to buy books. You don’t have to rely on the will of the sensors basically in your pocket, you have an answer to every question that you could possibly ask. And that’s also very important.

23:50 Paul Matzko: I’ve heard of some fascinating kind of applications of that access, everything from self organized movements by subsistence farmers who have cell phones to exchange data. That are finding data about global stock prices for literal stock like their cattle or goats. For what’s the global price, what’s the regional price? Let’s pull together to the knowledge we can find online and figure out the best time to sell our herd.

24:25 Marian Tupy: That’s right.

24:26 Paul Matzko: I mean, or uses of smartphones and other… Well, and I suppose tablets as well, but in the classroom, there’s an opportunity to expose kids to literature from around the world, the text books, free text books that are available online. Stuff that once would have been prohibitively expensive to import into a country can now be found through phone technology. Are there any other examples of that kind of information sharing that you guys can think of?

24:58 Marian Tupy: Sure. One of the most obvious ones that I hope we are moving toward to is that instead of classroom teaching, where again, it used to be that a small sliver of the population was able to enroll in a College, and listen to a Professor in that kind of a setting. We can bring the Professor to the living room of any child or a teacher to a living room of any child. So one of the big problems in developing countries, is that even though officially a lot of children are at school, in reality a lot of teachers are absent, they do not… They are not conscientious employees, they’re barely in the classroom and when they are in the classroom they are maybe too drunk or too tired and they don’t teach. Now, that doesn’t mean that the children are at fault or their parents are at fault, I’m sure they want the best for their children. One way to get around the problem of that kind of bad teaching, is to equip them with a computer or a tablet and then having them being taught by somebody elsewhere.

26:08 Marian Tupy: And I hope that we are moving in that direction. We can, again, again, we’re talking about a bottleneck, a bottleneck created by the government, which is incapable of providing the very basics for the population, especially in developing countries. And we can get around it.

26:23 Paul Matzko: Yeah, let’s talk about the bottleneck a little bit more. So my understanding of the chronology that you’ve kind of laid out for us here is that once upon a time up till say, the 80s, most telecommunications companies were kind of government protected, sometimes public‐​private hybrids. I mean, the United States we had AT&T, which was a government‐​protected monopoly even though it was a private company. I think in Britain, was it Vodafone? Wait, wait, there was a…

26:51 Marian Tupy: British Telecom.

26:52 Paul Matzko: British Telecom.

26:53 Marian Tupy: British Telecom, yeah. Mrs. Thatcher prioritized it in the 80s.

26:56 Paul Matzko: Yeah. And AT&T was broken up and no longer government‐​protected in the US in right about the late 70s, 80s as well. So how… What role did that play in the bottleneck?

27:07 Marian Tupy: Well, in a sense that you had to book the government service months, sometimes years in advance, and it took an extremely long time for somebody to turn up with a phone, put it on your desk and then plug it into the system. If you have… It was a problem with the typical government service, is that if people are promoted on the basis of seniority rather than output and the quality of service, they have very little incentive to actually do anything. So when you have a large state monopoly that is dominated by the trade unions, then of course the output, the productivity is very low, or at least that used to be the experience. I think part of the problem is that we are now so far removed from having our basic needs delivered by government monopolies, that people forget what life was like in the 60s, 70s and 80s when a lot of things were actually provided by the government as a monopoly service.

28:15 Marian Tupy: In Britain it was of course cars and phones and healthcare, and then maybe we are moving toward a monopoly in healthcare in this country. But my point is that, so many of the things which are now provided on the market basis have been provided by monopolies. And people forgotten what it was like. But what it is like is very simple, there is very low productivity, and you have to wait for months, sometimes years, for the phone to actually arrive. And when that happens, that is the bottleneck. You cannot expand your business, for example, if you cannot get more phone lines, because you cannot get in touch with other employees and so forth. Sorry.

29:02 Chelsea Follett: No, absolutely. And to bring that back to cellphones, that privatization led to market competition, that then led to rapid, rapid technological progress. For perspective, in 1984, a cellphone weighed two pounds, took 10 hours to charge, and cost over 10,500 2019 dollars. That was not that long ago. The progress has been rapid.

29:32 Paul Matzko: And on this progress point, so I do know just the touch about the history of cellular development and some of the first mobile phones, where they were put in the trunk of a car, that they actually were used in police vehicles in the 1950s. So you’ve had the potential for cellular networks, they were obviously even larger than the ones you’re describing in the 80s, but that technology was never really innovated on or developed for 30 years, in part because AT&T had no particular reason to develop cellular technology that would challenge or undercut its landline, very profitable landline, and especially very profitable long‐​distance landline service. So a technology that could’ve… The 1950s could have been the starting point instead of really the 1980s. And who knows, what a world with cellphones, five, 10, 15 years earlier might have looked like.

30:31 Paul Matzko: So it’s interesting to think about, there’s an alternate future in which even right now, we wouldn’t be impressed with the smartphones we carry around in our pockets, because we would have started the development curve, the competition development curve 10 years sooner. So, I guess check back in 10 years, think of how impressive your cellphone is and how unimpressive the cellphone you’re listening to this podcast on right now is by comparison. That’s the future we could be living in.

30:56 Marian Tupy: That’s right.

30:57 Paul Matzko: Potentially.

31:00 Marian Tupy: Yeah, when you were talking about long distance that reminded me in the early 90s my father moved to South Africa to be a medical doctor there, and in order to speak to him in South Africa, you had to go to the postal office and make an appointment, where you would come back at a certain point in time, on a certain given date when that phone call would be made. And so [laughter] this is how it had to be. Now, of course, you can Skype with anybody anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice, just seeing them online and make that. So things have improved dramatically. My pet peeve with people alive today is that we just don’t know enough about history. I think that if anybody was introspective enough to look back in time, or had the incentive to look back in time and learn more about history, they would be absolutely amazed by the sort of life that we have today. I wonder why more people don’t do it.

32:06 Paul Matzko: Well, the challenges are preconceptions, which can be a painful process, when something challenges your priors, right? One last question for you Chelsea, you had a piece last year I think, about kind of technological moral panic, how people… New technology comes along and people are afraid of it, they tend to downgrade their… Their perception of its benefits doesn’t match their fears about its consequences, and so that can lead to developmental delays. Does that apply to cellphones, do you think?

32:39 Chelsea Follett: Absolutely. We’ve seen this kind of moral panic again and again, whether it’s to bicycles or radios, you can find all sorts of examples throughout history, where new technology that today seems very common place was considered to be a huge threat to society. And today, people sometimes talk about smartphones in this way, they say that it’s terrible that we have these on the presence… That we have this need to look at our smartphones constantly, that it’s ruining human relationships, etcetera. And you saw the same kind of moral panic around television, around radio, around even literacy if you go far enough back.

33:20 Marian Tupy: Bicycles? Well, look, I think that there’s certainly some things that we are discovering about social media and develop or rather enabled by cellphones which are worrying. Twitter, for example, is… Can be used for good and ill, but I’m not sure if Twitter has really helped the political debate in this country, for example. However, people have a remarkable ability to adapt and to evolve new ways of… To adapt to new technologies and develop new ways of using them. I suspect that in 10 years time, if past is the prologue, we’ll be looking at this period as a period of adjustment, where people, as these new products came online, it took a little while, but eventually we figured out the extent to which we want to interact with them.

34:15 Marian Tupy: So for example Facebook, how much do you want it? That’s a good example of a technology that we are sort of beginning to, I think come into grips with. Where people are sharing fewer of their most intimate details on Facebook than they used to. A lot of people have decided that actually they can be perfectly happy without having a Facebook and so forth. So different people will interact with technology in different ways. Some people will stick with Twitter and Facebook, other people will move on. Some people will emphasize their privacy, other people will not. I think we’ll figure it out and eventually end up in a place where happiness is maximized.

34:58 Paul Matzko: Well, I’ve certainly ended up in that place on this episode, so thank you guys so much for coming on Marian and Chelsea and until next week, be well.


35:08 Paul Matzko: Thanks for listening, Building Tomorrow is produced by Tess Terrible. If you enjoyed Building Tomorrow, please subscribe to us on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you’d like to learn more about Libertarianism, find this on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.