Mobile Communication and Society: Interview with Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol, coauthor

Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol is researcher at the Interdisciplinary Internet Institute, where she’s assistant to Prof. Manuel Castells, and Lecturer in Econometrics at the University of Barcelona.

She’s now published, along with Manuel Castells, Jack Linchuan Qiu and Araba Sey, the book Mobile Communication and Society and has kindly accepted to answer some questions about the book and about the use of mobile phones for development. Here they go:

Question: The book’s presentation says that Mobile Communication and Society looks at how the possibility of multimodal communication from anywhere to anywhere at any time affects everyday life. Can you summarize 392 pages into 3.92 lines? ;)

Answer: Of course I can’t… But here you are some of our main findings:

Having a mobile phone, at least in developed countries where nowadays it is a personal device, means having Relentless Connectivity. Put it simply, we are available 24 hours a day, as well as our contacts are.

Communication is held among the different nodes of our Network of Choice. For instance, some times we prefer to call a friend asking for some indications to get a specific address than to talk to the bus driver.

As we are nodes of a network, we can establish Instant Communities of Practice. Flash mobs are one example, as well as it were the concentrations in front of the headquarters of the Spanish conservative party PP, in the evening of the 13th of March, 2003.

In this context, the Blurring of the Social Context of Individual Practice increases and our different everyday-life-roles are mixed. For instance, a security guard talks to her boyfriend without need of asking permission to her supervisor; students can communicate with other friends outside the classroom and do, at least, two different activities simultaneously, etc.

Q: Surely wireless technologies and applications are not used the same way everywhere, and thus their impact is different two. Could you point the main divergences in use and/or impact between developed and developing countries?

A: In developing countries, among less wealthy segments of population, the mobile phone is the first private telephone available to the family. It allows not only outcome calls but, most important, incoming calls. It is very often a collective device, thus all the members of the family use it… normally as it were a fixed telephone. However, sometimes the handset becomes mobile and goes out of home, often under the mother’s supervision.

On the other hand, boom calls (those made not to be answered) are used not only for fun but also in business. A customer could make a boom call to the milkman to order some milk. Usually, they had previously agreed the meaning of the boom call in order to avoid misunderstandings.

Finally, it is worth to point that in developing countries having a handset is not essential, and the SIM card would be enough to guarantee communication. A SIM card can be used in a mobile payphone, there you can also check if somebody has called you or has sent you an SMS. The SIM card works under a prepayment system so the expenses are kept totally under control.

All in all, the main difference between rich and poor users is that, among rich people mobile telephony is a complementary technology while for the poor it is an affordable substitute of the expensive, and sometimes inexistent, fixed telephony.

Q: Recently, some interesting books on wireless solutions for de developing world ([1], [2]) have been published. What do you think of initiatives such as Grameen’s Village Phone?

A: Around developing countries some innovative and fairly effective mechanisms and products are emerging to address the problem of telecommunication access. Some operators in there have begun to offer scaled down services, as in China (the Little Smart phone) and India (Wireless Local Loop telephony). But there are also grassroots’ projects, as the successful Grameen’s Village Phone program. Created in Bangladesh, it has been adopted in some other countries, as Uganda, South Africa and Ghana, in the same or in a modified form.

There is, indeed, a common agreement that this kind of initiatives increase consumer surplus as a result of reduced communication costs, and improve access to business information, while service providers have gained additional income (up to 40% of household income) as well as social and economic empowerment, especially in gender terms.

Q: Thus, “leapfrogging”: buzzword or keyword?

A: Time will say, but up to day what we can say is that landscape in some parts of Africa has changed. In the main street in a tiny rural town you can usually see two or three mobile payphones, and an antenna in the top on the nearest hill. There is a lot of activity around these mobile payphones.

Indeed, there is not overwhelming evidence to support the leapfrog hypothesis in terms of eliminating stages of economic development. However, and following Coyle (2005) PDF file (2.7 Mb), one of the most important identifiers of the potential developmental impact of mobile telephony could be its contribution to moving developing countries as close as possible to universal telecommunications service, which has been shown to have been the critical mass level at which telecommunications began to exhibit significant impacts on economic growth in advanced economies [emphasis is mine].

Q: And what’s next? Where does research on wireless networks in the field of ICT4D head to?

A: Three studies I would recommend you:

And three general resources:

Thanks a lot for your time!

See also


Book: Mobile Communication and Society.

Mobile Communication and Society

The MIT press has just published a new book in their The Information Revolution & Global Politics series, directed by William J. Drake and Ernest J. Wilson III.

Written by Manuel Castells, Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol, Jack Linchuan Qiu and Araba Sey, the book is describes the mobile revolution and how being constantly connected has affected our lives, getting into deep detail on who’s connected and how do they use this ubiquitous technology.

For ICT4D practitioners and researchers, chapters 7 — The Mobile Civil Society:
Social Movements, Political Power, and Communication Networks — and 8 — Wireless Communication and Global Development: New Issues, New Strategies — are of special interest as they deal with participation, development and social empowerment in general.

See also


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges – Report (III)

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Open Educational Resources: legal aspects
Raquel Xalabarder, Department of Law and Political Science, UOC

In principle, intermediaries (i.e. OER repositories) are liable for infringement of intellectual property rights. Nevertheless, there are safe harbours (exceptions) where intermediaries are not liable, provided they pass the awareness of knowledge test. Mainly it deals with knowing you’re consciously infringing the law and your ability to quickly remove content when required to.

Big problem: there’s no consensus on which law should apply to what at the international level.

Three things that the law empowers the author (not the industry) to do: distribute, communicate to the public and transform. But there are exceptions to the author does not abuse his monopoly, and education is one of them. OER repositories, though intended to teaching — thus, fair use — do open those contents to anyone, be their purpose teaching or not, so we have a problem here of possible infringement.

Creative Commons is, in no way, a registry: you should (also) register your work in the Copyright registry to protect your rights, regardless of what you intend to do with them.

The advice for the OER community should not be just try and see how I apply the law but to lobby and see how this law can be changed, changed so educatinoal purposes are always an exception to copyright, to enhance consumer protection (vs. the industry’s). OER practitioners should aim to bring the debate to the international fora, not just to keep it in the scope of their own (immediate) needs. Rights should be about exploitation, not use.

Open Educational Resources and Virtual Universities
Susan D’Antoni, Head of UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning, IIEP Virtual Institute

Knowledge is not merchandise, knowledge divide is deeper than the digital divide [personal note: this is because we think of digital divide as ICT infrastructures divide, i.e. forgetting about informational literacy], OER has the potential to address national policy objectives on the Knowledge Society.

UNESCO (and, actually, the OER community taking part in the fora) should be in position to design a policy framework to enchance/foster/refer OER development and implantation.

Yochai Benkler, The wealth of networks: The importance of policy choices – and the social political choides behin them – in the move towards the information society.

Closing Session
Julià Minguillón, Vice-Director Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, UOC

If you cannot see the embedded object, please visit

The OLCOS project has drawn a roadmap and some tutorials on how to implant OER.


  • There’s a need for information, to spread the word of open access and OER
  • Top-down and bottom-up approaches
  • Remove producer-consumer barriers, in the sense that consumers can become producers, and producers become consumers
  • Stick to standards
Update 20061220: The presentations can now be downloaded here
Update 20070517: The videos can now be downloaded here


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges (2006)

UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges – Report (II)

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Case Study 2. Massachusetts Institute of Techonolgy. Unlocking Knowledge, Empowering Minds
Shigeru Miyagawa, OpenCourseWare Advisory Committee, MIT

Move away from the ( approach. MIT OCW is, no way, a means to get revenues: on the contrary, the participants are driven by the aim of sharing.

Open Educational Resources: technological aspects
Miguel Ángel Sicilia, Information Engineering Research Unit, Alcalá University

Providing the sources is crucial so things are really “open”.

To manage the licenses, Open Digital Rights Language:

Reusability depends on the context: the more contextualized the learning object, the less reusable, but more usable. So, should we reward reusability, even if there is a trade-off with usability?

Opennes (in technology issues) should bring us from single opencourseware sites to federated ones and brokers… And standards are already ready.

Open Educational Resources: economic aspects
Peter Baumgartner, Department for Interactive Media and Educational Resources, Donau-Universität Krems

From a strictly educational point of view, it’s crazy to think that we can create the tiniest learning objects, so we can build with them bigger educational resources, namely “courses”. Not even Lego — to follow the usual metaphor DOC file (118 Kb) — provides tiniest one size pieces: there are different sizes of pieces, and even different shapes. We should rethink the idea of granularity.


  • The quality of educational settings is a mix of content and a learning environment
  • different types of educational resources support different kinds of learning environments, and vice versa

Three teaching modes:

Baumgartner's Teaching Modes

Canned content is not (necessarily) open content. And content varies widely whether the institution promoting the open content is public or private, and whether it is about virtual learning (autonomous learner) or blended learning (educational support).

Why open content?

  • for “a better world”
  • for reputation
  • for content: so I can mix it with other open content
  • for other services: I give you content and you give me feedback on how it worked / you give me medatada / etc.


  • copyright infringement
  • material has to be improved for general use: it was ok for my internal use at my lecture classes, but opening means public exposure, so it should be improved
  • print is better than web
  • lack of knowledge
  • giving away content can mean giving away business opportunities


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges (2006)

UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges – Report (I)

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Open Educational Resources: institutional challenges
David Wiley, Instructional Technology Department, Utah State University


  • Analog -> Digital
  • Tethered -> Mobile
  • Isolated -> Connected
  • Generic -> Personal
  • Consuming -> Creating
  • Closed -> Open

How the educational model is being challenged?

  • Content is changing: the University no more the one and only content holder
  • Expertise is changing: more and more accessible (out of the University) experts
  • Credentialing is changing: certifications can be worth more than a university degree [personal note: this brings me/us directly back to (open) ePortfolios, personal digital repositories, personal research portals, etc.]
  • So, the monopoly is being broken apart

The problem is that institutions do not understand “online”, they’re digital immigrants, not natives.

And it’s also about respect: if you do customize your courses if you have to impart them in other cultures different than yours, why not doing the same when moving to “digital cultures”? This customizing requires “open”, to enable creation, connection, personalization… So, it’s not because it’s politically correct, but educationally/instructionally correct.

Open Educational Resources: educational aspects
C. Sidney Burrus, Senior Strategist at Connexions, Rice University

[Traditional] Publishing disconnects the author with his audience (mainly students and other teachers), and they become shutouts.

Two phases to major technological change:

  • Phase one: new technology does old job better
  • Phase two: new technology invents new application that could not have been predicted

All content is in XML, including “strange” content: Mahts, MathML; Chemistry, CML; Music, MusicXML; etc. This enhances editing, searching, aggregating, localizing…

New Intellectual Property issues:

  • Get it right from the start
  • Make content safe to share


Connexions online

  • Free
  • Forever

Generate mission support revenue

  • Revenue from low-cost textbook production
  • Community College Initiative
  • University Press Initiative
  • K-12 Textbook Initiative
  • Supporting developing world & financially disadvantaged

Information is free, books are not

All content, compulsory, is licensed under a Creative Commons “attribution” license. So, you can commercialize Connexions content and make money out of it. The reason? If the market does work, only people adding value to the content can actually charge money on it. Otherwise, people will just download the content and print it.

Case Study 1. Open University UK. Open Educational Resources and the Future of Open Universities
Niall Sclater, Director of Virtual Learning Environment Project, Open University UK

Open University model is not based or aimed to publishing, but to online displaying. Thus, web support is the focus, powered by a Moodle installation, with quizzes and activities, etc. Lots of other open source tools do complete Moodle features i.e. for instant messaging.

Sometimes (and growing) content becomes activity, and activity becomes content. Everything that happens in the virtual environment can be reused and converted into content. ePorfolios, thus, are somehow created on the run.

Podcasting, for instance, is communication (interactivity, activity) but, as it remains, it becomes immediately content. And this applies whether the podcast is a teacher’s or a student’s.

Questions ahead

  • Can distance universities survive in a World where content is free?
  • Should we put more emphasis on supporting students to reuse content developed elsewhere and less on developing our own resources?
  • Can we build self-sustaining communities around open resources where learners and teachers discuss and enhance the content?


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Third International Seminar. OER: Institutional Challenges (2006)

UNCTAD: Information Economy Report 2006

UNCTAD has released their Information Economy Report for year 2006

The Information Economy Report 2006: The Development Perspective provides unique data on the adoption of ICT by enterprises in developing countries. It also explores ICT policy options in a developing-country context and proposes a framework for national ICT policy reviews and for the design and assessment of pro-poor e-strategies.

As it is stated in this introduction, it is true that the whole report has a focus on development: chapter 1 talks about e-readiness and the digital divide trends; chapter 2 reviews the successful factors to foster the Information Economy (Information Society); and chapter 3 is dedicated to ICT4D and ICT4P (yet another acronym: ICT for Poverty Reduction). Next chapters enter specific sectors such as oil, employment and e-commerce, but always with this development bias.

I’d like to quote something we’ve already stressed here before:

With regard to the type (or mode) of Internet access, there are large differeces between developed countries, where broadband is growing rapidly, and developing countries, where dial-up is still prevalent. This changing nature of Internet modes of access is a new dimension of the international digital divide.

(Page xxi. Emphasis is mine)

It is interesting to note that UNCTAD uses Orbicom’s methodology to analyze the digital divide, instead of, for instance, ITU’s indices such as DAI or DOI, or UNCTAD’s own index of ICT Diffusion, which, I agree, are most incomplete when considering the whole economy and not only infrastructures.

More info