Return to 'Tool vs. Machine'
I was reading Paul’s blog post Tool vs. the Machine and had a few thoughts.
I’m excited by e-recording - which may be a problem. Should we expect that our passion for everything cellular may not be widely shared?
One of the really interesting findings of research into M-pesa is that while daily volume is massive, individual balances are less than $3. It seems that while people will trust the system with their money for very short periods of time, they haven’t yet swooned over the opportunity to keep it on a ‘phone for the long-term when a bank is just down the road. The argument, or so Paul tells me, is that the bank has been there since the days of their grandparents, but the very speed of the digital revolution may also be a reason for anticipating its transience.
In my experience, the biggest challenge with uptake of new technology is the balance between its heavily touted advantages and the user perception of risk – and this is profoundly cultural. Risk is what poor consumers of new ideas tend to focus on first, and I don’t think we’ve yet considered this enough with e-recording. It is not enough for promoters to be personally certain about negligible risk levels: the people who are expected to take it on have to be so too, and that isn’t as easy as handing out free smartphones to urban youth groups. The people who love e-recording are people who, generally, have confidence in a world in which we cede more and more trust to outside institutions. That’s the experience of most development professionals. But it is not the same world inhabited by the majority of SG members, who, through hard experience, have reason to be very sceptical of external dependencies (how many of us really trust Facebook?) and modern ways of doing things that always turn out to be more complicated and less reliable than initially presented.
Thus, while people in remote rural villages might be happy to use M-pesa to receive their monthly remittance from a spouse working in Nairobi (i.e. a momentary dependency) , they might be quite nervous about their entire annual record of savings and loans (and cash) being entrusted, long-term, to a battery-driven device that is attractive to steal, managed by a priesthood (with a fairly long history of using mumbo-jumbo to exploit the dispossessed) and supported by someone in a very weird place ‘The Cloud.´ The phrase alone is a synonym for the insubstantial, however unfair that might be. So I think it will take longer than 5 years for e-recording to spread as a user-supported market service. I think that it may spread quite quickly but (unless heavily subsidised by give-aways and relentless promotion) mostly be attractive to urban or peri-urban groups, whose members ‘get it,´ can build on its advantages - and who have demanded access to its mysteries.
Originally published 10th July 2014.