Clay Shirky takes on half the world

I thought everyone had read this, but then I mentioned it to a few people, and they hadn’t seen it. Do yourself a favor and read Clay Shirky’s thoughts on the received wisdom that "half the world has never made a phone call."

I’ve always had a skeptical view of these claims anyway, and I’m glad Clay effectively debunks them. The village where my father was born and grew up in India didn’t have telephone service until 1996. I was next to him when he talked to his mother on the phone for the first time, after having been in the U.S. for more than thirty years. He’d only heard her voice in the interceding years during his never-frequent-enough visits back to India.

As heartwarming as it was to have the privilege of seeing that, I was of course a bit blasé about the marvels of the telephone. Surprisingly, so were most of the people on the other end. They were well aware of the existence and use of the phone, they just didn’t have any need for it much of the time. Which makes sense to me, though I live in the East Village, as opposed to an Eastern village. I can do almost everything I need to do without touching a phone, so I don’t have a landline phone at home. And same goes for them.

I suppose what I’d add to Clay’s debunking of the "half of the people haven’t used a phone" allegation is the retort of, "…and if they hadn’t, so what?"