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The burdens and the benefits: Socio-economic impacts of mobile phone ownership in Tanzania

Meagan K. Malm and Kentaro Toyama

World Development Perspectives, 2021, vol. 21, issue C

Abstract: Mobile phones figure prominently in discussions about international development and poverty alleviation, but existing research is ambiguous about its ultimate effects. We report on a qualitative investigation of mobile phone impact based on 133 semi-structured interviews with low- to middle-income individuals in Dar es Salaam and Arusha Region, Tanzania. We find that impacts on mobile users are indeed mixed, but that they can be categorized by their phone use habits: Simple Users use phones for socializing and entertainment; Deliberate Users additionally use their phones for work and business purposes; Advanced Users make striking technical use of their phones. Only the latter two – comprising a minority of our participants – appear to be benefiting financially from mobile phone use. We also find evidence that for some, mobile phone use competes with basic needs such as food. Our findings suggest one way to reconcile the divergent claims in that technology has disparate impact on different individuals. We discuss implications for policy and development interventions.

Keywords: Poverty; Mobile money; Development; Sub-Saharan Africa; Mobile technology (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.wdp.2020.100283

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