During a lively discussion at a recent Technology Salon about broadband access for women across the African continent the subject of literacy came up. If people are not literate how can they use phones designed based on the use of the written alphabet? Can we redesign the phone to be used in a way that better works for people who do not communicate via reading and writing? It was a dynamic discussion and exciting to hear the keen interest in overcoming global communication challenges. In the midst of the discussion the following story opened an entirely new perspective on this challenge.
One of the participants told the story of being asked for her phone number by a member of the Masai in rural Kenya. He handed her his phone and asked her to slowly type in her phone number. As she entered her number he memorized the tones. He would later call her regularly in Nairobi from his village based on his recognition of the sound made by each key he pressed.
I cannot recognize tonal patterns on a key pad to access phone numbers and others cannot recognize written words. Exploring the diversity of user experiences based on cultural backgrounds and access to information opens doors to a wealth of rich communication and new lenses through which to view our world. What we choose to see is up to each of us.