Wired Science reported on a project a while ago, based on innovative ecological crowd-sourcing in New York. The idea was quite simple. "Participants in the NYC Cricket Crawl will go out between dusk and midnight to record cricket calls for one minute, and then immediately send their results and location to the scientists by cellphone. The researchers are hoping to find evidence that the Common True Katydid, once plentiful in New York City but now rare, is still thriving in some regions of the city." Quite innovative approach if you ask me, and the results are now up on their website.
But actually, many of the most innovative uses of information and communication technologies does not at all require fancy (and expensive) mobile technologies such as sound-recording iPhones. The Economist's September issue features the role of simple cell-phones in emerging markets. The most interesting examples are from Kerala (India) and Niger. In the first case, the spread of cellphones seems to have increased fishermen’s profit by 8%. The reason was that fishermen ”could call several markets while still at sea before deciding where to sell”. In Niger, increased mobile-phone coverage seems to have reduced price variation for grain, between local markets. As the Economist reports ”during a spike in food prices in 2005 grain was 4,5 % cheaper in markets with mobile coverage”. You can find a beautiful documentary of the societal impacts of increased use of mobile phones in Africa here.
A range of additional example of smart uses of quite simple communication technologies, such as SMS-messages and e-mail-lists - can be found in the health community. The moderated e-mail list ProMED has become a fundamental tool for rapid dissemination of information during health contingencies. Bangladesh as an additional example, is conducting active Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza surveillance through an Short Message Service (SMS) gateway to collect data and report on disease and death in poultry. Since October 2008, 21 HPAI outbreaks out of a total of 35 have been detected through this active surveillance programme.
Simple technologies, big impacts. Even in an era of rapid information technological change, less is more.