Jan Chipchase's quest

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Photo: Shaul Schwarz/Reportage, for The New York Times. Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

The New York Times Magazine recently tagged along with Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase and got an arresting look at the impact of mobile phones in the Third World.

Chipchase, a “user anthropologist,” spoke at TED in 2007 to talk about how Third World users have transformed their mobile devices: they’ve become fixed identity points inside fluctuating populations, channels for entrepreneurship amid poverty, pocket-sized Western Unions. Many Ugandans, he points out, use prepaid airtime as a way of transferring money. (And during the recent Kenyan crisis, donations to the Kenyan Red Cross could be made in the form of minutes, as noted by TEDGlobal fellow Afromusing.)

Part ethnographer, part marketing agent, Chipchase’s work reveals the fundamentals of human character across cultures — and is helping shape next-gen product design to match local needs. Read the story in print this weekend or online now >>

There’s another TED connection in this story: Watch Iqbal Quadir’s talk about GrameenPhone, an outgrowth of the GrameenBank devoted to building mobile networks in the developing world. — Matthew Trost