SMS Saves Lives
Here's an example of a government making use of changing technologies and new infrastructure to positive ends:
SHANGHAI, China - With Typhoon Kaemi roaring toward China's crowded southeast, Dr. Yang was sealing his apartment windows against the pounding rain when his cell phone buzzed to life.
"Typhoon forecast to make land this evening," said the message sent to millions of mobile phones in the coastal city of Jinjiang and surrounding Fujian province. "Please attend to preparations."
The article goes on to describe how the government of the Fujian province has sent more than 18 million SMS messages so far this typhoon season. There's no telling how many deaths and injuries this effort has helped to prevent, especially when you consider the fact that everyone who receives an SMS typhoon warning probably spreads the word to several folks who did not.
When the 2004 tsunami devasted Indonesia and other parts of southeast asia, there was a good deal of discussion about what kind of warning systems could be put in place to mitigate against such horrific loss of life in the future. My contribution to that discussion was that we need a better educated and more proactive mass media, that institutions like CNN and the BBC could do a lot more than they did to help spread the word. One of the shortcomings of that plan was that not very many people in some of the most hard-hit regions -- remote areas in Indonesia, particularly -- have access to a TV or radio. Certainly, an SMS swarning system such as described above would have been some help in Bandar Aceh and other developed areas, but again no help at all for those who live outside the reach of electronic communications.
I have long asserted that technological development represents, overall, a net plus for humanity -- both in our ability to survive and in our ability to find meaning and to lead more fulfilling lives. I can't think of anything that makes that case better than the contrast between those folks in Jinjiang who received early and sufficient warning to stay away from the water and their doomed counterparts in Indonesia a year and a half ago for whom no warning was possible.
Technological development. Faster, please.