Manu Joseph makes a point I’ve emphasized in class:
Too many people presume that what the poor want from the Internet are the crucial necessities of life. In reality, the enchantment of the Internet is that it’s a lot of fun. And fun, even in poor countries, is a profound human need.
The key word there is “presume”.
I’ve had many students who are RM’s (returned LDS missionaries). They frequently complain in macroeconomics classes about poor people in developing countries who have cellphones and don’t use them to better themselves.
As an positivist economist I try to emphasize that it’s our job to figure out why they find the things so valuable, rather than make normative judgements about how they use them.
Read the whole thing, entitled “Let the Poor Have Fun” in the September 17 issue of The New York Times.