IDEAS: Third World first

Technology’s center of gravity is shifting

Bapi Das, seated next to an open sewer in a teeming slum on the outskirts of this Indian city, combs his hand through his hair, smooths his moustache, and prepares to enter the global financial system.
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Das, a 42-year-old commercial painter, grins as a worker for a local micro-finance group frames his face with a digital camera and zooms in. It is an important moment. His photo will adorn a smart card that, with help from a mobile phone and a fingerprint reader, will allow Das to store money electronically, make small cash withdrawals, and send money to his family on the other side of the country. It is the first bank account he has ever had.

This might seem like a classic example of the Third World struggling to catch up with the First. After all, people in the United States and Europe have been using ATM cards and the Internet for years to perform the simple banking tasks Das is only now able to do. But look again: The technology used to bring slum-dwellers like Das their first bank accounts is so advanced that it isn’t available to even the most tech-savvy Americans – at least not yet. [complete article]

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