Alan Jacobs observes that some Third World peoples are choosing to spend their money on advanced consumer technology — e.g., mobile phones, Internet access — instead of things like indoor plumbing. Excerpt:
Economic, technological, and intellectual development happened in the West (and in certain other parts of the world) in one particular sequence, but that sequence isn’t natural or inevitable. It’ll be very interesting to see, in the coming decades, which technologies and tendencies created in the West are seized upon by people elsewhere in the world — and which ones get ignored.
Interesting, that. Remember when consumer satellite dishes came out in the early 1980s? They weren’t cheap, which is why it was startling to drive by a mobile home — often one in not-great condition — and see one of those gazebo-sized dishes in the front yard. Why would you spend your money on that instead of saving up for a house? For that matter, why would you spend your money on a luxury automobile instead of on improvements to your house? (Back then, the satellite dish outside a mobile home was a white thing, the Cadillac outside a tumbledown shack was a black thing.) In the culture in which I was raised, choosing to spend your money on entertainment or flashy cars and clothes, instead of more durable, practical things, was seen as a sign of foolishness, but of course it was normal within those specific cultures (and note well, we were a very small rural community, but there was a significant degree of cultural diversity within it).
Should Third World peoples’ opting for communications technology over more basic technologies like grid electricity and running water be seen as foolish, or merely different? Is there wisdom in that choice?