Tech, the Developing World, and Happiness

The Brookings Institution just published a study that found “technology access is positive for well-being in general, but with diminishing marginal returns for those respondents who already have a great deal of access to these technologies.” To tech doomsayers who only see a dark side to the mobile phone and internet boom, these findings may be surprising here in the West, but it’s no surprise in most of the world where information and communication gains have greatly enriched the lives of the rising billions in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Here in the West we have the high quality problem of abundance. There is too much tech, just as we have too much processed food. We need to watch our diet, but the tech diet for the developing world has been a nutritious boost, making life better in many ways. Think education, health, communications, access to markets, mobile banking, etc.

Here’s the Abstract:
New information and communication technologies are changing productivity, development, and economic outcomes worldwide. In this paper, we explore the relationship between access to these technologies (cell phones, TV, and the internet) and subjective well-being around the world using pooled cross-sectional survey data from the Gallup World Poll for 2009-2011. We find that technology access is positive for well-being in general, but with diminishing marginal returns for those respondents who already have a great deal of access to these technologies. At the same time, we find some signs of increased stress and anger, including among cohorts for whom access to the technologies is relatively new. We also explore whether increased financial inclusion – through cell phones and mobile banking – has additional effects on well-being, using the Sub-Saharan Africa subset of our sample. We find that well-being levels are higher in the countries in Africa that have higher levels of access to mobile banking, but so also are stress and anger. All of our findings are in line with earlier research, which finds that the development process is often accompanied by high levels of frustration at the same time that it raises aggregate levels of well-being in the long run.

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2012/12/information%20technology%20happiness%20graham/12%20information%20technology%20happiness%20graham

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