In his powerful heads-up book Jump Point, Tom Hayes writes (p. 11) that experts forecast that Web-enabled mobile phone adoption can “easily reach the three billion mark by the Jump Point year 2011, attaining an astounding five billion worldwide users by 2015.” [italics Hayes']. He further tells us that the “third billion” people who will come online within the next 1,000 days will have “never been in a classroom, owned a book, or read more than a few signpost words.” (p. 22) This learning deficit will be even more true of the fourth and fifth billion. These billions will include most of the children of the new generations.
Obviously, there is no way to build schools by 2011 or 2015 for these billions of people who do not have an education. They will essentially all, however, have a mobile phone. At the least, the mobiles the new internet participants have can provide the literacy input Abe Lincoln (born 1809) was limited to as a boy in the rugged pioneer settlements of Kentucky and Indiana. In his biography Lincoln, David Herbert Donald describes the poverty of education available to the youngster:
. . . his teachers, transient and untrained as they were, helped him master the basic tools so that in the future he could educate himself. Dilworth’s Spelling Book, which he and [his older sister] Sarah had begun to use in Kentucky, provided his introduction to grammar and spelling. Beginning with the alphabet and Arabic and Roman numerals, it proceeded to words of two letters, then three, and finally four letters. From these the student began to construct sentences like: “No man may put off the law of God.” Dilworth’s then went on to more advanced subjects, and the final sections included prose and verse selections, some accompanied by crude woodcuts — which may have been the first pictures Abraham Lincoln had ever seen. Other readers, like The Columbian Class Book and The Kentucky Preceptor, expanded and reinforced what he learned from Dilworth’s.
As Lincoln grew through his childhood and adolescent years he had very little schooling. He read books when he could get them, but they were rare in the rough farming environment where he remain until he was in his twenties.
Today, 200 years later, many of the third, fourth, and fifth billion who will come online in the next six years are strikingly similar in their experience with education to young Lincoln. The huge difference is that today’s billions will have mobile phones that will provide them with everything Dilworth’s gave Lincoln, all the books they could possibly read, and much, much more.