SMS a Better World

It is hard to believe, and most parents with teenage children probably won’t, but text messaging is actually changing the world for the better. While it is certainly annoying at the dinner table, and watching people constantly being in “contact” with other people with the irritating clack of cell phone keys, there is another side to the text message revolution that is actually very cool.

In countries like South Africa, and in fact in many countries in Africa, innovative health care providers have found an outstanding way to use text messaging for the improvement of the population. In a study recently published in the Lancet, the researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Center sent a text message to health workers phones twice a day which included guidelines, updates, and inspirational quotes. Because African countries like Kenya depend on a strict regiment to try and combat diseases like Malaria, these reminders proved themselves to be invaluable and the central control was able to establish a priority of tasks, removing the risk of forgetfulness.

A program called “SMS for Life” was started on the basis of this and other studies that allowed health workers to monitor the inventory levels of anti-malarial medications as well as other critical drugs in rural areas. This solution was able to reach far flung villages with a relatively cheap technology that is very user friendly considering the massive number of cell phones users all over Africa. Other programs were able to send out text messages to massive swathes of the population informing them of epidemics, availability of drugs, and general health warnings. In the span of a very small amount of time, the word of mouth or in this case the word of the text, spread to large numbers of peoples and critical information was able to get out quickly and efficiently.

Today marketers are starting to understand the dynamic of cell phone text message technology for mass information releases. While they are still constrained by the need for users to “opt in”, this is a huge leap in communication that can use existing technology to make critical information readily available and “pushed” out to people in mass. Many universities have adopted a similar system in the wake of some of the shootings across the country, to inform students of prospective threats in and around the college.

Like every technology there are ups and downs, good and bad with text messaging. On the one hand it causes distracted driving that could be fatal, on the other it can potentially save hundreds or thousands of lives with a simple little fact snippet. If used for good and with higher motivation, SMS or text messaging can truly be a revolutionary force for communication and life saving.

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