When Nature Calls

Kevin Kelly contemplates the economic choices of citizens in developing countries:

The farmers in rural China have chosen cell phones and twitter over toilets and running water. To them, this is not a hypothetical choice at all, but a real one. And they have made their decision in massive numbers. Tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, if not billions of people in the rest of Asia, Africa and South America have chosen Option B. You can go to almost any African village to see this. And it is not because they are too poor to afford a toilet. As you can see from these farmers’ homes in Yunnan, they definitely could have at least built an outhouse if they found it valuable. (I know they don’t have a toilet because I’ve stayed in many of their homes.) But instead they found the intangible benefits of connection to be greater than the physical comforts of running water.

Millman adds:

If you don’t have plumbing, and have never had plumbing, and nobody around you has ever had plumbing, then you’ve presumably long since worked out an efficient way to relieve yourself. 

That’s what you do, and what your people have always done. Maybe it’s less private than an outhouse – but in that case you’re used to not having privacy. Maybe it involves walking further than you would to a bathroom – but maybe it seems normal not to defecate in your home. So somebody comes along and offers to build you an outhouse – would you pay good money for a luxury that solves a problem you don’t have? Or would you prefer to pay the money for something that opens up a huge range of new social and economic possibilities – like a cell phone?