“Are you Globe or Smart?” This question usually follows the request for a Filipino’s phone number. It’s not because they won't give it to you based on your answer; they simply want to know which of the phones in their pockets, or which SIM in their phone they should expect a call or text from you on. Since my first trip to the Philippines in 2006 the cell phone culture there has blossomed considerably. Multiple studies place numbers on this reality, showing the increase of smartphone users growing to an estimated 29.9 million this year (1). Statistics like these, coupled with increased availability of internet access throughout its thousands of islands have earned the Philippines titles like “The social media capital of the world” (2).
The uniqueness of the cell phone reality in the Philippines doesn't revolve around usage statistics; rather, it is found in the way the global phenomenon of the mobile phone has been morphed by Filipino culture. Like most developing world countries, prepaid is the dominant way Filipinos access Globe, Smart, or one of their many subsidiaries. Because economic resources are scarce these carriers offer countless promotions to fit low budgets. Want calls, texts, and Facebook access? No problem! Prefer mobile internet with some texting and calling? Also available - for as little as 60 cents a day. Such promos last 24 hours and can be reloaded at shops and markets all over the country. Longer lasting and more feature packed plans are available also if one prefers to avail of those.
The beauty of Filipino hospitality comes out in features like load sharing, a feature that lets users pass prepaid minutes to friends when they're running low or out and can't find a load center or afford a reload. Friends share prepaid access in the same way they'd share a meal, assuming they're on the same carrier of course. “Friends” are also more likely to be people one had actual connections to rather than cursory acquaintances.
As people who are concerned with the holistic health of the people of the Philippines we recognize the need to be aware of the thriving mobile culture. We strive to incorporate their use of technology into our ministry efforts there while simultaneously trying to steer them away from the dangers inherent in these technologies so familiar to the West (pseudo “friendships,” immense amounts of time spent staring at social networks to the neglect of face to face relationships, and accessing of inappropriate web material to name a few) . This striving ranges from modeling a social media presence that focuses only on meaningful activity to using platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to promote Bible studies and service opportunities. We want our use of social media to serve as an example to others by challenging them to evaluate what their own web presence communicates.