Morcos Key

Crossing the Digital Divide: How Refugees Use Mobile Technology

Morcos Key's second visualization for RAND Art + Data explored how millions of refugees around the world rely on digital technology—particularly mobile phones—as an essential tool for survival, for communication, and for holding onto their history and identity.

The primary visual element is a photograph taken by Wael Morcos in May 2009 on the shoreline of Antelias, Lebanon. In the photo, two people hug while looking across the horizon. “The expansive body of water becomes a metaphor for the crossing—the distance that many refugees travel,” Morcos says. “And the two human bodies intertwining remind us that, while technology can shorten the distance, it can never replace the warmth of an embrace.”

Explore the research behind this piece Learn more about Morcos Key

The 2019 report, Crossing the Digital Divide, includes findings from focus groups that RAND researchers conducted with displaced people in Colombia, Greece, Jordan, and the United States. These individuals explained the many ways in which mobile phones are a vital part of their lives—providing a direct line to faraway family and friends, access to health care services and information, opportunities for education and employment, and much more.

Hear the Artist's Story

Developing this piece was deeply personal for designer Wael Morcos of Morcos Key. From his own experience—not as a refugee but as a migrant—he understands what it's like to be separated from home and from those you love. Morcos told his story in this audio recording:

More from RAND on Refugees and Technology

Between 1997 and 2018, the global population of forcibly displaced people has more than doubled, increasing from 34 million to 71 million. This growing crisis is straining host countries, the international humanitarian system and, of course, refugees themselves. RAND research has examined how technology can be part of the solution.

About Morcos Key

Portrait of Morcos Key

Morcos Key is the Brooklyn-based design studio of Jon(athan) Key and Wael Morcos. In their work, they often collaborate with arts and cultural institutions, nonprofits, and commercial enterprises in North America and the Middle East. Their goal is to create visual systems that demonstrate how thoughtful conversation and formal expression make for impactful design.

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