Archive for the 'Social Change' Category

10
Sep
08

blogging rehab

Marlon Parker’s talk entitled “Mxit and Community Blogging” was by far the highlight of the Digital Citizen’s Indaba (DCI) for me. I had been looking forward to the talk and even managed to put down my camera so that I could actually listen and take some notes!

In previous posts I have mentioned some of my thoughts about mobile applications such as Meep and Mxit, but I had never really thought about how such technologies could be used for good. I have pointed out that they are a tad self-obsessed, are contributing to the lack of face to face interactions between people and have a disastrous effect on the English language, but not once did I look at the other side of the coin.

Parker’s project is based in the Cape Flats, where drug abuse and gang activities are rife. “I wanted to find the worst of the worst and work with them to try and rehabilitate themselves and also the community,” said Parker. 

Parker detailed how one of the main drug dens in the Flats, called ‘The White House,’ is run by The Americans (the most notorious in the Cape) and is located near a playground. As a result there are children as young as seven years old who are peddling TIKand Meth, and children as young as ten are admitting to having smoked weed for more than two years already.

Parker has personal experience with the drug problem that is occurring in the Western Cape as his own brother is currently in prison for dealing TIK, as well as being addicted to the drug. “Communities are living in tension,” said Parker, “there is a lack within the community and something needs to be done.”

Something certainly is being done and with tremendous results, even in such an early stage in the project. After the initial counselling over Mxit (which is performed by rehabilitated addicts), patients are invited to come in an start the rehabilitation programme. Patients begin blogging on a blog called Reconstructed, which Parker says has not only encouraged the patients to become more tech savvy (by using the Internet and the blogging site), but has also prompted them to try and teach themselves other computer applications.

The project has plans to move into various different prisons and is already working closely with the South Africa Police Service, who are referring addicts to the programme. So in a very short amount of time a great deal of good has been done, through technologies such as Mxit and blogging. In Parker’s words, “reconstructed citizens lead to reconstructed communities,” and the future certainly looks bright for Parker and his team.

04
Aug
08

Tiny TV

So you can film a movie off your mobile phone and you can read Stephen King’s latest short story, and in some countries around the world you can actually watch normal television off your phone. Tiny TV is spreading beyond Japan and South Korea, and is infiltrating Europe and America. You no longer have to sit in front of your TV to watch programmes, you can create personal channel lists and you can subscribe to specific TV packages right off your phone.

In America AT&T Wireless, which has 71.4 million cell phones customers, created AT&T Mobile TV. The service offers 10 different channels, and cost about $15 a month. The Netherlands has a similar system with KPN offering a selection of mobile TV channels (such as MTV, Discovery and Nick Toons), using DVB-H technology. Both operators are available on two different mobile devices, the LG KB620 and the Samsung P960. The Nokia N96, which has recently been released also supports the software and has a large 2.8” anti-glare QVGA screen with 16 million colours, and it also uses the DVB-H technology.

So the technology is available, but the question is will it take off? Do we really need to be using our cell phones more that we already are? And by taking away that relaxation time in front of the TV, do you lose that time altogether, do you ever get that relaxing experience again?

Often watching TV can also be quite a social thing, and with watching off your mobile phone you completely eliminate all other people, it is just you and your cell phone. With all that we can do off our cell phones, it just seems we are losing the experience and atmosphere of real life.

You don’t have to go to the movies, or go to the bookstore, you don’t have to see your friends, and now you don’t need to watch TV! So with all these developments on your cell phone is there really anything left that we can experience and enjoy?

28
Jul
08

mobile kills the video star

Cell phones have enabled all kinds of media to reach impressive heights, we can do an array of things off our phones. We can read news websites, we can internet bank, we can Facebook, we can organise acts of protest and we can communicate quickly and cheaply with our friends. But even after researching and blogging about many mobile media trends, even I was shocked to find out about two new developments.

If video killed the radio star, then it looks like cell phone technology is killing the video and is taking the book along with it. A feature film has been launched that was filmed entirely on a cell phone, and the new Stephen King short story “N” is being published via mobile devices.

“N,” which was previously unpublished has been turned into a 25 episode video series, which launches on the 28 July 2008.

It has been developed specifically for the small screens on cell phones, and it comes with an original score, a full cast of voice overs and original artworks, all overseen by King himself.

SMS Sugar Man,” was filmed using a Sony Ericsson w900i 3G handset, and was directed and produced by South African Aryan Kaganof. The film explores the seedy Johannesburg world of prostitution, following the pimp, Sugar Man, and his ring of high class prostitutes, dubbed the Sugars.

All the lead actors of the film constantly carried around cell phones and were always filming each other. This eliminated the traditional practise of having a cast who are filmed by a crew, the roles were merged and the actors were in charge of themselves.

Not only is the film shot using cell phones, but the narrative is also driven by the face that cell phones have enabled us to explore new forms of communication and new ways of representing ourselves. The film is a glimpse into our future, where all our relations with one another, are being shaped by the cell phone.

The boundaries of mobile media have been pushed to the extreme. You don’t need to go to the bookstore anymore to pick up a copy of that book you wanted to read, you can just download it to you phone. No longer do you need expensive equipment and a huge crew to shoot a feature film. All you need is a cell phone with a decent camera. Is there anything left that our phones can’t do?

22
Jul
08

the smart mob

I have just been sitting in the Student HIV/AIDS Resistance Campaign (SHARC) committee meeting, and this got me thinking about some issues surrounding mobile media, and how it really can make a difference to our society. At every SHARC march, or at every event, there are the same people that go to every activism event. There needs to be a new way to reach a broader audience, to inspire people and to get them to act.

Mobile media has a bad name, in terms of being seen to simply circulate junk and useless information, or information that can simply be found on the Internet or in a newspaper. But what about the potential that lies within mobile media to change the way that mass action or protesting is organised? Let’s have a look at the smart mob, a term coined by Howard Rheingold.

The smart mob or the mobile ad hoc social network, describes the:

new social form made possible by the combination of computation, communication, reputation and location awareness (Rheingold 2000).

Smart mobs are behaving intellectually, something which is not generally associated with the ‘mob mentality,’ and are using new technologies and social networking, to further their cause. One of the ways in which smart mobs organise themselves is through mobile devices, and thus we are approaching a new era, one of mobile activism.

Mobile activism refers to the use of mobile devices by different organisations (often non-profit) to organise, mobilise, motivate and inspire people to act accordingly.

One of the first reported use of cell phones in a mass demonstration took place during the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in 1999. Cell phones were used to co-ordinate and mobilise activists, making the process quicker and less controllable by officials.

One example that Rheingold (2001) uses in his book “Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution” is the fall of President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines. In 2001 President Joseph Estrada was the first head of state to lose power to a smart mob. More than 1 million residents gathered over the four day protest in a response to a message sent out that simply said: “Go 2EDSA. Wear blck.”

This was not the first incident of mobile activism and the smart mob, and it will not be the last. Mobile activism and smart mobs have influenced a range of protests and mass organisations, ranging from various NGO causes, environmental issues, to politics and rising petrol prices.

Using cell phones to organise mass action bypasses the mass media as a source of information, thus making it less controllable by officials. The process of communication is also made quicker, and faster, as activists can communicate while on the move. Evidence of the protesting can also be told to others, through footage caught on a cell phone, like video, photographs or audio.

The implications for social change are incredible. Organising mass action becomes something easy, something quick, something that guarantees that the message gets out and that the action occurs. Mobile activism can bring about a new type of social change, something that can hopefully change the apathetic nature of the younger generations in South Africa.

19
May
08

I’m watching you, watching me, watching you?!?

Mobile surveillance looks like a grand idea, on the surface. However the implications for individual privacy are too horrific for words. But before I get carried away, let’s look at the good stuff about mobile surveillance.

Vodacom’s service, Look4me, enables people to track the cell phones of others, their own cell phone for the monthly subscription fee of R11.13. This service has many benefits. If your bag is stolen, you can simply track the mobile phone to see where it is. If you are worried about your rebel teenage son, or want to know where exactly you husband is at 11 o’clock at night, then that can easily happen.

Mobile surveillance may help to also decrease crime, as anyone, anywhere can capture just about anything on their mobile phone. In England a new initiative called Stop Crime has emerged and it is a community project to help combat crime by using your cell phone. You sign up for the service, and the police will send you text messages about any incident that has occured in your area. You are then free to send them any information that you may have that could be used to solve the crime, whether this be an sms, a video or an audio clip.

Cell phone records can be pulled, with a subpoena and used as incriminating evidence against criminals. Mobile surveillance has also been used by the FBI to track New York crime families. This was done by remotely activating a mobile phone’s microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations. This is a technique called the ‘roving bug.’

Police in Australia have also admitted to using the mobile phone network to keep track of known criminals using signals emitted by the criminals’ phones that were being picked up by local base stations. This proved to work effectively as cell phones emit data every half an hour, whether they are turned on or off.

To know that we are constantly being watched or could be found anywhere is alarming. We come under the panopticon gaze, we know we are being watched, but we don’t know who by, when and why.

Socially, the implications of mobile surveillance is phenomenal. Do we change the way we behave because we know we are being watched? And while we may be uncomfortable with being watched, are we as uncomfortable doing the watching?

11
May
08

mobile cuts out the middle man

Online video is big, and video on your phone is going to be bigger. You have your phone on you at all times and so you can watch whatever video you want to, whenever you want to.

Youtube has announced that it will be offer access to their videos through mobile devices. Liv.tv was launched in July 2007 to allow users to view and ahre videos on their cell phones. Adobe released Flash Lite 3, a program that enables cell phone makers to provide customers with a complete web browsing experience off their phones, including videos.

The possibilities for mobile video publishing by journalists, whether citizen journalists or professional journalists are also burgeoning. Anyone can create a video using their cell phone, and uploading your content onto a website is also relatively easy.

Breaking news can be recorded on your mobile phone, uploaded and watched on a video sharing space, like Youtube or syndicated to a news website. It’s simple, easy and it cuts out the middle man. No longer are audiences given material that has been edited and checked over by sub-editors, editors and various other gatekeepers. It allows audiences to see what is actually going on, with little mediation.  

In Myanmar, Burma, the internet and mobile phones have played an important part in getting information out of the country since the government began restricting visas to journalists. A slew of Burma blogs and live footage, caught with mobile phones have been published to inform the public about the crisis.

After large fires in California, many news organisations used user generated content that was captured on mobile devices for their live footage. Media benefited byhaving mroe people on the ground. More eyes to see what is going on. And more footage to use.

Big media companies like Reuters have started to harness the potential that mobile media has to offer, collaborating on a project with Nokia called Reuters Mobile Journalism. The Nokia N95 will be packaged with a tripod, keyboard and solar charger, as a built-in camera and video recorder.

While this technology is initially aimed at journalists, the potential for citizens to exploit this is slowly developing.

How mobile media will change the role of professional journalism and facilitate greater citizen reporting remains to be seen.

To check out an example of mobile reporting check out Voices of Africa.

28
Apr
08

Are we becoming a little illiterate?

Everywhere you turn, every form you fill out and every job you apply for asks about your technical literacy. How good are you on computers and other technologies? Do you know how to use the internet? And what about Excel? But the question is what happened to plain old literacy.

After doing a bit of research into the mobile phone’s impact on literacy I found a whitepaper from mobile makers, Nokia, looking at developing new cell phones that will allow illiterate people to use them effectively. This would include using more icon based interfaces, with minimal features, automated phone settings, spoken menus and audio feedback.

I found this rather alarming. The United Nations estimates that 799 million adults are illiterate, the majority of these come from underdeveloped areas like South Africa. Surely instead of just developing a new cell phone that illiterate people can use easily, they could put that funding towards teaching people to read and write? While logistically, and financially this may not even be an option, in an ideal world it would happen.

What I am more concerned about is not so much people who are currently illiterate and using mobile phones but people who fall into the category of being literate and are using cell phones.

With mobile phones having such potential in terms of use, there is no need for you to find information in the library, everything is at your fingertips. If you need to check a fact, you can use Google off your phone. If you are bored no longer do you have to (gasp) pick up a book, you can simply log onto Meep, Mxit or Facebook and chat to your friends.

This weekend I was marking first year assignments and was horrified when I stumbled upon an assignment that was using the shorthand that is often used in sms.

I was presented with sentences like “This yr Scifest Africa wil b held in Grahamstown, and u can chck out th 500 events.”

This is what is being presented in an academic assignment, and this is one of the milder examples. When I Facebook my younger sister I cannot for the life of me understand what she is saying to me. Half the letters are not there and there are funny little icons in the middle of words. Here is a taste of what I have to decipher:

“Hey trace.lol bout work!skool is goin kewl&goin wel en u?Hwz da digs&hw are ur frends.Spk2amy da oth day.brb!”

I think it may be important to note here that not only does my sister attend a private school, she also appears to be passing.

UNESCO defines illiteracy as a ‘person who cannot with understanding both read and write a short simple statement on their everyday life.’ I would categorise any student who wrote their assignments in the shorthand used in sms as illiterate, or at least having a degree of illiteracy.

With having cell phones moving towards a more visual and voice based functionality, where will people learn to read and write properly? Kids are communicating on Mxit using this odd language and it is being transferred to academic work, without them even realising it. Whether this is laziness and a lack of proofreading or it is subconscious I will never know. The problem is here. The question is what do we do about it?

24
Apr
08

Here’s to all the meeple out there

Face to face interaction with your friends is a thing of the past, especially for the younger generations. Recently I sat in on a conversation (I use this term loosely) between my younger brother and his friends.

 

If my memory serves me correctly I think that in the 20 minutes or so that I was sitting there, they must have said about ten words to each other. They were all glued to their cell phones, sitting on either Facebook or Mxit, talking to each other via these social networking mediums.

Social networking on mobile phones has taken off. This is confirmed by Vodacom recently launching not one, but two personal networking services, TheGRID and Meep. MTN also has a service similar to Meep called NokNok.

Meepis a form of real time communication where you can chat with either one or more ‘meeple.’ Meep can be accessed through your phone or your computer, and is available to other network users.

TheGRID is a location based social networking space. You are able to find friends on a map and then chat to them. This is done by using the networking positioning system that maps the location of your cell phone. What is great about TheGRID is that not only can you see exactly where your friends are; people can also leave little virtual notes or ‘blogs’ to share their experience at a certain location with others.

These new developments are great for the mobile world and certainly won’t do Vodacom’s finances any harm, but the radical change in social interaction is slightly worrying. With some effort I could brush off my brother and his friends’ actions, but after a little more eavesdropping I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Mark, one of the boys, was talking about his girlfriend (again I use this term loosely), whom he has actually never seen. The pair have been communicating entirely through Facebook and Mxit after being ‘hooked up’ by a mutual friend. Apparently no one else saw this as much of a problem and I was told in no uncertain terms that the great meet would definitely happen soon.

While pondering this particular blog post I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not our future generation is going to have any social skills whatsoever. You know those skills? The ones that clinch that great job for you, makes sure that you have an awesome group of friends, nail that big ass company merger that is sure to get you a raise or a promotion. Yup those ones. Essential, that is what they are.

The question is where to from here? How do you ensure that a generation will be able to speak to each other properly? There is no way that we can ever change the way that they have been brought up and with the recent surge of technological advancements it doesn’t look like much is going to be changing anytime soon. All you have to do is Google the term ‘social network’ and you immediately get sites like the  ‘10 most beautiful social networks’ and lists of the most popular social networks. These are all available on your mobile phone, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even on public holidays.

It is always there. If you are bored at home, sick in bed or on your lunch break, you can always contact those that are nearest and dearest using tools like Mxit. Event the Cape Town loadshedding schedule is available on Mxit. So it’s quick, convenient, easy to use and cheap. But we need to ask ourselves are all these benefits worth having a generation that can’t communicate without a cell phone in their hands?




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