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.


The upcoming DCI

So as many of you may know the Digital Citizen Indaba is coming up this weekend and I shall be lucky enough to attended the event. My New Media class shall be keeping people around the world up to date with the Indaba through the use of social networking. We are going to be doing a range of things like short video’s, twittering, photographs and running a live blog.

For me, as someone who blogs about mobile media, what is the most interesting thing about this years programme is the address by Marlon Parker (PhD, Cape Peninsula University) on “Mxit and Community Blogging”. I have discussed the social impact of applications like Mxit and Meep for the younger generations, and am interested in how it can be used within a community for good.

Marlon started up a program where by he was reaching out to drug addicts using Mxit (which is the most used technology across all communities). Marlon’s PhD thesis is on how technology can be used to facilitate change within a community, and thus as an experiment he approached a school about having a counselling service on Mxit. The counsellor’s chat to patients on Mxit, off computers in the counselling center. Marlon said that during any 2 hour session there were at least 50 people online. Once the patient has chatted online, they are then invited into the center to have a one on one counselling session.

There is also an Interactive Panel entitled “How cellphones can empower African digital citizens” which also promises to be informative. The discussion will be moderated by Peter Verweij from the School for Journalism in Utrecht.

I am hoping to do a short interview with Parker so check in again on Monday!


let the mobile games begin

I have become vaguely obsessed with the Olympic Games and since we do not have DSTV in our digs, getting my daily fix has become somewhat of a challenge. I went through that stage of inviting myself around to digs’ that do have DSTV, I have been slightly satisfied with the coverage on SABC 2, and have even eaten up my bandwidth watching online. Now since I do blog about mobile media, you would have thought that the solution would have dawned on me a little sooner, but alack this is not the case! It has taken me a grand total of 11 days to solve my predicament. In which time I have missed the men’s freestyle relay, the scandalous Chinese “women’s” gymnastics victory and a number of track events!

So for all those other Olympic enthusiasts who have a limited access to live coverage, don’t stress, where there’s a will there’s a way! And the way happens to be Google’s new mobile search tool so that any sport that you search will come up immediately, rather than all the other stuff that would normally have appeared. For example if you had simply typed in ‘swimming,’ instead of getting Wikipedia entries and books about swimming, what comes up immediately is the Olympic coverage, including medal counts, event schedules and recent results.

Google has also set up a mobile web site specifically so followers of the games can look up results and events whenever they want. The Google Mobile Olympic Site is specifically designed for use on a mobile phone and allows you to browse through results and event’s with ease. It is also available in 36 different languages and in 60 different counties.

So now I can easily access results and event scheduling off my mobile phone, but while researching this blog post I discovered something rather strange. Yes I can keep up to date with the Olympics via my cell phone, but what about competing in an event WITH you cell phone, or specifically with a Sony Ericsson T310 handset?!?

If you happened to have been in London at the start of the Olympics, you may have seen people hurling their cell phones across Clapham’s Common. This was the one part of the inaugural Mobile Phone Olympics. The Mobile Phone Olympics is a part of the Sprite Urban Games which is an annual street event that is held in London.

Mobile phone Olympians will be tested in four different areas, which will assess their overall ability. These areas are:

1. Text messaging: an 80 character message must be sent as quickly as possible

2. Multimedia messaging: again a test of speed, but a photograph must accompany the message too

3. Mobile gaming: competitors must try and rack up as many points as possible in a two minute game of  Pro Skater 4

4. Mobile throwing: the competitors handset must be chucked as far as possible from a standing start

Mobile phone throwing may seem like an obscure thing, but it has been practised in Eastern Europe for a number of years, with the current record being 57 metres. Last year the cell phone throwing world championship took place in Finland in the city of Savonlinna. In the championships it is not just the distance of the throw that counts but also the different techniques.

The sponsors of the event are mobile phone retailer Phones 4u and Sony Ericsson. Jenna Jensen, of Phones 4u, said: “The mobile phone athletes will need lighting fast fingers, supreme powers of concentration, a strong arm, textual expertise and quick reactions.”

So not only can mobile phones keep you updated on the Olympics, but with your mobile phone you can even compete in the Mobile Phone Olympics!


why so serious?

Having recently watched The Dark Knight, the one thing that stuck out for me was when, in an effort to track down the elusive Joker, Batman turns every cell phone in Gotham into a type of sonar device. The system worked kind of like a submarine sonar would work, so when the cell phones were in use, sounds and images around the phone were picked up. The signals were then captured and projected onto a huge cell phone wall monitor.

Now on leaving the theatre I thought that it was another one of those classic Batman toys, so one that doesn’t actually exist! However this toy is different. The cell phone wall monitor is said to be derived from an art installation called ‘The Listening Post.’ The art installation was created by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin of Ear Studio, and featured pieces of text gathered from different outlets (like public forums, unrestricted internet chat rooms) in real time. The text was then spoken by a voice synthesizer and put across a grid of over 200 tiny electronic displays, similar to what was seen in The Dark Knight.

Now I have discussed mobile surveillance in a previous blog post, but the idea that The Dark Knight put forward, of a global sonar system operated by mobile phones is insane! It basically means that anyone would be traceable, privacy would not be an option anymore.

However, while obviously there is always the potential for this type of technology, today the reality is that there are a few kinks in Batman’s plan, the main issue being that you would not know the direction that the echo came from, which is obviously an essential feature of a sonar system. A cell phone is basically unable to detect direction, and would definitely not be able to give such detailed pictures as show in the movie.

There are also the smaller issues like actually forcing people’s cell phones to become an echo transponder, which would entail having an ultrasonic beep being generated on the phone. This is an issue because cell phone transmission is extremely low (less than 10 kHz). There is also an issue of sound, as the microphones used on a cell phone do not have a great range on them, and then also when played back the quality of sound is not always that clear.

So our privacy is safe for the moment, but the question is for how long?


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?


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?


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.