Archive for the 'Technology' Category


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.


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 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. 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.