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Anything you can do, my phone can do better!

Mobile media’s potential power is becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. So much so that big name companies who usually use traditional means to get their product recognised, are using different mobile technologies.

Imagine you are walking down the street, past a billboard advertising the newest Nike shoes. You don’t really notice it that much, and you don’t intend on visiting a Nike shop. But then your phone starts behaving like a crazed animal in your bag, beeping and vibrating until you pick it up and give it the attention that it wants.

It’s a message, from Nike, sent to your phone using Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth allows electronic devices to communicate wirelessly, but only from a short range. It tells you that if you run to the nearest Nike store you could win a brand new pair of Nike Zoom shoes, which were advertised on the billboard you passed by.

Then you arrive at the bus stop, and you get another message on your phone, sent via Bluetooth. It says:

I’m watching u. Ur at the bus stop.”

Now you’re a bit creeped out but then a few seconds later you get another message, this time saying:

Big Brother is back. 7pm weeknights on Ten.

This is a message from the producers of Big Brother in Australia. Their new season is starting and they want as many people to tune in as possible.

Now despite the obvious annoying, spam-like quality of these types of messages (but remember that one can only receive Bluetooth messages of your Bluetooth is turned on), it happens to be an ingenious advertising technique that is utilising mobile technology. And one that confirms for me that we can so many things off our cellphones, and these can be done simply and cheaply.  

Users can use search tools like Google, you can check Facebook, you can chat to friends really cheaply through a number of different devices such as Mxit and Meep, you can internet bank, you can blog, you can shop online, you can find out breaking news using news websites or social media sites like Twitter, you can even take a guided tour of South Africa’s historical sites using your cell phone!

So with all this new mobile technology and the obvious convenience of it all, what is there that we can’t do on our cell phones?


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?


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.


Let’s not be e-wasteful

At the age of 21 years I have used approximately six mobile phones. I have lost one, one was broken and thrown away after being put through the washing machine, one was lent to a friend and stolen, two sit in my drawer at home and one is currently resides in my handbag.

Mobile waste has become a rising concern among many environmentalists as it is the fastest growing source of urban pollution. As as form of e-waste, mobiles that are not properly disposed of can have serious toxic environmental and health consequences due to the amount of lead, mercury and cadmium in electronic devices.

Chemicals and toxins from e-waste are known to lead to serious health problems like reproductive failures, deformities, thyroid malfunctions, immune suppression and behavioural abnormalities.

Not only do mobile phones have toxic parts, but they also have a very short life span – often discarded (or handed down) when cell phone contracts are renewed once every two years.

The problem is introduced when the electronic devices are dumped in landfills, or are shipped off to developing countries that have lower environmental standards so that the waste can be processed. Currently electronic waste represents two percent of America’s trash in landfills, and equals 70 percent of overall toxic waste. It is estimated that America alone exports 80 percent of its e-waste to China, India and Pakistan.

E-waste is becoming more of a problem in Africa. Nigeria is fast becoming one of the most popular countries in the world to dump e-waste. Children sift through the e-waste, the poor burn it for fuel and groundwater is becoming contaminated by landfills filled with electronic waste.

The good news is that Nokia is helping to combat the problem by setting up waste dumping centres across East Africa to reprocess old mobile phone waste, including batteries. Nokia will collect mobile phone waste for recycling and repairs as part of its environmental policy of reducing emissions of electronic waste.

So instead of leaving all those cell phones in your drawer at home, or throwing them away, why not take your old phone to a collection point for safe recycling, for a cleaner and safer environment for us all. 

To read more about how the web is trying to go green check out Qudsiya Karrim’s post on the Social Media blog!


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 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?


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?


hyped up

There’s hype, there’s pomp and ceremony, there’s excitement and there’s anticipation. So much is happening around mobile media and so many people are talking about it that often we tend to lose sight of why exactly mobile media is so popular. There are advantages about mobile media that immediately catapult it to the forefront of media innovation.


Mobile media has leapfrogged traditional media forms at an alarming rate. To date there are 3.25 billion mobile users globally which is more than television, computer and cinema screens combined. While this is an impressive stat what is even more impressive is that it took 20 years to get the first 1 billion mobile users, 40 months to get to 2 billion users and only 12 months to reach 3 billion users. A phenomenal feat, but the question is why?


It comes down to the fact that mobile media is personal. You carry your cell phone on you at all times, I even sleep with my phone under my pillow! You do not share your phone with anyone so you can create, produce, and consume content at any time that is convenient for you. You no longer have to walk down the street to pick up the daily newspaper and then only read the sports page. You can subscribe to the sports feed and get regular updates. It’s news on the move, which caters to whatever you are interested in. Mobile media is all about the niche markets. Mobile has the ability to fragment the masses into smaller groups. But at the same time is able to network that mass.  


Mobile media also offers a very easy interactive platform. You can Facebook, twitter and blog off your mobile phone. There is immediate contact with others, which is available to you whenever you want to interact.


One of the most alluring characteristics about mobile media is that there is a built in payment mechanism. You do not have to worry about having cash on you or electronically transferring anything. If you want a particular ringtone, you go to an appropriate website and then you download it. Payment happens immediately, as the money is deducted from your pre-paid account or your contract.


Mobile media looks like it is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future, but instead of simply adopting a mass medium strategy, what is unique, and popular, about mobile media is that it is personal and it caters specifically to your tastes, something which traditional mass media does not do.


Want to check out more about this? Look at Inspector Gadget’s post ‘A whiff of the modern cellphone‘