Posts Tagged ‘mxit


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!


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?


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?