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Merging and dividing simultaneously

Precious Mncwango's picture

Blackberry bold 9000

 Photo: Sofianeb - Creative Commons, Flickr

A study done by UNICEF shows that young people aged between 15 to 24 are considered  to be the “first adopters of mobile technology”, with nearly 72% of mobile ownership occurring among this age group in South Africa. This was in a survey conducted in 2007 by The Kaiser Family Foundation and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.There is something ironic in the boom of technology that has been viewed as a kind of merger to cities, countries and people while there are probably more divisions today then there ever was in the past. Class divisions, economic and age divisions particularly.

 It is young people that generally find smartphones useful for things like cheaper communication through mobile apps such as MXit, Blackberry Instant Messaging, Whatsapp etc.  Even though South Africa has had a huge increase in the mobile technology sphere it has not actually done much in fading the obvious economic divide in the country.

On the surface smartphones have enabled better and easier communication  between people. If you own any kind of Blackberry device, you’re able to sign up to a service such as BIS (Blackberry Internet Service) or any other of the services which, admittedly, does give you access to internet and/or instant messaging for the duration of a month. But this access has its own limits and does not give you full access and enable you to download everything on the internet.  At the very least a smartphone can enable you to download apps such as Mxit or Whatsapp (on condition that you have the space on your phone) that will allow you to speak to people at lower rates.

But unfortunately this is where it begins and ends especially when you’re on a prepaid deal. I’ve tried using internet services and mobile apps independently without BIS and it bites quite a huge chunk of your airtime unexpectedly. Facebook especially (because of all the graphics and photos) can make your airtime disappear at an unbelievable rate.

Quicker, more reliable internet connections come at a price of a good mobile device. Your geographical location can also determine how much internet access you are enabled. Most rural areas in South Africa will give you connection but it is most likely bound to be frustratingly slow and troublesome. It is even worse if you are located in a place that hardly has any form electricity lines to begin with.

This goes along with the idea that internet access is very much oriented with economic class. Middle and upper class citizens are enabled good connection just by virtue of where they are geographically located or/and where they work (assuming that the phone is already one that allows for internet).  Finweek recently reported that “Although half the 50 million people in South Africa live below the poverty line, more than 75% among those in low-income groups who are 15 years or older own a mobile phone.” My guess is most people that earn low/average income purchase their mobile devices via credit.

The gaps between lower class and middle and upper class are still pretty much evident even in virtual spaces where people are allowed to take on different personas, ironic. Mobile technologies are constantly changing, which each one better than the one before. The more economically comfortable you are the more you can afford to buy advanced mobile devices that will enable you to do a lot more than what the average mobile device can do.