Improving Cross-Cultural Awareness and Communication through Mobile Technologies

Improving Cross-Cultural Awareness and Communication through Mobile Technologies

Adele Botha (Meraka Institute, South Africa), Steve Vosloo (Stanford University, USA), John Kuner (Stanford University, USA) and Madelein van den Berg (Meraka Institute, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-481-3.ch019
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Increasingly, technology is mediating the way in which the youth around the world communicate, consume content and create meaning. As mobile communication media and the internet become more pervasive, young people from different cultures and communities are afforded more opportunities for collaboration across previously unbridgeable distances. The need for cross-cultural awareness and communication is thus more important than ever. The initiative described in this article, successfully demonstrated the role of mobile phones and the web as mediating technologies in the development of intercultural competencies and communication skills among a group of teenagers scattered across two countries.[Article copies are available for purchase from]
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Increasingly, technology is mediating the way in which the youth around the world communicate, consume and create content. Central to the lives of many teenagers in the USA is the use of social media such as blogs and social networking sites. According to a Pew Internet study, 93% of USA teens aged 12-17 use the internet and they are treating it as a venue for social interaction – a place where they can share creations, tell stories, and interact with others (Lenhart, Madden, Macgill, & Smith, 2007). The study revealed that 39% of online teens also share their own artistic creations, such as artwork, photos, stories or videos; 28% have created their own blog; and 55% have created a profile on a social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook.

The national school study Speak Up 2007 revealed that over half (52%) of learners in grades 6-8 and two-thirds (67%) of those in grades 9-12 had access to a mobile phone(“Project Tomorrow: “Speak Up” 2007 National Findings”, 2008). The study concluded that amongst school learners in the USA, access to mobile devices (mobile phones, MP3 players, personal digital assistants and smart phones) has dramatically increased in the last year. Learners were apparently very interested in making better use of these devices for learning and particularly to assist with communications, collaborations, creativity and productivity.

The same depth of figures does not exist for SA. What is known is that in 2006 the number of all internet users (not just teenagers) was around 10.8% (“Telecommunication/ICT markets and trends in Africa.” 2007). While access to computers is relatively low, 68% of the population had access to a mobile phone in 2006 (Gilwald, 2007). A very popular mobile instant messaging (MIM) service used by many young people in SA is called MXit. Currently there are over 6.5 million MXit subscribers in the country, who send 200 million messages per day (“Mobile Net usage on the rise”, 2008). Even though they are not the largest age group in the subscriber base, the under-18’s are the most active (Vanek, 2008).

One of the few studies conducted on the mobile usage of teens in SA found that most teens aged 13-16 were very dependent on their mobile phones for communication and social status (Oelofse, De Jager, & Ford, 2006). The authors of the study described the uptake and use of mobile phones by teens in SA as a “social revolution.”

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