Living with New Media Technology: How the Poor Learn, Share and Experiment on Mobile Phones

Living with New Media Technology: How the Poor Learn, Share and Experiment on Mobile Phones

Andrew Wong (Telenor Group Business Development and Research, Malaysia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-797-8.ch002
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This chapter considers the collective information behavior of the poor in Bangladesh. It examines the mobile phone as the central node and seeks to understand the construction of collectiveness by examining the collective-mediated learning, sharing and experimenting among the poor. Three brief cases provide the background and illustrate the elements of a Learn, Share and Experiment model. Against this tapestry of multiple perspectives, collective-mediated learning, sharing and experimenting enable the poor to be cost-efficient and socially productive. In conclusion there is an urgent need for all researchers to reexamine and rethink the poor’s collective information behavior as new media technology spreads deeper into their lives. Without it, we may miss the opportunity to discover something useful that will eventually lift them out of poverty.
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Numerous debates already exist about the impact of new media technology on our everyday lives. The surge in popularity of the Internet in the mid-1990s and its coming of age pushes us to think more creatively in designing new tools for sharing and interacting with each other. The Internet is often touted as a tool for real time or near real time, anytime, anywhere connectivity. Another new media technology often pronounced as the must-have tool for every common person is the mobile phone. Unlike the Internet or the traditional landline phone, the mobile phone is a space-time compression tool; you can call a person at any time and from any place to arrange a meeting (Ito, 2004; Ito, 2005; Ito, Okabe, & Anderson, 2007). The mobile phone is also often perceived as the more agile tool for connectivity and interaction (Markoff, 2009); and is also more pervasive due to its low cost of ownership and simple functionality (Nokia, 2008 & 2009). Discussion of the poor’s appropriation and use of the mobile phone often accentuates the impact of the mobile phone as a work and life liberator, and how it enables poor people to enlarge their social network by means of connecting, synthesizing and applying information bits transferred in-between the mobile phones. To put it simply, in an economic and social sense, the mobile phone creates an opportunity space for the poor to lift themselves out of poverty (Hardy, 1980; Marker, McNamara, & Wallace, 2002; Aminuzzaman, Baldersheim, & Jamil, 2003; Abraham, 2007).

This chapter argues that the poor collaborate differently to make sense of this world, and they learn and share information somewhat differently from the more affluent members of society (Wong, 2007). In the developed world, we are drowning with information overload due to a constant flow of voice calls, SMSes, emails, instant messaging and information bits from social network sites (Wei & Kolko, 2005; Kolko, Rose, & Johnson, 2007). This is especially significant for the youth, amid new worlds for communication, friendship, play, and self-expression, known now as the ‘digital youth’ lifestyle (Ito et al, 2008). In such situations, information collaboration in a group can simply be a matter of managing information seeking, organizing and responding through suitable channels at a particular time (Kuhlthau, 1991; O’Neill, 2003; Hirsh & Dinkelacker, 2004; Javid & Parikh, 2006). In stark contrast, based on what I observed in fieldwork about how the poor learn and share information, they face uncharted territory on a daily basis. Not only is information limited; seeking information is problematic since not all information is readily formatted as complete information, or as actionable knowledge. Consequently, the poor need multiple information access points and the time to learn new things that are necessary for them to form the whole information picture (Narayan et al, 2000).

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