Chuma, “The social meanings of mobile phones”

Chuma, “The social meanings of mobile phones among South Africa’s ‘digital natives’: a case study” Media, Culture, & Society 36.3 (Apr. 2014) (10 pages)

Chuma offers a few patterns in the use of mobile phones from the survey impressions of South African students. As has been referenced in other work (de Brujin, for example), mobile phones has become highly valued cultural capital in African life, connecting areas that were restricted due to poor road infrastructure. However, Chuma also notes the ways that mobile phones remain tethered to physical structures and discourses: “mobile phone companies still have to power their base stations with diesel generators due to erratic power supplies” (399).

Regardless, Chuma notes that mobile phones have be naturalized—or, in the terms of Ong, interiorized or internalized into consciousness—in a way that respondents organize and design their daily lives around and with mobile technology. The connectedness remotely with their social networks allow users to affirm their social identities within these networks. Users also use the phones to organize their daily activity. Furthermore, as Chuma found, there were differences in how upper and lower classman use these devices. Upper classroom focused heavily on the way mobile devices can organize their daily activity while lower classmen used more social functions of the mobile device.

I also found Chuma’s understanding of digital native to be noteworthy: for her, Digital natives refer to the emotional ties that a particular generation of users have with mobile devices. This generally, because they were raised with these technological capabilities, they understand digital technology in a way not possible with digital immigrants (those who were not raised with these technologies yet use them now). Chuma alludes to the ways that the mobile device is used a social companion. “the mobile phone comes across as an antisocial device in the lived realm of interpersonal relations. And yet, paradoxically, it also emerges as an enabler to the creation of virtual communities of interest itself a social characteristic” (406). Users turn to the virtual company on mobile devices with face-to-face interactions become untenable.

Although many believe that the digital native is a myth, it is worth pointing to Chuma’s understanding of the emotional tie developed between users and their devices.


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