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‘Da Buzz’: How township youth use mobile technology

With the digital divide becoming somewhat smaller and significant numbers of young people having access to mobile technology, I was keen to find out what the most popular uses of cellphones are amongst teenagers from South African townships.

Here’s a list of top cellphone uses amongst some young people from Gauteng, Western Cape and Eastern Cape:

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Txt-ing: Says Nosizwe Gxalatana (17) from Makhaza township, Western Cape: “My current phone, (MTN ZTE S308) can’t access the web. So I use my phone mostly to make calls, I text a lot and also send Please call Me’s .”

Buzzing: “It’s important to have just enough airtime to buzz someone, so they can call you back or to send a message,” says Siphe Mananga (18) from Site C, Khayelitsha, Western Cape; who uses a Samsung E250.

Flirting: “I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends are mostly interested in using cellphones for getting in touch with their boyfriends or girlfriends. A lot of girls put up beautiful pictures of themselves on Facebook to attract guys and then the guys spent a lot of time commenting and flirting,” says Akhona Dyondashe (18) from Zwelitsha, Eastern Cape; who uses a Nokia 3110C.

Bluesing*: Amanda Dlamini (16) from Tembisa, Gauteng (using a Samsung E250) explains: “Youth in my township play music a lot with their phones and spent quite a bit of time sharing music via Bluetooth. A lot of the music is of the romantic type or the type that you hear a lot on radio (pop music).”

Bluesing (pronounced Blu-zing) is used a lot in township slang to mean ‘you’re in a sentimental mood’ – reflected though the mood music you play (from Blues music).

Searching: “I like surfing the net with my phone. I use Google a lot and go on Mxit and Facebook. I also download pictures from Flickr using the Opera Mini browser. I’ve started to use my phone (as a modem) to go on to the web on my computer at home”, says Siphe.

The youth make some more observations about their peers and cellphone usage:

Says Akhona: “I find I use my phone a lot as a reference when I need to know something for university. I think it goes a lot with what you’re passionate about. I’m passionate about my studies and tend to explore a lot on the web. Some of my friends are passionate about clubbing and flirting and make an effort into that.”

Separates the cool from the not-so-cool kids: “Media has gone Twitter crazy and now my friends are getting on Twitter and say that Facebook is outdated and crowded. I’ve also started using it but I don’t really get it, so I use Facebook and Mxit mostly.”

Urban kids are more into porn: “I’ve lived in both Jo’burg city and in the township and what I see is that most of the kids in the city are into using their phones to look at porn. I have seen some kids in townships checking porn but not like the city kids”, says Amanda.

Chat more for less: “A lot of my friends spend from about 8pm at night to late on Mxit. They now picked up that that with Cell C you can log on to Mxit for free but I don’t like Cell C’s network and you can’t call for less than 90 cents, unlike MTN. Plus MTN sometimes has cheaper rates (MTN Zone).”

In an ideal world, we’d all be in the same class, with equal opportunity to grow and learn. I used to believe that the digital world could just as well be the closest we come to equality – once we all have access to it. Now, working with young people from the township, I believe with conviction that if you give these young people access to the digital world, their knowledge centres open up as wide as a child growing up in more ‘developed’ parts.

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