Based on my research over the past 2 years, there are a number of gaps that have intrigued me.
1. The ecology of media production and distribution: although there is a sense that self-made media is spread throughout groups of friends, how vast is this network of bluetooth distribution? Could it perhaps be compared to early peer2peer networks such as mIRC where socialization IRL or chatrooms such as Mxit are at times just used to make contacts to obtain media?
We’ve observed picture exchanges via bluetooth amongst younger children, where value is given to an image depending on its cost to download, or scarcity in the group, then exchanged for images of equal perceived value. Identical to children’s playground sticker swopping. Do children swop media that they themselves made with the same bartering system? Working at Motribe, with the advent of JudgeME, hints at this value system where thousands of young people paid R10 from their airtime to send a friend request to a complete stranger based purely on their picture.
2. Ideas of the internet and world wide web. Growing up with the advent of the internet, my understanding of what the internet is was meticulously explained to me as a youngster. I understood the systemic technological advances throughout the years. However, many of the children I interviewed displayed a very skewed idea of what the internet was. From misunderstanding the purposes of a address bar as opposed to a search bar, to believing that the “internet” is google. As the internet as something that “lived in America” along with TV shows and movies – believing that media platforms such as youtube are reserved for the famous. These imagined virtual spaces and speculations create the basis of these kids’ perceptions of what is possible for them online.
One of my participants in Ocean View believed that his online friendship with a kid from England would be his ticket to one day being able to go and live in England. Although, on closer inspection, it appeared that this person was “faking” his geographical origin, this boy believed steadfast that people in England are rich, and because of their friendship he will one day be whisked away to another country far away. It would be a fascinating study to just uncover some of these myths and beliefs about the greater world and technology itself as proliferated through engaging with the internet.
3. Archiving systems. As a 21st century inhabitant I now have about 3 terabytes of data to my name. 3 terabytes of music, photographs, writings, movies, tv shows, e-mails, design work and sundries. I have these stored away in a safe at my parents’ house for some imagined future excavation. I no longer print photographs, buy DVDs, CDs, write letters, or even burn writable discs to listen to in my car. Everything that I own is now digital. whether these entities live on my ipod, macbook, flash drive or hard drive, my life is backed up. 3 terabytes worth of life.
I am now nearly driven to tears of compassion when I hear that one of my friends had their laptop stolen/hard drive crash/accidental deletion. Because even though these artifacts are digitally wrought, the content is authentically personal. And it hurts when you lose a part of yourself. I was dumbfounded to observe that children in low-income areas were limited to a few hundred MBs on their cellphones, and that these were so easily stolen or damaged during an average day. Where once, sentimental objects fell outside the interest of thieves, now they simply made up the collateral of having your meaningless phone stolen. With selective digital literacies and limitations on phone models, children are acutely unaware that they could back up their data to a cloud, for anytime retrieval. But even if they did know, the data cost of retrieving these files would break the bank. I would be interested in exploring how children are overcoming these difficulties, and the kinds of negotiations they have to make with either their phones, or their own sentimentality towards content.