Shikoh Gitau, Gary Marsden and I have submitted a paper on first-time mobile internet use to the upcoming (3rd) conference of the International Development Informatics Association, to be held at Berg-en-Dal in Kruger National Park here in South Africa on 28-30 October 2009. The paper is in many ways a continuation of Shikoh’s previous fieldwork with mobile-centric internet users. Indeed, we called this study ‘phase II’. But here, we focus specifically on two questions:  what happens when the first and only means of accessing the internet is via one’s mobile?  What are the implications for M4D and ICTD?

The conference is at the end of October. So, this is only a pre-publication version and further edits are likely. But we’d welcome any comments or suggestions.  Abstract below:

This study reports results of an ethnographic action research study, exploring mobile-centric internet use. Over the course of 13 weeks, eight women, each a member of a livelihoods collective in urban Cape Town, South Africa, received training to make use of the data (internet) features on the phones they already owned. None of the women had previous exposure to PCs or the internet. Activities focused on social networking, entertainment, information search, and, in particular, job searches. Results of the exercise reveal both the promise of, and barriers to, mobile internet use by a potentially large community of first-time, mobile-centric users. Discussion focuses on the importance of self-expression and identity management in the refinement of online and offline presences, and considers these forces relative to issues of gender and socioeconomic status.

Gitau, S., Donner, J. and G. Marsden. (2009, 28-30 October). “i-Internet? Intle” (beautiful): Exploring first time internet use via mobile phones in a South African women’s collective. Paper to be presented at the 3rd Conference of the International Development Informatics Association, Kruger National Park, South Africa.