If, like me, you are an avid reader of urban legends, you would have heard the story about the cocky guy at an upmarket restaurant who blabbers-on, talking endlessly on his mobile phone and showing off when, suddenly, the phone rings! Fact is, a mobile phone is very much like an addition limb, an integral part of our bodies, going with us wherever we go.
A compelling reason for the meteoric success of the ubiquitous little gadgets came from Sci-Fi writer and digital scholar Paul Levinson who wrote in his book “Cellphone: the story of the world’s most mobile medium and how it has transformed everything” that mobile phones answer the primary social need to be able to talk and walk at the same time.
But while the majority of users use their mobile phones as clever walky-talkies, one should keep an eye on the ever-growing number of mobile social networking. This, I believe, is a direct evolution of “classic” social networks, and it keeps a direct affinity to their make and strength, their link to family, to kinship systems and to socio-economical structures. At their core, mobile social networks are much-much more than the silly marketing pulp and circumstance that sees them as Facebook, MySpace and Friendster to go.
Levinson should consider this emerging social order. New age humans, it appears, will walk and talk with an endless number of other humans with whom they share a digital social network. You can see this already in action, through active mobile networks like Holland-based Gypsii, and our very own, extremely popular (it is available in 9 languages internationally), MXit.
International Herald Tribune’s Victoria Shannon argues that mobile social networks seek to benefit from more than 3.3 billion mobile phone users, using mobile phone’s major operational feature: each unit ‘knows’ exactly where it is located. Location information is the carrot that mobile social network providers like MXit dangle in front of the business community and marketers: imagine an attractive marketing campaign that surrounds each social network member with close-by amenities and services.
Before you shout ‘spam!’ think of the young mother who looks for quick medical assistance for her sick baby, a tourist who looks for vegetarian, Kosher or Halal food, sport fanatics who seeks a pub where they can watch their football, cricket or rugby team playing, the host that needs six extra portions of Gazpacho, and the scholar who wants to order a book s/he needs right away. These location-based services will generate massive income for advertisers, but also guarantee a stream of local customers for small businesses who may not be interested in advertising nationally – or even provincially.
Interestingly, technology push for a vast, all encompassing “global village,” noted by people like Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s, has now reversed its direction and seems to be imploding back into local existence, based on tiny devices and their ability to pinpoint their exact location, locally, on the large, global map of human social networks.
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