At the Crossroads of Media, Culture and Technology

An MCDM Alum Reflects from an Emerging Market

In 2007 I moved to Seattle, WA and found a tech savvy community in the Pacific Northwest. I found myself in the office of the Director of the MCDM Hanson Hosein and we began talking about the program, my background in journalism, and a documentary I was producing on my great uncle, the late musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter.
After the meeting I was convinced and ready to sign up! The only thing I didn’t ask him was what sort of jobs most graduates seek once they are “finished” with the program. At this time in 2008 there was only one person who seemed to get a decent job by using digital media and social media marketing and that was President Barack Obama who Hosein titled as being the “first digital President” in an earlier post.

Every class I took in the MCDM program helped me to prepare for my next unforeseen big move to South Africa. Our move was swift and took place during both the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. When I arrived here in Johannesburg I found digital media everywhere and moving at a rapid pace. One thing that I have witnessed is how SMS messaging is everywhere and even playing a role in civic engagement. The second week we were in the country we drove over a pothole and not long afterward the car began to slow down. The deceivingly rain-filled pothole had caused a flat tire and I had to change the tire. Days later I read in the local newspaper The Star (yes print media is still relevant) that a new initiative called LEAD SA started by local radio stations and print media to help develop pride in South African sports teams and encourage “good Samaritan” efforts has now fixed over 4,000 potholes across the Johannesburg area.  This is how it works here in South Africa:

 

  1. Road users can call a direct phone number to report a pothole or
  2. Take a photo of the pothole and SMS the picture and location and/or
  3. Log onto to  www.potholebrigade.co.za and send the photo and location
  4. Each report will be issued a reference number and a inspector will go to the site to determine if the brigade can fix it then a team will be dispatched immediately. It takes only 20 minutes to fix each hole.

The “Pothole Brigade” uses a Jetpatcher, which is a pothole fixing machine from New Zealand brought to South Africa by Dial Direct and the Johannesburg Roads Agency. The team pothole fixers work from 6am to 11pm, Monday to Friday. The response from the public has been so good that that the brigade will be tripling its workers and purchasing two more Jetpatchers. The methods used by Jetpatcher are said to be three times faster than conventional methods used by the government. With innovative citizen engagement we can expect to see more projects like this involving political voting, mobile banking, crime alerts and on site reporting as in Egypt and Tunisia.

MCDM helped me become well rounded in multimedia production and analyzing its next course. I learned Podcasting from Kathy Gill, Social Production from Drew Keller, Mobile Technology from Kelly McIvor and what was happening in Emerging Markets in digital media with Anita Verna Crofts. When I arrived here in Johannesburg I found digital media everywhere and moving at a rapid pace. The first thing I had to do was unlock my Samsung Galaxy S from T-Mobile so that I could use a Vodacom SIM card and make local calls.  While visiting VodaWorld, a gigantic “mobile phone mall”, I saw the latest Nokia devices which isn’t surprising since they have a huge presence in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. I even caught a recent Foreign Policy article which called the Nokia 1100 the “AK-47 of mobile phones” becoming the entry device for developing nation subscribers. Africa has over 300 million mobile phone subscribers passing the United States yet far behind China’s 700 million users.

Here in South Africa there are five million Internet users finally breaking through the the 10% penetration mark and I use a USB 3G modem that I have to top up by the Megabyte. In dollars that adds up to $27.00 for 600 MB or $41.00 for 1.2 GB. I can tell you that one MCDM four hour class minus downloading would easily take up close to 600 MB so cherish your free wi-fi cafes in Seattle. I’ve also noticed in South Africa that the Samsung tablet was here before the Apple iPad which was just released in this country late January 2011 for the first time. Android has been releasing its application market aggressively on multiple carriers and the same is happening here in Africa. The price for the iPad 16BG is R4,499 ($642.71) which is actually “cheaper” than the Galaxy tablet R7,899 ($1,128) pre-paid. These are just some of the observations I have witnessed since living in South Africa so far and I will continue to report regularly to Flip The Media with many more. My allegiance to MCDM proves that even though I graduated in 2010 I have not “finished” my studies so don’t be surprised if you see me in the back of the classroom one day.

Alvin Singh My official website is here and my personal blog is here.

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3 Responses to An MCDM Alum Reflects from an Emerging Market

  1. carnhandy says:

    A Criminal Justice Degree from “United Forensic College” led me to a point in life I thought I would never reach.

  2. Hi Alvin,

    Your post got me thinking about the future of the Internet in emerging markets. You said a lot of things are done primarily with SMS, but do you see many smart phones? If so, do people use the Internet on them more than at home or in Internet cafes?
    When using the Internet in the future, do you think people will bypass computers instead consume it through mobile?

    I hope your doing great and that your MCDM degree is serving you well.

  3. Sam says:

    Hey Alvin!

    It’s so great to read about your experience in South Africa. I remember our discussions in the Emerging Markets class with Anita about importance of mobile technologies in Africa. Now you are bringing up new prospects on rapid transformation and customization of digital media there.
    I think you are true MCDM digital leader who explores new opportunities and goes beyond borders in understanding the role of new technologies. I wounder what kinda people and leaders you meet in South Africa and what they want to change, make a difference. Could you write about people in digital media?

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