Academic journal article LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal

Mobile Technologies - Information on the Move ... or Stuck in a Groove? - A South African Perspective1

Academic journal article LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal

Mobile Technologies - Information on the Move ... or Stuck in a Groove? - A South African Perspective1

Article excerpt


Mobile technologies present exciting and new opportunities to those who have not been able to access digital information before or provide additional opportunities for access. Education programmes and curricula are being revitalized through innovative technologies. Digital technology has the potential to revolutionize the lives of people with sensory-disabilities. Developing countries are now able to tap into global knowledge through a variety of hand-held devices. There is a lot of information available on open access which can be downloaded to these technologies. However, not everything is free. Copyright issues have to be taken into account when using copyrighted material on these devices. Rights-holders and manufacturers control use and access to information on mobile devices through the use of digital rights management systems (DRMs), technological protection mechanisms (TPMs), and strict licences. This paper highlights some benefits of mobile technology for education and disseminating information in a developing country's context. It also discusses how copyright, licensing and technological protection measures prevent or hamper access and help to keep information 'stuck in a groove'.


There is a huge knowledge and digital divide between developed countries and developing countries, particularly in Africa. African countries depend heavily on educational, recreational and other published material from industrialized countries. They are net importers of intellectual property and pay huge amounts to purchase or gain access to global information and knowledge. In the process, researchers and tertiary institutions very often have to buy back their own African research that is published in subscription-based journals with no open access options.

As technology develops, African countries need to find better ways of accessing information to gain knowledge and be able to participate and contribute to the global society. They need technology to assist them in developing at a faster rate so that they can advance and one day, enjoy the status of developed nations. Africa is the second-largest and second most-populous continent after Asia, yet its internet usage is only 5.7 percent compared to other largely populated areas of the world (Internet Users, 2011).

The Knowledge and Digital Divide

According to the Global Information Technology Report 2010/11, Sub-Saharan Africa still lags behind the rest of the world. The main issues are underdeveloped infrastructure, inefficient markets, opaque regulatory environments, inadequate educational standards, and widespread poverty. These are powerful obstacles against a more extensive and efficient use of new technologies for increased development and prosperity in the region (World Economic Forum, 2011). -This means that mobile technologies serve to both address and to complicate our notions of the 'digital divide,' the gulf between the Internet technology haves and have-nots" (Watters, 2011, paragraph 4). Since most Africans will never own a laptop, Kindle or iPad, the mobile phone is key to sustained 'information on the move'2 in Africa.

On one hand, mobile phones will increasingly serve as both our gateway to the Internet and as our personal computers. As costs decrease, more people will own or have access to mobile computing devices. However, accessibility and equity remain an issue. Income still dictates cell phone ownership and Internet access. Poorer communities may only be able to afford (if at all) the less sophisticated cellular models without Internet access, instant messaging and other features, whilst people who are better off economically can afford models which offer a whole range of applications (Smart phones and various Blackberry models for example). For many people, accessing the Internet via their phone is their only connection as they do not have Internet at home due to the costs and/or lack of electricity or reasonable bandwidth (Watters, 2011). …

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