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Investment: So what do I buy for the stocking?

By Rudy Nadler-Nir

If I could ask for something really special for the year 2002, it would be that various technologies involved in human communication keep on losing their heavily hyped position.

Mercifully, this process has been going on for a while now – technologies seem to have lost most of their clinical veneer. Some of them came down crushing, dragging gullible followers in their wake. Technology settles down nicely to actual flesh-and-blood existence.

Nowhere is this awakening more obvious than in Mobile Technology – No one hyperventilates anymore over WAP. We’re resolved to the fact that G3 mobile networks will not be available by next Tuesday. Many opt out (if they can) of debilitating cellphone contracts for cash-based Pay-as-you-go.

SMS is here, it’s functional and useful – another type of email. Don’t try selling me SMS stock, thank you. Bluetooth shows promise yet most of us will sit on the fence rather than committing our hard-earned, shell-shocked Rand.

In my New Year wish list, I pray for the time when “Mobile Technology” is not a big deal anymore, not more than a fork, a pen, a hair-brush, fire-extinguisher, a watch or a portable TV.

Two independent studies appear to be indicating that my wish list is not a stupendous act of naivety. First, there’s Arthur Goldstuck’s “The Goldstuck Report”, looking at free-Internet in our country, and “Evolution, Alienation and Gossip – The role of mobile telecommunications in the 21st century”, a publication from Oxford’s Social Issues Research Centre, written by centre director Kate Fox.

Both publications opt for an anthropological view of mobile technology – focusing on those who choose to use it and their motives, rather than on the technology itself.

Goldstuck concludes that people are cultural nomads – moving around between job assignments, nationally and internationally. It is here that mobile (in this case – e-mail) technology can help. All nomads have got to meet, sooner or later, at a waterhole. Give them access to information irrespective of where they are, says Goldstuck, and you’ve got a viable service.

Fox uses another powerful metaphor – that of the garden fence. That traditional place for gossip, is a fundamental cultural tool, she says. People use gossip as an essential communal activity involving exchange of information, and the garden fence as the quintessential gossip exchange spot. Mobile technology turns any place into a virtual garden fence.

Is it new? Hardly. One of the most successful online communities was called “The Well” – operating like a mix between a community centre and a waterhole. Gossip drives the lion share of so-called reality portals and voyeurism sites. Gossip and waterholes existed for thousands of years, they are part of our collective consciousness.

Still – a breakthrough. Working independently, Goldstuck and Fox came up with something new and exciting: they offer purely human-centred analyses of technology. These two compelling drives – finding an anchoring-spot in one’s nomadic existence and discovering an opportunity and space (even virtual) to engage in gossip, are totally independent from the technology that enables them.

Mobile technology – therefore – can only enhance, expand and reinforce existing cultural paradigms. Take away cellphones and e-mail – you still have waterholes and garden-fences.

Are the studies I described above an answer to my wish list for 2002? You bet. Because neither Goldstuck nor Fox hang their hat on the technology – instead, they study the human aspect behind it.

*Rudy Nadler-Nir is an independent e-strategist and Brain-for-Rent.
Check Rudy’s personal Website, at: or e-mail him

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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