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Isabel Aagaard Richard Ling Mobile Media and Social IT E2012 11 December 2012

The Effect of M-novels in South Africa Abstract The purpose of my paper is to discuss the effect of mobile novels (m-novels) in South Africa. Africa has the fastest growing mobile market, in spite of them being the poorest continent in the world. I want to look closer at the development of m-novels in South Africa and see how this new trend can help the countries youth. I will through my paper compare articles with statistics from the m4Lit project, who together with MXit have created data on m-novels from 2009-2011 in South Africa. I expect to find that teens’ use of the mobile phones can be seen globally and is part of why mnovels have become so popular. I especially hope to see that the interaction feature embraces connectivity and can support and help teens all over South Africa. Keyword: m-novels, South Africa, youth, m4Lit, mobile. Introduction “We are looking to grow the library of stories as well as a vibrant community of young users who not only read the stories but participate in the commenting, reviewing and writing of them. We're turning reading into a social, sharing experience.” Steve Vosloo founder of Yoza. The m4Lit project began in 2009 as a pilot initiative to explore whether and how teens in South Africa would read stories on their cellphones. Yoza is the name of the m-novels library and m4Lit is the project behind Yoza. Inspired by the Japanese success in m-novels I wish to look into this genre as a complement and alternative to printed literature (Walton 2010). There is a growing awareness around the impact that a lack of books has on the literacy levels in South Africa. "A majority of teens are left behind academically, many experience difficulties with


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literacy instruction and most have limited access to books and computers" (Walton, ii). Walton (2010) believes that because of the South African mobile phone 'revolution' and thriving mobile youth culture, teens are beginning to enjoy reading and writing using digital technologies on their phones. The m4Lit project is attempting to use this possibility and encouraging fictional reading and writing to also move literacy out-of-school (Walton 2010). Mobile phones in Japan have made it possible for common people to access the Internet. They have the same lack of access to computers in South Africa and have taken the inexpensive mobile phone to them (Goodyear 2008). Mobile Internet access is pervasive in many South African urban areas, even for economically and educationally marginalized teens (Walton 2010: Kreutzer 2007). Interactivity and connectivity is also an area that I feel is relevant to talk about in this paper. Readers can leave comments on each chapter, vote in opinion polls related to the story and contribute with their own stories. As Vosloo (2010) explained above, m-novels is more than a mobile library, it is a community. m4Lit is about reading and writing, encouraging the youth of South Africa to create as well as consume content (Vosloo, Walton & Deumert 2010). Method, Theory and data Through out this essay I will build my analysis on quantitative and qualitative research. I will start with an understanding of new literacy and the youth’s use of mobiles. I will draw lines from international knowledge upon the youth; by looking at these I suggest that there is cross-cultural similarities in mobile phone usage among the youth. Here I especially will look at Japan to understand the attraction and use of m-novels through Goodyear (2008), that wrote an article based on an interview with one of the first Japanese m-novelists. I will primarily build my knowledge on relevant theory and on statistics on the use of m-novels from the m4Lit project. I will be concentrating on the first couple of months from m4Lit's launch in August-December 2009. This research risks lacking depth because it is based on a single book of a specific genre, and therefore it might not be fully representative of m-novels as a whole. I will show comments on m-novels, posted by the readers throughout the paper that represents the youth’s opinion and thoughts on their use of this m-novel.


 

 

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Analysis The problem of literacy Books are scarce and prohibitively expensive for most South Africans. 51% of South African households own no leisure books (TNS Research Survey 2006). And only 7% of public schools in South Africa have functional libraries of any kind (Equal Education 2009). If reading material is not available for the youth, then this statement is not shocking. "South African schools still struggle to teach the majority of children how to read and write, particularly in ways that help them to succeed academically" (Vosloo, Walton & Deumert 2010:1. Fleisch 2008:2). The schools in South Africa often have a tendency to switch the language to English in an early age, which doesn't help the development of their home language and heavy use of phonics leaves little time for reading stories (Vosloo, Walton & Deumert 2010:1. Pluddeman, Mati and Mahlalela 1998). Phonics is a method of teaching people to read by correlating sounds with letters or groups if letters in an alphabetic writing system. A method that is well known in South Africa and does not inspire for reading out-of-school. One of the reason that m4Lit's project can become a success in this need for leisure reading material. Although South Africa is "book poor", they are "mobile phone rich" (Walton 2010). I will elaborate on this further in the paper. M4Lit has chosen to publish the first m-book, Kontax, in English and isiXhosa to increase the national reach of the story. IsiXhosa being close to the Nguni languages that 40% of South Africans speak at home, compared to only 8% that speak English (Vosloo, Walton & Deumert 2010:3). Although many children are taught English early in their lives, there is only 8% speaks it at home. It was therefore important in the m4Lit project to offer IsiXhosa. But it seems like there is a general dissatisfaction concerning their choice on offering the book on IsiXhosa in the comments: "Isixhosa is boring, we now want isizulu" (Lathoya, comment in Kontax, 4/02/11. p. 2). Lathoya is not the only one commenting on this matter. Many commentators expressed that they were displeased by the language IsiXhosa or that they simply did not understand it, therefore suggesting a zulu language instead. This also shows how valuable the feedback on the chapters can be to the project. It has been well documented that in the northern countries teens read and write more than ever in the affinity space (Vosloo, Walton & Deumert 2010:2, Glee 2003). The affinity space being blogs, social network pages, emails and messages. The popularity of these new opportunities has given


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rise to a 'participatory culture' where people are invited to actively participate in creating content (Vosloo, Walton & Deumert 2010:2, Jenkins 2006). "These participatory practices and other new approaches towards literacy and digital media are often referred to as ‘new literacies’." (Vosloo, Walton & Deumert 2010:2). For the youth of South Africa to be inspired to read out-of-school, it can be valuable to use new literacy in the process. M4Lit has done this through the possibility of commenting and creating novels. One does have to be aware, that what works in the northern part of the world may not work in southern. They may not have access to computers or many books, but what South African teens do have access to are cell phones. New statistics indicate that 90% of urban youth have their own cell phone (Kreutzer 2009). M4Lit is not only looking to reach the urban youth, but also the provinces, which may not have the same ratio of mobile phones. Why mobile phones "In most developing countries, access to traditional computers and the Internet remains limited to a small elite." (Kreutzer 2009:1, Bracey & Culver 2005). This is especially a problem in the postapartheid areas in South Africa. The Internet has been assumed to be a browser based experience accessed via larger screens on a PC, but in developing worlds we see the Internet on mobile devices (Donner, Gitau and Marsden 2011:18. Morgan Stanley Research 2009). And the number of mobile devices has rapidly grown in developing countries. The low costs of mobile phones made it possible for even the country's poor majority to have access to a mobile phone themselves. The inexpensive mobile phones are fast becoming the primary Internet platform and multimedia device (Kreutzer 2009:1). Despite the many benefits obtained by having access to the web, many have argued that the web only serves and connects the wealthy nations (Kreutzer 2009:1, Castell 2000). This said, the first thing Kreutzer (2009) noticed, in his field studies in Cape Town, was how social networking sites and instant messaging (IM) applications (MXit) already was part of the daily life of a student. Especially the mobile IM application, MXit, is extremely popular (Kreutzer 2009:3, Francke & Weideman 2007). Since the program required a data connection to transmit its messages, the mobile owner had to enabled their phones for Internet access. M4Lit made sure that users could access their m-novels through this application (Kreutzer 2009).


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The youth’s mobile use With the low level of PC use, South Africa was the excellent venue for mobile Internet to flourish. Some estimate that there are more active users of mobile Internet users in South Africa, than there are traditional users (Donner, Gitau and Marsden 2011:3. Joubert 2008). Kreutzer (2009) found, through his field studies, that 77% of students in low-income schools in Cape Town, owned a mobile phone, and 68% had used a mobile phone to access the Internet on the previous day (Donner, Gitau and Marsden 2011:3). This underlines that even in the low-income areas of South Africa mobile phones are being used by the youth to access the internet "Even as mobile phones have become common in all age groups, the younger demography has a higher volume and unique patterns of usage that differs from older users" (Ito 2005:5). An interesting graph in this context is Ling, Bertel & Sundsøy's (2011) "Topographic chart of text messages being sent and received" (Norway Q4 2007).

Figur 1 Ling, Bertel & Sundsøy 2011:14

This graph shows us a distinct pattern in traffic between teens. The figure being very diagonal shows us that the texting activity is concentrated between the same-aged people, but the teens clearly takes the first prize. After peaking at the age 19 the number of messages decreases


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drastically. Texting is a teen phenomenon (Ling, Bertel & Sundsøy's 2011:14), and we can therefore not conclude that mobile phones is a teen trend from this graph, but their desire to text can be compared with the desire to comment on the chapters of an m-novel. And the desire to get a phone in the first place as a teen, can be driven by the connectivity that one gets through texting. Other than that: "Mobiles offer a confluence of portability, personal control and flexibility that make them appealing, disruptive and ubiquitous" (Donner, Gitau and Marsden 2011:2. Castells, Fernández-Ardévol, Qiu, & Sey 2007. Katz & Aakhus, 2002). Another explanation that especially shows why the youth would be interested in getting a mobile phone. "In the urban township of South Africa, growing numbers of people, particularly young people, are accessing digital media and the Internet via their mobile phones" (Walton 2010:3. Donner and Gitau 2009. Kretzer 2009). This is caused by the low cost of the mobile application MXit. It allows users to send IM messages and provides chat rooms, where they only pay for the data used. The cost per IM message is about 1-2 cent, which makes it substantially cheaper than SMS texts. Statistics show us that 21% of MXit's users are between the age 15-18 and 49% between 19-25 (Walton 2010:3. Mike Carter 2010)* MXit's user figures are not open to scrutiny, and hence such claim should be treated with a certain amount of caution. In particular, the available figures do not indicate how regularly users log into the application. We can conclude, that the cost has actually driven people toward the mobile Internet and that, supported by Kreutzer (2009), the youth of South Africa indeed do have access to mobile phones with Internet. In Waltons (2009:34) studies he saw that the danger of being mugged is an issue for the young people carrying a mobile phone on them, as it is a relatively valuable object. To come back to our venue, South Africa, where inexpensive mobile phones can be the line to the Internet, but these mobile phones are still typically the most expensive things, that they have on them. They are affordable, but they come with a risk in developing countries. In Ito's (2006) studies of mobile phone use in Japan, she identifies a handheld mode of mobile communication as ubiquitous 'lightweight engagement' which contrasts with desktop-style 'complex functionality and stationary immersive engagement' (Walton 2010:3, Ito 2006:6). Readers of mnovels in South Africa acknowledge this, and it may be one of the reasons why m-novels have had such positive feedback. Dotty1, an m-novel reader, commented at chapter 21 "It's great.. for me it


 

 

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really hard to pickup a book to start readin but i don mind readin on my phone" (dotty1, comment in Kontax, 15/08/10). The accessibility and lightweight engagement is part of making the experience informal. Kontax numbers Lets dig into the world of m-novels. Kontax was the first book published in the m4Lit project. It consisted of 21 chapters consisting of 400 words each. It was important that the literature was light and fun, and did not resemble anything from the school benches. Kontax was in the teen Mystery genre and each chapter ended in a cliffhanger, to allure the readers to download the next. The book was free and the download cost was minimum. When the soon to become readers sign up for an account, they are asked to write their age and gender. M4Lit had 63.310 subscribers in the end of a month, which is amazing compared to South African literature. A successful South African title sells around 5.000 copies (Walton 2010). Their initial target group was 14-16 year olds (Vosloo, Walton & Deumert 2010:3). But about half of the subscribers were 19-25 of age (Walton 2010), which could mean that the age group is older than they thought. Many subscribers did not finish the book, so lets look at the readership.

Figur 2 Walton 2010:25-26


 

 

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MXit did not provide data about the activity of unique users, and we can therefore not rely on the numbers blankly. This is confirmed by the number of subscribers (63,310) being lower than the viewers (94,185) of the first chapter. Some users seem to have downloaded the chapter more than once, which can also be an effect of the users pressing 'back' when they've read a chapter. The repeat page view factor from subscribers to viewers of the first chapter is 1.5, and Walton (2010) therefore created the column 'estimated' readership. Looking at everybody from the age 11-18 95% subscribers read the first chapter and only 46% of them continued reading the second chapter. The enormous drop might have to do with the novelty value. That some just wanted to see what an mnovel is all about, as one states in the comments: "i only dd this 2 check hw a book on da web wil b like" (nJabulo, comment in Kontax, 12/12/10). Readers then gradually dropped off through the chapters and Walton (2010) estimates that 26% of the subscribers preserved and read the entire series of 21 chapters during this month. This means that for the first month approximately 7,206 South Africans in the age range from 11-18 read all 21 chapters. The surprising number is that 17,258 subscribers were estimated to finish the chapters in total, which must mean that 10,000 subscribers were older than 18 or younger than 11. Maybe m4Lit aimed for an age group that was too young. This can be because of the access for a mobile phone is easier for an older audience or this audience simply also wants to read a simple and fun story. Comments "Dat was a very good story its my first tym 2 read stories here in yoza m not gonna stop readng plz writtng more story thanx god bless u guyz" (Yaya, , comment in Kontax, 22/08/10). The comments are very close to texting language, shortened words and many numbers included. "waiting for the next chapters kills me!"(Suzi*, comment in Kontax, 17/08/10). The comments often consist of not only of discussions with other readers about what will happen or what they wish will happen but also motivational feedback to the author. The readers created a form of connectivity that they can access all day. The following graph illustrates when they access this community.


 

 

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Figur 3 Vosloo 2010:68

"The mobile phone is an emblematic technology of space-time compression, touted as a tool for anytime, anywhere connectivity"(Ito 2005:1). By looking at the time of response in form of comments, the readers use this connectivity throughout the day, with its low point from 1am to 6am and peek at 4pm and 10pm. In Walton's (2010) studies, many students said that they often read before going to bed, which can be confirmed by this graph, but it still seems like many are active throughout the day. Maybe m4Lit's project goal to create out-of-school literacy has become inschool literacy. It would be interesting to provide data about the activity of the unique users, to see who are active on what days. Connectivity - create and share The virtual space that m4Lit has created has formed online peer connectivity, which can be very strong by its availability (Ito 2005:2). Part of Yoza's success will be measured on the number of teens that read, enjoy and share its stories. The more, the better. For this reason stories are published under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike licence. This means that anyone can freely


 

 

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copy, distribute, display and remix the content, as long as they credit the original and subsequent authors (Vosloo). So even if it is in the middle of the night, you can write comments to others stories or get feedback from your own. By and to Kontax, the first m-novel in the m4Lit project, and a couple of following m-novels were written by professional authors, but the plan in the long run was, that the platform was for amateur writers to get their stories out. This was how m-novels became a success in Japan. In japan m-novels became popular because the stories were for and by young women (Goodyear 2008). They would write and post the stories directly from their phones. The girls were not highly educated, good writers or creative, they simply wrote the truth often about their own life, but under another name (Goodyear 2008). They posted the chapters directly and immediately got responses: "On Mona's third day of writing, readers started to respond" Please post the next one" and "I'm excited to see what happens" (Goodyear 2008). Which is the same type of responses that m4Lit is getting on their platform. This of course shook the literary world, but the new genre was born and opened the door for a new type of authors along with a new kind of readers: "The medium unfiltered, unedited is revolutionary, opening the closed ranks of the literary world to anyone who owns a mobile phone" (Goodyear 2008:2). A younger and less educated authors and audience were captivated in this new genre. Taboos "I really lyk yoza coz it help us 2 get advice in solving our problems so keep on writing nd i wil pray 4 u guy.thanx" (Mr+charles+van+vyk, comment in Kontax, 15/08/10) In South Africa as well as in Japan the m-novels are about pregnancy, miscarriage, adoption, rape, rivals, triangles and incurable diseases. The novels are set in the province and the characters from the middle or lower middle class (Goodyear 2008). The stories were relatable and brought up taboos. Users of the Internet in South Africa already mainly accessed information concerning HIV/AIDS, which they have a difficulties talking about in many communities (Donner, Gitau and Marsden 2011:4. Donner & Gitau 2009). The Internet has become a place where you anonymously can look up subjects that can be taboos in ones own culture. Professor Satoko Kan who specializes in contemporary women's literature said "From a feminist perspective, for women and girls to be able to speak about themselves is very important." (Goodyear 2008:2) and although Kan believes that the method is


 

 

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empowering for women, the content is questionable, because it reinforces norms that are popular in a male-dominated culture. M-novels have gotten a bad reputation for painting a world that many don't want to see. To protect the families of the m-novelist in Japan they are very often anonymous. "The mobile's success amongst youth is due to its aiding in filling the "deficit of social and affective ties" in a "incommunicative society". Some studies show that 70% of messages has emotional content (Lorente 2002:18). "The mobile phone is a personal device [that] helps us in the project of developing and maintaining social cohesion particularly in smaller groups" (Ling, Bertel & Sundsøy 2011:3). The privacy of a phone and ones anonymity on the Internet creates a good forum for expressing experiences that are taboo subjects in ones community. This can help dissolve taboos for future generation, by creating a place to articulate these problems without the fear of being excluded from ones community. Social contact "(..)youth tend to see mobile phones as liberating and expressive personal technologies" (Ito 2005:1) People can enable new kinds of social contact through a mobile phone, and because teens are limited in access to adult forms of social organization it especially relates to them (Ito 2005:2). "The cell-phone novel is an extreme success story of how social networks are used to build a product and launch it" (Goodyear 2008). M-novels is a group project, the fans encourages the author while they are creating. The literary world in Japan took great distance from the m-novel culture. They thought it was garbage and feared it would be the end of Japanese literature (Goodyear 2008: 1-4). One can be afraid that in the long run, the amateur authors will be out concurred by the professional if the literature world becomes involved in the market. The group feeling and social context will be out shined. But maybe the Japanese critic's are right that the novels are for a different audience: An mnovel tells you what you already know. "Literature has the power to change the way you think" (Goodyear 2008:4), which the critics don't see in m-novels. Some believe that the distance between mobile literacies and school literacies are too extreme, which is reflected in the comments. This needs to be explored and better understood because mobile literacies can be pervasive in young peoples' lives (Walton, 2010).


 

 

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Conclusion Since mobile phones in today’s South Africa is a common possession and thus become the primary way to access the Internet. M-novels can give poor young South Africans the chance to read leisure literature, who would otherwise lack opportunities to do so. Especially the youth has taken the mobile phone to them, which we see is a global tendency. In South Africa there is a small amount of leisure literature in traditional book form, which makes out-of-school reading difficult. The anonymity of the Internet can also make room for discussing topics otherwise considered taboos. This is a great help for young people seeking advice or perhaps just needing a listener to hear their troubles. The ability to comment gives these readers a chance to see that others share their concerns or go through similar situations, which teenage books are often about. This is a huge difference compared to the traditional platform of books, where the interactivity and connectivity with other readers does not exist directly in the pages. The informality and simplicity of the language does not require much thought to grasp the meaning of the novel and is therefore also reachable to create on ones own. The m-novel style is very straightforward. All in all m-novels hold the potential to decrease illiteracy among otherwise exposed groups of the South African society. They can also inspire the youth to read and write outside school, maybe even inspire a few to become writers. The m4Lit project has created a community where writers can flourish and improve their skills. Walton (2010) argues the literature level is very low in the mnovels and some are concerned that there is too wide a gap between this and school literature. The future success of m-novels now depends on whether it will include more intellectually challenging literature in order to raise and maintain a stimulating level for the readers and writers.


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Literature Donner, J. and Gitau, S. (2011) “Exploring Mobile-only Internet Use Results of a Training Study in Urban South Africa” Goodyear, D. (2008). “I <3 Novels: Young women develop a genre for the cellular age” in The New Yorker. Ito, M. (2005). “Mobile Phones, Japanese Youth, and the Re-placement of Social Contact” in Mobile Communications, vol 31. Keio University. Kreutzer, T. (2008). “Generation Mobile: Online and Digital Media Usage on Mobile Phones among Low-Income Urban Youth in South Africa” MA thesis: University of Cape Town. Ling R., Bertel T. and Sundsøy P. “The socio-demographics of texting: An analysis of traffic data” (2011) Lorente, S. (2002) ”Youth and mobile telephones: More than a fashion” and other interesting articles in Estudios de Juventud (p. 9-25) Vosloo, S., M. Walton, and A. Deumert. (2010) ”m4Lit: a teen m-novel project in South Africa.” Paper presented at mLearn2009, October 26-30. Orlando, Florida. Vosloo, S. (2010) “mLearning in Africa, Lessons from the m4Lit project”. Presentation for Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, October 2010. Walton, M. (2010). “Mobile literacies & South African teens”. Shuttleworth Foundation, University of Cape Town. ______


 

 

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______ Comments on Kontax found here: http://www.yoza.mobi/stories/5/ (english version) & http://www.yoza.mobi/stories/10/ (IsiXhosa version) Equal Education. (2009). EE rejects DoE's statement on school libraries. Available at http://www.equaleducation.org.za/press-a-views/press-releases/item/74-statement17dec2009. TNS Research Surveys. (2006). National Survey into the Reading and Book Reading Behaviour of Adult South Africans. Available at http://www.saccd.org.za/objects/sabdc_reading.pdf


The Effect of M-novels in South Africa