Posted: July 5th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: South Africa, Technology | 2 Comments »
During my travels through South Africa, I was consistently surprised by the extent of coverage of my Vodocom cell phone. From the tip of the Cape of Good Hope to remote mountain passes over two hours’ drive from Cape Town, my Nokia cell phone always reported a strong signal.
Perhaps I should not be surprised – mobile phones enjoy broader use in South Africa than they do in the United States. While the U.S. market is much larger, its mobile penetration rate is around 77%, compared with over 80% in South Africa. The trend was noticed by the New York Times, who described in 2005 some of the myraid ways cell phones were changing life for poor Africans. When it comes to the internet, however, the country lags far behind the U.S. Despite recent growth, roughly 10% of South Africans are internet users compared with 70% of Americans.
Virtually all South African mobile phones support sending SMS text messages, and in general these messages cost less than a 1 minute call. The political impact of widespread SMS use around the world has been well documented, and most recently I saw this story about the use of SMS to organize opposition to a chemical factory in China. What I found interesting in South Africa was the host of SMS applications beyond one-to-one messages:
- The newspaper invited responses to news story by SMS, and published the responses with the sender’s names in a regular column.
- A fast food restaurant asked patrons to SMS the name of the branch and a rating of their experience (1 to 5). Similarly, the airport distributed a card with a series of questions on it, and respondents could either return the card or SMS their answers in a numeric format.
- Car dealerships had signs instructing interested passersby to send an SMS and a salesman would answer with a call.
- A soap company held a raffle – to enter, you just had to SMS the unique number on your box.
- A late-night TV ad for a men’s sexual health supplement invited viewers to SMS “help” to their number to learn more.
It was recently reported demand for phones in China, India, and Africa has pushed worldwide usage to over 3 billion. Although SMS applications like the ones above may be driven by limited internet use, SMS enjoys certain advantages over both the web and voice calls — namely low cost, ease of use, and high mobility — that mean we should expect continued expanded use. What new applications have you seen lately?
Posted: June 17th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Cape Town, McGregor, Photos, South Africa, Travel | 1 Comment »
So far, my trip to South Africa is going great. I won’t have the opportunity to write much here until after I return in July, but I thought I would share a few highlight photos.
Our studio class is examining housing and economic issues in a small town about two hours from Cape Town called McGregor. Its boosters claim the town is the “best preserved 19th century town” in the Western Cape, however it is also facing a serious housing crisis.
The town sits nestled in a mountain valley:
Here’s are the five studio team members, as well as some students who have been working with the South African Heritage Resources Agency to document the town history:
McGregor is something of a mecca for so-called “earth building” technology in South Africa built using adobe or cobb. This home was being built by a local business owner using local materials (the earth is from the site) and local people with experience in the building techniques.
This man is stomping cobb:
These are historic homes, perhaps 100 years old:
Here is a government-built toilet, shared by the residents of 5 tin shacks (not seen, to the right) and the home to the left. These residents are lucky, many shack residents have no plumbing whatsoever.
In McGregor, perhaps a quarter of the total population live in tin shacks and pay roughly $20 a month to the land owner as rent. Millions more live in massive shantytowns surrounding Cape Town, Johannesburg, and other South African cities. (More on this later)
We worked with the students to survey the community and consider the design and location for new government-subsidized housing:
After spending a week in McGregor, we have returned to Cape Town to start work on the report.
We took the train to Simonstown to see the famous African penguins:
As well as took a drive around the peninsula to visit the Cape of Good Hope.
Posted: June 1st, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: South Africa, Travel | 3 Comments »
Tomorrow I’ll be boarding a flight to Cape Town, South Africa, where I’ll be spending the next month studying abroad. Our group will be completing a studio report on a small, 200-year old town outside of the city.
While Cape Town is renowned as a fascinating and beautiful place, I think I’d like any place where the top item on the city website is an announcement about the process of “updating and rationalising its spatial planning policies and frameworks, in order to simplify the planning environment and more importantly give direction to the City’s long-term development.”
I plan to write a bit here about the trip before I return in early July.
The photo was taken by my friend Michael at the Cape of Good Hope during his visit to Africa last year, and molo means “hello” in Xhosa, one of South Africa’s 11 official languages.