iPhone junkies fuel 'techsclusivity'

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iPhone in hand When the much-hyped iPhone 3G was released last month, people across the world queued for hours to buy the latest incarnation of Apple's uber-cool and feature-packed mobile phone. A few hundred punters braved the winter chill at midnight in Sydney for the privilege of being the first iPhone owners in the country.

The iPhone is a sexy and clever device. Its large, luminous touch screen can zoom in and out on web pages and zip through song lists and phone contacts, while a virtual keyboard allows you to write text messages and emails. Sourcing and communicating information has never been easier.

But new technology comes with baggage. It's not only the high cost that is problematic, although the iPhone is certainly expensive. One of Telstra's cheaper options is the 8GB $40 per month package for two years which includes a $279 upfront fee. Additionally, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has warned consumers to be wary of the additional costs involved once download limits have been exceeded.

The most interesting question regarding the popularity of the iPhone is, who is more likely to benefit from this technology, and who is not? Our obsession with slick and funky gadgets makes it hard to see the role technology plays in a wider social context.

Not everyone has access or the ability to use new technology. This is a major challenge for recently arrived people such as Sudanese or Burmese, for example, who have lived long in refugee camps. This in turn has implications for their health and wellbeing.

The use and application of information communication technology has emerged as a major issue in developing effective strategies for health promotion to a multicultural Australian audience. In a world where information is increasingly delivered online, we need to address the social, cultural and economic barriers relating to technology in order to effectively communicate with a rich and diverse range of Australian communities.

Recent research undertaken by the National Centre for Vocational Education has shown there is an increasing tendency to rely on the use of high tech information communication technology despite the well acknowledged 'digital divide' between and within groups.

Older members of some communities, for example, are particularly disadvantaged in terms of information technology literacy. Also, as researchers at Victoria University have discovered, internet communication that is primarily textual can be difficult for communities with largely oral rather than written language traditions.

In health promotion, there is a tendency to focus on one-way transmission and an assumption that the ability to access information equates with knowledge and understanding. A multilingual PDF flyer about managing diabetes might be available online, but this doesn't mean a recently arrived Sudanese woman with little money and no computer experience will be able to use the technology, let alone benefit from the health information.

The iPhone and its competitors should not be dismissed in their potential for supporting communities. Their technological innovation can contribute to the development of more effective communication strategies.

Groups with limited access to economic resources coupled with a limited ability to speak English and illiteracy in their first languages have been disadvantaged by computer and keyboard reliant technologies. Visually based interactive technologies such as iPhones have the potential to address this technological exclusion.

The key is finding socially inclusive and culturally sensitive ways of using technology. Community driven workshops which are adequately resourced and supported by older or cheaper forms of technology, such as community radio, community newspapers and/or multilingual phone support, could work just as effectively in promoting messages of health and community wellbeing.

They may also function as more culturally appropriate points of distribution for health promotion materials on cheap multimedia platforms such as DVDs that can then be played at home on the family television.

Technology is always changing. In the race to create ever smarter, faster and more efficient information communication gadgets like the iPhone, we must never forget who gets left behind, and how we can best foster the use and application of technology for the benefit of all.


Ben O'MaraDr Ben O'Mara is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Community, Ethnicity and Policy Alternatives (Victoria University). His work explores the use and application of information communication technology in the promotion of culturally sensitive messages of health and community wellbeing.

 

Topic tags: ben o'mara, iphone, apple, gadet review, information technology

 

 

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Great article. We need more of Ben O'Mara!
Anthony Cappello | 06 August 2008


As a member of a religious Congregation, I am pleased to read well-informed and empathetic investigation into universal justice matters.
Ray O'Donoghue | 06 August 2008


I was a teacher, I still am! To me teaching involved three main strands, Activity, Communication and Negotiation. The first involved those being taught in the process, the second involved 'keep it simple' and the third involved talking to those being taught as to how their view of the world around them could be linked with what I was trying to teach them. All these magnificent gimmicks, touted as aiding educating people only lead to 'idiot savants'!
john W McQualter | 06 August 2008


Definitely food for thought. It is very easy to dismiss new technologies as having no relevance to marginalised communities but Ben encourages us to think outside the square and look at the potential for how new technology can have a social conscience and be used creatively to provide valuable health information.
Harry Patsamanis | 12 November 2008


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