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Excerpt 1 from Marcia Forbes’ “Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles”

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - May 10, 2012

STREAMING: Volume 1; #Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles, written by Marcia Forbes, artfully combines relevant and often humorous short stories to explain and support her research findings about what youths do online. Here, online refers to the Internet and cell phones. By way of a questionnaire and, for the Jamaicans, focus group sessions and interviews as well, 17 to 30-year-olds across four countries (Trinidad, Dominica, USA and Jamaica) describe how they use social networks, Facebook and Twitter.  They also talk in-depth about what their mobile phone means to them.

The following is the first in a series of excerpts from the book to be republished in Caribbean Journal.

Ppl R More Than Statistics

Talking to youths face-to-face where I could see and hear them was important to this foundational body of work. Properly used, focus group sessions and in-depth interviews are great tools. They allow a researcher to get to the heart of an issue, to probe and pay keen attention to body language, which, as Malcolm Gladwell highlighted in his insightful book, Blink, can ‘speak’ to you in the blink of an eye and tell far more than words. Focus group sessions with youth participants were based on age, gender, consideration for inclusion of different types of schools and urban/rural locations. As a researcher I am always amazed at the manner in which Jamaican youths enjoy talking and in particular, the way in which they tend to be eager to talk about sex and sexuality. Barry Chevannes was right: sex to Jamaicans is natural. The focus group participants and interviewees were highly vocal, very expressive and deeply engaging. In one session the young adult females pounded the desk heavily and laughed outrageously. At the end of many sittings it was interesting that participants, males and females, teenagers and young adults, requested regularly scheduled sessions. Was it the refreshment provided? Could they be so alike US college students?  DWL!  Seriously though, it seemed Jamaican youths across the age spectrum of 18 to 30 years – regardless of social class or levels of access – were hungry for opportunities to talk about new media technologies, social networks and their relationships with them. Their views were different from older folks of my generation, but not always.

Unlike the on-going research work and publications in countries like the USA by Pew, Kaiser, Nielsen and others, and in the UK by Ofcom, The National Foundation for Educational Research along with numerous universities, the Anglophone Caribbean lacks empirical data pertaining to youth online. While there is little doubt that the telecommunications companies, such as Digicel, LIME (formerly Cable & Wireless) and Flow which all operate regionally, do conduct their own studies, these are not generally made public and if so, only in selected sections which serve the marketing thrust of the particular company. Daniel Miller and Don Slater’s The Internet (2000), an ethnographic study based in Trinidad and Tobago, Curwen Best’s The Politics of Caribbean Cyberculture (2008) with its insightful construct of strategic space as a counter to the foreboding digital divide, Heather Horst and Daniel Miller’s The Cell Phone in Jamaica (2006) and Tales from Facebook (2011) stand as four beacons in a dark landscape of scattered islands….

While many adults had a great deal to say about the evils of Facebook and the ways in which cell phones were wreaking havoc in Jamaican schools, empirical evidence and in particular youth views on these matters were largely lacking. Horst and Miller’s The Cell Phone in Jamaica, in view of its funding imperative, was confined to the use of that technology by mostly poor adults, and was published prior to the arrival in the island of smart mobile phones with applications which facilitated social networks. The cell phone in 2006 was a different and inferior machine to its 2011 significantly improved model.

This book, the first of a two part series, is available in hard copy format and also as an eBook at Amazon.com. Wider distribution via a variety of eReaders is coming soon.

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