19 February 2010
Social networking around the world
A Japanese mobile phone with phone charms.
Dr Larissa Hjorth.
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Do people in China use social networking sites the way we do? Do people in Japan use mobile phones more or less? How does technology use differ around the world?
Researcher Dr Larissa Hjorth from RMIT University’s School of Media and Communication is a digital ethnographer – someone who charts cultures as technocultures.
She has explored the role of the user within case studies of mobile communication, gaming and virtual communities in the Asia-Pacific region since 2000.
“Each culture massages and transforms a technology. So devices such as the mobile phone are used in different ways according to the cultural context,” she said.
“An 18-year-old using a mobile phone in China will use it in a totally different way to 18-year-olds using their mobiles in Australia, Sweden or Japan.”
In 2009, for the first time, internet penetration rates in China surpassed the global average level with more than 298 million users (279 million being broadband users).
Over the past two year, China Internet Network Information Center (CINNC) statistics have noted a sharp increase in lower-income and less-educated people joining the internet community.
Social networking sites have also grown in popularity in China. Sites such as Xaionei (like Facebook, used predominantly by university students) and Kaixin (used by female, white-collar workers) and MSN are often used on a desktop, while sites called QQ and Fetion can be accessed via mobile phones and computers.
Dr Hjorth said: “QQ, in particular, has become a rite of passage for the migrating working class in China, as well as youth leaving home to study in another city or country.
“It has become glue for cross-generational class mobility, marketing a new pathway of lifestyle cultures in China.
“Not only is it – in almost all cases – the first social networking system (SNS) for the current generation of university students, it is the one they continue to use to maintain kinship relations and older ties despite the uptake of other SNS.
“QQ is not just a youth culture system, it is interwoven with issues of class and cross-generational factors and is part of the 21st century mediascape in China, whereby the dominant rise in the population of users are the working class,” she said.
Another research project Dr Hjorth is working on reconsiders how emerging practices such as keitai shosetsu (mobile phone novels) reflect, expand and remediate older media practices.
“In an age of convergent social media and user-created content there has been much hype and rhetoric about the potential subversion of traditional media and consumption/production concepts.
“The mobile phone has become both the symbol and the vehicle for these transformations around consumption and production ideas. It is indicative of broader socio-cultural shifts in which the ‘personal’ has become political.
“The recent deployment of twitter by the Iranian protesters was exemplary that no media, however ‘banal’ in its production, remains unstained by the politics of the personal,” Dr Hjorth said.