Technology Watch

The world at your fingertips and in your face

The new face of learning
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The leaders of the future live with the world at their fingertips and, so to speak, permanently in their faces.

That this new reality has far-reaching socio-economic implications on a wide variety of fronts, emerged from the just-released 2015 Student Tech Survey, conducted across South African tertiary education institutions by World Wide Worx and Student Brands, with the support of Standard Bank. More than 2 300 students participated in the survey.

Although the survey was in the first instance aimed at establishing trend lines for changes in the student technology landscape, it also reveals changing social patterns and developing new realities – with implications ranging from marketing to personal issues like pressures on private space and family relationships.

To what extent new mobile technology is impacting on the lives of especially the next generation is revealed by some of the key findings of the survey.

It found that most students regard smart phones as not only useful for communication but also for assistance with school work:

  •  89% said smart phones and social media helped them research better;
  •  67% said that it helped them increase their knowledge of the subjects they were studying;
  •  60% said it helps them with sharing information; and
  • 38% said it gives them a channel for discussions with lecturers.

 According to Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, “Technology delivers both the positive and negative for students. The overwhelming finding of the survey, though, is that it enhances their academic and social lives and their lifestyles in general.”

Facebook’s dominance in the social network space was confirmed by the survey, with 97% of the respondents saying they use it, followed by Twitter at 67%, YouTube at 44% and Instagram at 40%.

“The survey is a powerful indication that the student market – which comprises future working professionals – is embracing social networking. It is therefore important to note that social networking will become a central component of any services provided to this market in the future,” said Vuyo Mpako, head of Innovation and Channel Design at Standard Bank.

However, the tendency in the last number of years by South African banks to discourage their customers to physically visit branches and to move interaction online seems to meet with some resistance. Visiting a bank branch remained the most popular form of getting information from the banks at 58%, telephonic assistance second at 51% and the website third, with 42%. Social media was still far down the list, at only 9%.

Positives and negatives

Despite the claims that smart phones helped with research, increased knowledge of subjects studied, sharing of information and contact with lectures, a quarter of students acknowledged that they gave their smart phones and social networks priority over studying for tests and exams, a quarter also admitted using these during lectures instead of paying attention. One in five said they were emotionally affected by what they saw or shared on social media.

It is also on this front that the mobile technology is often impacting negatively on the quality of personal social life and personal interaction. With one’s friends and contacts, so to speak, permanently in your face, it narrows down the private space and often intrudes negatively on person-to-person and family time.

With it becoming increasingly difficult (indeed almost impossible) to take a break or breather from a circle of friends during times of arguments, disagreements or strained relations, stress levels can increase dramatically.

On the key questions of so-called ‘digital addiction’, only 11% admitted to being “very addicted” to social networking, a further 43% said they were “a little addicted”. Instant messaging, on the other hand, saw almost double the proportion (20%) admitting to “being very addicted”. Just over a third, or 35%, said they were “a little addicted”.

Biometric information

On another front, while South Africa is one of several countries which during recent years launched efforts to create a central register of its population’s biometric information, Pakistan has become the first to use mobile networks for this effort.

In its battle with the Islamic militant Taliban and concerned about the role of untraceable SIM cards in terrorist activities, the Pakistani government has  ordered mobile phone users to verify their identities through fingerprints for a national database.

It is a massive operation with some 103 million of these cards in use, just about equalling the country’s population. Over the past six weeks 53 million of the cards, belonging to 38 million residents have been verified through biometric screening. The aim is to complete the operation by 15 April this year.

South Africans might just see a mutation of the present Rica-process when buying a new mobile phone in the not too distant future.

by Piet Coetzer

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