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Mobile Youth by Graham Brown - Download the First 2 Chapters Completely Free


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Graham Brown, digital anthroplogist and research ethnographer, documents his global travels into the world of youth mobile culture from the US to Japan. Visit:

Graham Brown, digital anthroplogist and research ethnographer, documents his global travels into the world of youth mobile culture from the US to Japan. Visit:

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  • 1. Download sample chapters from the book
  • 2. The Mobile YouthVoices of the Mobile Generation by Graham Brown SAMPLE CHAPTERS
  • 3. The Mobile Youth Copyright: Graham Brown Published: 1st Oct 2012 Publisher: mobileYouthThe right of Graham Brown to be identified as author of this Work has been assertedby her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrievalsystem, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher. You must not circulate this book in any format.
  • 4. CHAPTER 1: ANHUI, CHINAIn the early hours of Friday April 29 2011, 17 year old high-school student XiaoZheng returned to his family’s apartment in Anhui province in Eastern China.Without disturbing his sleeping mother, he crept into his room, placed a dustytravel bag beside his unmade bed and fell into a deep sleep.Less than a year later, Zheng was lying in a hospital bed, lethargic and short ofbreath, fighting for his life as his body slowly shut down with organ failure.As the local media unraveled Zheng’s story, a picture of modern China began toemerge. On the surface, the Zhengs were like any other aspirant Chinese family.They had uprooted themselves from their home town in search of betterprospects in a bigger city. They had made sacrifices and often spent monthsliving apart. But as every unearthed nugget of evidence helped build a clearerpicture of what really happened to Xiao Zheng that day, journalists andaudiences alike were less interested in the details and more in why it happened.Anhui may have had its fair share of vices, but Zheng was a good kid who fewwould have gravitated towards trouble. Even so, his mother would constantlyremind him of the life-damning consequences of failure. Like many of hisgeneration, Zheng’s life was dominated by study and tests. He worked hard andachieved reasonable grades at high school. He rarely socialized: his peersdescribed him as well-mannered and often quiet. There were never any realissues with discipline apart from an occasional argument at home that was putdown to either adolescent exuberance or the absence of Zheng’s father who hadto work away from home 50 weeks a year to support his family.After being approached by a local newspaper, Zheng’s mother told a storytinged with sorrow and anger at her son’s degeneration. Perhaps she failed himby not being aware of his condition. Perhaps it was the fault of the light-touchparenting of Zheng’s itinerant father and his lack of meaningful communicationwith his only child. Of course, Zheng’s mother was used to the erratic behaviorof a growing teenager, but when Zheng had been absent for two days with noforewarning or contact, alarm bells began to ring.“I asked my son where he had been,” she said. “I heard him return at a strangehour and naturally I was suspicious, but I waited until the morning to confronthim in his bedroom. He didn’t answer, just stared blankly at his computerscreen. It’s then I noticed his travel bag.”
  • 5. “‘What’s in it?’ I asked. But he refused to answer me, so I grabbed it andemptied it out right there on the bed. Cash, a new iPhone and an iPad. I wasshocked. Where did he get the money to buy this?”“‘Is it drugs?’ I asked. He just shook his head. My mind was franticallysearching for answers. Drugs, gangs, theft, gambling, prostitution? I couldn’twork out how a teenager could afford these luxuries. He spent more than myhusband and I earned in a month.”Zheng’s mother went on to describe a lengthy interrogation, after which Zhengbroke his silence and confessed:“My son broke down into tears. ‘Mom’ he said to me, ‘I’ve done somethingreally stupid.’ I naturally thought he had stolen them and started panicking,worrying if the police would come to our door. But it’s then he lifted his T-shirtto reveal a large swollen scar with bright pink stitches running from his spine tohis hip. I felt the blood fall out of my body. It wasn’t real. I kept thinking, ‘No!This isn’t real.’ I felt like the world was crashing down around my family.”The subsequent newspaper headlines confirmed the reality:“Teen Sells Kidney for iPad2.”Only when Shenzhen TV finally tracked down the young boy did they manageto ask the question on everyone’s lips, ‘Why?’“I wanted to buy an iPad 2, but I didn’t have the money.” he told the TV crew,“When I surfed the internet I found an advert posted by an agent saying theywere able to pay RMB 20,000 to buy a kidney.”Black market online agents were offering money to young Chinese students tobecome organ donors. After making contact, Zheng made the trip to a hospitalin another province and following the removal of his kidney, he returned toAnhui with around $3,300 in cash.Local police enquiries led to Chenzhou 198 Hospital’s urological department,which, it later transpired, was not qualified to perform organ transplants.According to news sources, the department was contracted to a local Fujianbusinessman who subsequently vanished into the shadows from where he came.In May 2012, Zheng was admitted to hospital with renal failure as hisremaining kidney struggled to filter his body’s toxins. Not only is he now so
  • 6. weak that he can’t attend school, but he has discovered that he was sizablyshortchanged on the deal. A black market kidney can fetch up to $160,000.But this tale isn’t one of Zheng’s personal losses. According to the ChineseMinistry of Health, there are 1.5 million organ transplant requests every year,but only 10,000 of these are performed legally. Many people travel overseas,but significant numbers engage with the underworld to provide cheaper andquicker fixes. China’s black market organ trade has always had a supply ofdesperate donors: from poverty stricken rural families to indebted gamblers.But just as the country’s miraculous economic growth is providing new optionsto those without hope, it’s also teeing up a new set of potential donors: theyouth. Students were easy prey; they were young, slightly foolish and... justlook at the Retina display on the new iPad!By the time today’s Chinese school children graduate, their country will be theworld’s largest economy. This future is built in the workshops of the world: inthe provinces of old Canton where our 42” Plasma LCD TVs, Macbook Airsand mobile phones are made. This is a future where technology provideseconomic opportunities and should be a dependable servant for this generationand their children.Yet, in their quest to meet the world’s demand for technology, families areleaving children in the care of grandparents so that the breadwinners can moveto bigger cities in search of work. In provinces like Anhui, there are 138 boysfor every 100 girls at primary school. Nobody asks why there are so few girls,the statistics are clear. The necessity for digital progress is steamrollingeverything analogue: the villages, the old Hutong communities and traditionalfamily relationships.Yu Hai, a sociologist from Shanghais Fudan University, warned concernedparents that trying to halt the rising tide of materialism could further propagateirrational behavior:“Young people can be overwhelmed by its use for game playing and can dosomething stupid if their parents dont buy them an iPad.”Xiao Zheng is one of the 500 million Chinese aged under 35 who will own thefuture. These 500 million are growing up in a world of vast change. It’s a worldwhere success isn’t defined by nebulous concepts like happiness, duty orfamily, but by the cold, hard, binary realities of academic performance andmoney.
  • 7. Xiao Zheng’s story is one example of a wider shift in the lifestyles of the nextgeneration. Their behaviors are merely the frustrated voice of disquiet. Forthose who don’t care to understand, Xiao Zheng is the product of a materialisticgeneration bent on owning the shiniest objects in a consumerist fantasy.Technology is the obvious target.“I couldn’t wait for Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs to die of cancer”, said Billie JoeArmstrong, lead singer of American punk band Green Day when asked why heencouraged his audience to question the rise of technology in our lives,“because technology is ruining everything.”I open my Macbook and Google Xiao Zheng’s story. Everyone has an opinion.It’s Apple’s fault for “pushing” these devices on the kids. It’s the marketingindustry’s fault. It’s society. It’s the Chinese. It’s the fault of one stupid greedyteenage boy. These comments reflect a palpable dis-ease. We are quick to blamewhat we don’t fully understand.“Steve Jobs is pure evil,” remarked one commenter on an internet forum.“Kinda like a Jedi knight gone bad, the proverbial Darth Vader whos probablymind-controlling people to buy Apple crap.”So what does the future hold? What hope is there for our planet when our futurerulers are at the whim of a proverbial Darth Vader and would trade their organsfor the latest gizmo that shines brightly in the advertising? What compassion dowe afford to a generation who, according to many pundits, are interested innothing more than fulfilling their insatiable materialistic desire for technology,brands and trends?It’s easy to see Mobile Youth as the story of a generation of digital nativesdefined by an obsessive relationship with technology that rewrites the socialrulebook and “ruins everything”. But this isn’t the story I want to tell. I want totell the untold story. This is the “why?” story the media often fails to address.Perhaps what youth like Xiao Zheng really want isn’t mobile phones and iPads,but the analogue existence that has been lost in the rampant march towardsprogress: hanging out in a friend’s bedroom, playing with cousins in the park orsomething as simple as the touch of a hand. The rise of technology isn’tundermining the social fabric of society. Technology’s rise is a response to ourloss of a meaningful social world.
  • 8. CHAPTER 2: HACHIKO EXIT, SHIBUYA JAPANThe US outranks Japan 50:1 when it comes to the number of domestic lawyers,even though Japan is only half its size. In Japan, this is called wa, or as weknow it, harmony. It’s the social code that prioritizes belonging over the need tostand up for your individual principles. Following the 2011 Touhokuearthquake, journalists visiting Japan were astonished by the absence of lootingwhen the desperation on the broken streets was juxtaposed with the wealth ofconsumer gadgetry in the vacant stores. But wa is not all good. Wa meanssucking it up and not saying what you really think. Wa means a teenage girl willremain silent as a pervert feels her up whilst roaming the crowded subway traintaking “upskirt” photographs.Here, at the Hachiko Exit at Shibuya Station, Tokyo is a sea of humanityadhering to the principles of harmony. I came here nearly 20 years ago in searchof a future that lay in the miracles economies of the East; a young graduate, fullof optimism and curiosity, wanting to see what lay beyond the hole in the fence.It was the mid-1990s and the beginning of the communications revolution that,by the end of 2010, would put one billion mobile phones into the hands of theworld’s youth. Here is where I learned that this revolution isn’t the domain oftechnology, but of people. Communications isn’t an industry, but what peopledo on a day-to-day basis.Amongst the waves of people dressed in muted tones spilling out into the lightfrom the airless underground are mottled clusters of vivid pink and yellow.Girls in loud jackets and improbably high platform heels gather round a smallmobile phone screen, concealing their laughs with orange-tanned hands. Forsome, this is just a sea of people milling around a narrow, crowded concoursewith convenient stainless steel ash stands and topiaries dressing the border. Forme, however, and those curious about the unwritten code of human behavior,this is an insight into the social nature of mankind. This is communication, yetthe industry that makes $400 billion a year from the world’s under 30s knowslittle about how it works.Guided safely by the unfailing mechanical heartbeat of the electronic clock, themillion-strong army of multi-colored ants moves from the concourse and waitspatiently by the Hachiko crossing. Advertisers have precisely 30 seconds toblast their messages at the audience staring up at the 20-meter high screens. Avoice extols the virtues of CC Lemon, a sugary beverage with 50 times therecommended daily allowance of vitamin C. The messages are occasionallydrowned out by the ubiquitous auto-tuned J-Pop harmonies cascading fromabove or by the chorus of an arriving subway train, never late, chiming its two-
  • 9. bar melody. I read that if you added together the two-bar melodies of all thestations on the central Yamanote line you could form a complete musical score.As the lights change, eager shoppers, gaggles of excited high school girls andtime-pressed salarymen begin to move on cue as if engaged in a performancefor the Olympic opening ceremony. They have 60 seconds to traverse theinfamous “X” crossing. The clock ticks:55...54...53…The crowd begins to thin. Stragglers pick up the pace.40...39...38...They speed up their march, following a consumerist pheromone trail up the hilltowards the Marui and Isetan department stores.25...24...23…A lone cyclist wearing pristine white gloves and a surgical facemask brings upthe rear.2...1...0.The lights turn green and a mass of cars once again reclaims the crossing. Thecycle begins again.Every day, more than four million people, or the entire population of LosAngeles, pass through this strip of concrete, no more than 100 meters in width.With admirable orchestration, they pour out of the world’s busiest station, partof the world’s busiest mass transit system, into the world’s biggest city.50% of the world’s mobile-owning youth live in Asia. But this is not a storyabout Asia. Japanese high school girls clutch mobile phones designed by Applein California and manufactured by a Chinese company as they head over theHachiko crossing in search of handbags made by a nineteenth-century Frenchbrand, Louis Vuitton. It’s not Asia’s story because these mobile phone owningteenagers have much more in common with their foreign peers than they dowith their parents. This diaspora that appears so removed from our own world,ultimately will both shape it and become it. So this is a story of the future thatchallenges many of the notions that seemed to hold in the pre-digital era.
  • 10. 61% of the world’s youth sleep with their mobile phones. In my years ofresearching young people’s mobile behavior, I’ve witnessed the gamut ofqualitative answers that reinforce this statistic: the phone under the pillow, thephone on the nightstand or even cuddling the handset like a teddy bear. Back inthe early 2000s, parents scoffed at this behavior, but by the next decade theywere doing it themselves, including the sitting-on-the-toilet-reading-the-phonefirst thing in the morning routine. In bed, on the toilet, on the bus, after sex.There’s an app for that.So, what drives this future? Ask a technologist and the answer will liesomewhere between 4G and 4.5G. Ask an ad agency executive and you’ll besold a big idea like “design thinking” or the term for whatever comes after“Generation Z”. There are plenty of books written about these concepts, butwhat I want to share is the story from the eyes of the youth. Why are youthspending $400 billion a year on communication and where is it going? Thereare more mobile owning youth in the world than people in China. That’s asignificant market, but what of their individual voices? What’s really happeningat the grassroots level?So why am I here in Tokyo? Progress is born of frustration. "Dont be sogloomy," said Harry Lime, the sinister anti-hero of Graham Greenes The ThirdMan, "in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murderand bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and theRenaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years ofdemocracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."At the grassroots level, Tokyo appears to be anything but frustrated. TheHachiko crossing is a testament to the triumph of harmony. Despite the scale ofthis mass movement of people, the atmosphere is crowded, but never intense.Unlike New York, there are no mad stampedes or pedestrians enraged by amisplaced elbow. There is negligible crime, no homeless people begging forspare change and the police are conspicuous by their absence. In their place arampant sentinel towers over the square.Here, local food is wa-shoku with the wa standing for anything Japanese.Although wa may have been forged by the collective needs of feudal ricefarming communities, the idea runs deep into how this society organizes itsurban future. When visitors first experience the modern megacities of Asia theyoften comment on how, despite the sheer numbers of people battling for thesame resources, trains are never late and no garbage is left on the street. Inplace of drudgery and a life at the whims of the seasons, these cities offerpleasure and safety. There are plenty of diversions to fulfil your fantasies, from
  • 11. gaming arcades to stores of all descriptions. The toil of agriculture has givenway to the convenience of technology: vending machines that speak to you,automatic doors in every store and mobile phones in every pocket.So, where is the pain that drives this generation to innovate? If Japanese societyis so well balanced, then why were Japanese youth buying and innovatingmobile technologies back in the 1990s, perhaps 5 to 10 years ahead of theirWestern counterparts? By 2000, Japan and Korea had high-speed mobileinternet when the rest of the world was struggling with 9kbps WAPconnections. Japan’s leading mobile carrier had an app store back in 1998, tenyears before Apple opened its first.To find answers we need to go beyond the shiny future we’ve built in the citiesand see what we’ve left behind. In the distant rice fields where the villagersgather to earn a communal shilling by hard labor, the summer provides richtreasures for the senses: the shrill chorus of cicadas in the pine trees, the leavesrustling in the cool mountain air and the soft cackle of villagers. By contrast,young people growing up in Tokyo today know only the piped bird song thattweets from small high performance speakers on telegraph poles, the drone offemale announcers wafting across the airwaves from distant mobile phone pop-up stores and the constant cries of Irrashaimase (“come in, you are welcome”)from store owners. If Tokyo, a city of 30 million people, offers us a snapshot ofour urban future, it’s a future that is unnatural yet efficient, secure andharmonious.However, accommodating such large numbers of people harmoniously requireda trade-off. Asia had to forsake its rich communal past, replete with socialinfrastructure based on established relationships, for an efficient, mobile,negotiated urban future. It’s this trade-off that has created the pain felt. It’s afuture that’s largely agnostic to its geographical heritage; there are moreboutiques per square kilometer than Paris, more dandy street fashions than canbe found in Shoreditch in London and more ladies walking well-manicuredpooches than in New York. We could be anywhere, even Seattle, from here,high up at Starbucks on my perch overlooking the Hachiko Exit.Progress takes with one hand, while giving with the other. In the villages, ruralJapanese would call out “auntie”, “uncle” or “younger brother” to strangersfrom other towns. The old folk would stop outside the local store and pass oninformation about the weather, planting or neighbors. Today, however, Japan’syoung generation leave the comfortable bosom of their rural villages and headto the bright lights of Tokyo to live in tiny studio apartments and work 14-hour
  • 12. days. They find themselves lost in a sea of familiar strangers; surrounded bymany people, but ultimately alone.
  • 13. CHAPTER 3: POKEBERU – TOKYO, JAPANLESSON 1She totters through the doorway, eyes fixed on the floor, but occasionallyglancing at the rest of us sitting at the far end of the room.“This is Ms Ryoko,” says my manager, beckoning the girl towards the table.I check my watch. Ten minutes until the end of the lesson. As my managerleaves, Ryoko takes a seat and nods respectfully without raising her gaze. Sherummages in her Louis Vuitton bag and pulls out two objects. The first is animmaculate English textbook still in its plastic wrapper. The second is a smallpink gadget that she clasps in her right hand. She has one eye on the pinkgadget as it beeps.“Right, shall we continue with our listening exercise?” I say.All eyes down.“Phone calls: Making appointments.”Ryoko stares at the pink gadget, pretends to follow the text with her mechanicalpencil, then stares back at the gadget. She flashes a quick look up at me,realizes that I’ve been watching her all the while and sheepishly returns thegadget to her bag.Time for conversation practice. Ryoko moves to a neighboring table with Kazu,a boyish-looking girl with short, black hair and a baggy sweater with “Oakland”emblazoned across the front. In direct contrast, Ryoko could have walkedstraight out of a Japanese manga cartoon: peroxide white hair and a deep tan.Whereas Kazu is 100% cosmetic free, every inch of Ryoko is somehow adornedwith sparkly eye shadow, nail gels and temporary tattoos of love hearts, cuteanimals and teardrops. Whilst Kazu pads around the room in her comfortablesneakers, every movement Ryoko makes is accompanied by a chorus oftrinkets, charms and gadgets. A small enamel panda with a high-pitched rattlehangs from one of her silver bracelets.You are reading sample chapters from my new book: “The Mobile Youth”to find out how you get the whole book go here: