Popular culture, mobile advertising and the knowledge economy in africa


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Popular culture, mobile advertising and the knowledge economy in africa

  1. 1. Babatope Falade Pan Atlantic University Email-topefalade@gmail.com ABSTRACT Popular Culture, Mobile Advertising and the Knowledge Economy in Africa. Popular culture in Africa has become more dynamic with the internet as an intervening variable. The creation, distribution and commoditization of information/knowledge requires high technological skills and high communication technology investments in fibre-optics, broadband distribution and infrastructure. The stagnation of Africa on the telecommunications front and infrastructural deficit is being obliterated through geometric adoption of mobile phones. Mobile devices have served as a catalyst, helping Africa leapfrog advancements made by developed countries. Lately ,more data enabled phones are being shipped to Africa and the developments in the mobile adoption landscape has seen companies like Google, facebook , Eskimi and 2go set up shop in Africa. The population of Africa is projected by World Bank to be the youngest by 2015. These young people have previously orchestrated change in their societies through online platforms and more engage with mobile phones for retail activities ,communication and information. They are targeted by mobile advertising networks such as InMobi, Twinpine and Admob by understanding their tastes. The nature of popular culture and its deepening through the internet requires a new set of skills. This era of globalization demands knowledge for wealth creation, also information arbitrage is more effective and instantaneous on the internet. It is imperative to understand the requirements for a knowledge economy, and how the knowledge economy drives popular culture. The most critical understanding to be derived from this paper is how knowledge creation and innovation around the digital ecosystem and popular culture in Africa may prove to be disadvantageous in terms job exportation to countries that have the technological knowledge. This paper would also reflect on local innovations around popular culture as well as innovation systems in Africa. Keywords: Innovation, Knowledge Economy, Mobile, Advertising ,Popular Culture. 1.0 Introduction The significance of popular culture can be attributed to its association with mass culture which in turn derived based on the influence of the mass media in increasing distribution of leisure and cultural products. Strinati (2004). Pascal and Montaigne have identified the sources of the growth of mass culture to the 1920's and 1930's. This leads the conviction that the debate on popular culture and its origin are not entirely new. Lowenthal (1957), traced popular culture to the rise of a market economy. In a another vein Burke posits a modernist idea of popular culture to be that which is associated with the growth of national consciousness, where intellectuals made efforts to convert popular culture into national culture. The distinction, for example, between popular
  2. 2. culture and ‘high’ or ‘learned’ culture is to be found in this period in the writings of the German poet Herder (Burke 1978:p.8). 1.1 OBJECTIVES 1) Examine meaning and themes of popular culture 2) Appreciate the mobile advertising landscape 3) Draw links between the internet and popular culture 4) Make recommendations on how Africa should proceed in diversification into a knowledge economy, exploring the usefulness of popular culture. 1.2 METHODOLOGY This paper depended on secondary materials and expert opinion to address the objectives of the paper. 1.3 POPULAR CULTURE The mass culture came as an upheaval as a response to opinion leaders and elite to the repressive nature of mass media as a magic bullet, one that pierces the sensibilities of people in society.(Baran and Davis, 2010, p.138) This nature of rhetoric has been grouped under the mass society theories which assert that the mass media would disrupt order, most particularly the folk and high culture that were the hallmark of culture. Horn (2012, p.28) identifies two common features that are constant in the explanation of popular/mass culture; manipulation and the reach to all people. Mass society theorists often underscore the debilitating effects of industrialisation and urbanisation. They argue that the rise of large-scale and mechanised industrial production, and the growth of massive and densely populated cities, have geared the disruption and eroded the societies and values which previously held people together. They appreciate the gradual loss of elite/high culture and folk culture. William (1963) These radical changes included the eradication of agrarian work tied to the land, the destruction of the tightly knit village community, the decline of religion and the secularisation. (Webster 1988, pg. 5)
  3. 3. On the other hand , it would be reductionist to express the popular culture theory in its epistemology and ontology to be sourced only from the mass media and to assume its semioses is uniform, standardized. Strinati (2004) explains that three themes mark the development of popular culture. The first one, asks who determines popular culture, people expressing their autonomy or forced upon them as some form of social control; what we can call the technician perpetuated culture. The second angle to understanding the development of popular culture is by asking whether is rises up from people below or imposed by the elites above, or an interaction of both agencies. Thirdly, whether its arises from commercialisation of culture. The coming of the mass media and the increasing commercialisation of culture and leisure gave rise to issues, interests and debates which are still with us today. The growth of the idea of mass culture, very evident from the 1920s and 1930s onwards. Others argue that popular culture has always been with us, pointing to the ‘bread and circuses’ function of popular culture in the Roman empire. More convincingly, Burke suggests that the modern idea of popular culture is associated with the development of national consciousness in the late eighteenth century, and results from the attempt by intellectuals to turn popular culture into national culture. The distinction, for example, between popular culture and ‘high’ or ‘learned’ culture is to be found in this period in the writings of the German poet Herder (Burke 1978:8). According to (MacDonald 1957:60) "Folk art grew from below. It was a spontaneous, autochthonous expression of the people, shaped by themselves, pretty much without the benefit of High Culture, to suit their own needs. Mass Culture is imposed from above. It is fabricated by technicians hired by businessmen; its audiences are passive consumers, their participation limited to the choice between buying and not buying.… Folk Art was the people’s own institution, their private little garden walled off from the great formal park of their master’s High Culture. But Mass Culture breaks down the wall, integrating the masses into a debased form of High Culture and thus becoming an instrument of political domination".
  4. 4. Put simply, we can say that mass culture refers to popular culture which is produced by the industrial techniques of mass production, and marketed for profit to a mass public of consumers. It is commercial culture, mass produced for a mass market. Its growth means there is less room for any culture which cannot make money, and which cannot be mass produced for a mass market, such as art and folk culture. 1.4 THE INTERNET AND POPULAR CULTURE The progression of media from print till the rise of the internet surely has implications for popular/mass culture. The print, radio and television are characterized by mass dissemination of information, the radio and television media can reach large audiences of people, thus the audiences are commoditised based on ratings as appreciated by Dallas Smythe. Fuchs ( 2012) The internet revolution has redefined media and is inherently challenging mass society theory and upholding the limited effects theories which assert that the media only reinforce existing social trends. This is so because with the internet particularly web 2.0 people now produce and distribute content. The feedback mechanism in communication on the internet is immediate and people create new literal cultures with is evident on social media platforms such as facebook, twitter, BlackBerry Messenger. This new literal cultures and various fads in turn are exploited by advertisers and brands in the marketing campaigns. Terragon group in its research on the "State of Digital in Nigeria" identifies the figure of Nigerians with access to the internet to be 48,366,177 , Terragon (2013). Terragon also notes that the rise in the number of people with access to internet users came with investments in the West African Submarine Cable (WASC) , MainOne Cable, Glo-1 etc. Many of these access the internet through their mobile devices. Companies such as Google, Nokia, Apple and facebook have reviewed their business models and strategies to reflect the reality that the future is mobile. The future can never be mobile without the human factor of course. People through their feedback, tastes and behaviours through interactivity on various internet based media as well as usage of mobile and web applications. There is also a postmodernism angle to this discourse, with the attendant emphasis on style at the expense of substance; what (Harvey (1989:347–348) calls the "designers ideology". It is
  5. 5. germane to emphasize on style and visual stimulation considering the emphasis on design and beauty of products of information technology that are used to interact with cultural content. Such products include mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone, Android devices, blackberry, laptops etc. The devices are not the only items worth considering, the platforms, content, mobile applications etc all things that make the internet space attractive contribute towards creation and distribution of popular mass culture. The human computer interaction element is factored in the production of these devices and platforms. The content on these platforms takes note of existing culture; basic culture of greetings, relationship engineering and new modes of courtesy online. This is usually achieved by qualitative researchers such as ethnographers, through contextual design that is customer designed and derived through data from field work. (Chennail 2009, p. 2) The spread of the various technologies expresses the innovative capacity in today's knowledge economy and the inherent ability to get the devices into the hands of people globally. Most importantly, their spread and adoption amongst human computer interaction researchers means a satisfaction of psychological, sociological and information/communication theory requirements. Huang (2009) 2.0 MOBILE ADVERTISING IN AFRICA. The number of mobile subscriptions is almost the population of the world. We have 6.8billion mobile cellular subscriptions in a world with 7.1billion people. ITU (2013) ITU affirms that about more than half of that is in the Asia-Pacific region, with 3.5billion. The developed world has a penetration rate of 128%, while developing nations have a penetration rate of 89%. According to the international telecommunications body, Africa's penetration rate stood at 63%. The number of internet citizens stood at 2.7billion, with most of them being females globally. Mobile broadband penetration stands at 11%, while a meagre 93million people have internet connection in Africa; a continent of over 1billion people.
  6. 6. Asides the disparity between the actual population and mobile broadband subscription in Africa, the region still has higher growth rate compared to other regions. The adoption of mobile broadband increased from 2% in 2010 to 10% in 2013. ITU (2013) The implication of the figures expressed by the telecommunications body is that more internet businesses would spring up in Africa. They are already here with the likes of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Addynamo doing web and mobile businesses in Nigeria According to Frost (2010) "In Africa, mobile ad revenue is estimated to be at $2 billion by 2014. As with the Asia- Pacific region, SMS-based campaigns are leading the way in mobile advertising. However, due to the number of prepaid users in developing countries and the high costs of data services other forms of richer media mobile advertising doesn’t seem to be a viable option yet." The subject of interest here is the mobile platforms/device. They are most important, because they would determine largely through their pervasiveness the future of internet business, connectivity between people, locally and globally. As a matter of concern to us, they would be very influential in shaping, creating and distributing cultural and political products-by social I mean, engineering revolutions, political advocacy etc. Greg Lindsay (2012) at a gathering in America explained how China fuelled the Arab spring. China has pirate phone producers who had saturated the Chinese market and looked for ways to develop their markets. The next stop was the Persian gulf and Arab states, the outcome- The Arab Spring. Here, we are concerned with the consumer ethic and why people consumes and what fuels consumption. Gitlin (2009) Campbell (1989) "Consumption—what we buy and what determines what we buy—is increasingly influenced by popular culture because popular culture increasingly determines consumption. For example, we watch more films because of the extended ownership of VCRs, while advertising, which makes increasing use of popular cultural references, plays a more important role in deciding what we will buy".
  7. 7. The mobile device can be said to be fulfilling the utility of VCR's and their forms of media. Media convergence, mobile devices, data enableness and increased investment and lowering of barriers of mobile phone acquisition would give more access to people in the society and the culture they engineer popularly. The mobile advertising landscape in Africa is dominated by foreign companies such as Buzzcity,Admob, Bloovue, and Twinpine- an indigenous Nigerian Pan-African mobile advertising network. In an interview with Twinpine publisher lead- Gabriel Dada, I learnt that the mobile advertising model requires thorough knowledge of data regarding specific types of mobile operating systems, such as J2me,Android, iOS and Blackberry , original equipment manufacturers, advertisers needs and publishers. He said they target people based on data on specific time of usage of mobile internet, which most people according to Terragon (2013) use late evenings. The nature of products to be advertised is also considered. If it is a product that appeals to women, the ads are served on a publishers platform that has a large number of female visitors. Speed is also considered as people may not be tolerant enough with low bandwidth or endless referrals to get what they want on such platforms. With mobile advertising, there is a need for intelligence and consumer insight and how they want to interact with the mobile interface. Huang (2009) 3.0 IMPLICATIONS OF INTERNET GROWTH , POPULAR CULTURE AND THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY In short, a knowledge economy is one that creates, disseminates, and uses knowledge to enhance its growth and competitiveness. Dahlman and Utz (2005). The concept of knowledge economy should not be mistaken to be a new thing. According to Mansell, the proliferation of knowledge workers and tools necessitate for policies and further studies on political economy of the internet to be made.
  8. 8. Peter Drucker (1999) identified Frederick Taylor Winslow to be the first to appreciate the use of knowledge to boost productivity. He asserts that the entire debate about knowledge economies is largely about "productivity". America according to him was the revolutionary i setting the pace for other countries such as Germany, then Japan to improve manufacturing processes. The first global proof of the need for knowledge work lay in the ingenuity of America in fighting Germany. America had more troops to fight Hitler and they were producing more war equipment to prosecute the war. Drucker says application of Taylorism increased productivity 50 times than what obtained. The term knowledge economy however became popular with Fritz Machlup's seminal work "Production and distribution of knowledge in the United States" in 1962. Much of his work reflected on the growing role of information. The methodology he employed dwelt on growth accounting, instead of the popularly sanctioned "national accounting tool". Knowledge economy research recognizes that knowledge is not accommodated within the production function and is considered largely as an extraneous factor. However, the World Bank has developed a "Knowledge Assessment Methodology" to compute how countries are faring in the various indices that the "KAM" addresses. They assign the "Knowledge Economy Index" based on their calculations. These indices include ; Economic Incentives, Innovation Systems, Education and Information. They use these various factors to understand the state of the knowledge economy in various countries Dahlman and Utz (2005). The Scandinavian countries have been consistent in rankings as they excel in the various indices. Currently, Scandinavian countries rank top five, with Sweden coming first. South Africa comes first as an African country and ranks 67 on the scale. Nigeria ranks a distant 119, with Tunisia, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Kenya and Senegal ranking: 80, 85, 89, 107, 111 and 114 respectively. World Bank (2012) The economic incentive regime perpetuated by the World Bank seeks to encourage government to support initiatives that are largely based or ancillary to knowledge work or services sector within a country. The education element of seeks to ensure more school enrolment and funding of educational institutions. Innovation systems drive the knowledge economy according to the world bank, hence the increase in number of patents, scientific breakthroughs, individual or corporate innovations in all spheres including the creative economy are acknowledged.
  9. 9. Information infrastructures no doubt play a huge role in dissemination of knowledge when it is produced. They also constitute the production of innovations or new knowledge itself. The information infrastructure component itself has received more attention and more power seems to be skewed to it. It requires a certain level of cognition for some workings of it to be exchanged and the most fundamental skill in this age- programming originates from its dynamics. Countries such as India have become the headquarters of outsourcing for information services and others have adapted knowledge to improve production of various products. Countries like Kenya and South-Africa have proven themselves to be leaders in the areas of mobile money and creative economy and mining respectively. The need for Africa to establish itself in the knowledge economy space cannot be over- emphasized, because the commodities led livelihood is too fickle. Drucker (1999) acknowledges the importance of manufacturing , but asserts that countries that would have the greatest competitive edge are those who create and manage knowledge better. In this case, not only explicit knowledge, which is formal knowledge, but also tacit knowledge which is inarticulate knowledge that only a certain level of knowledge workers are more capable of. This brings us to what UNESCO(2005), traces to be a cognition requisite that ensures the production of highly skilled workers. Thus we need to ask whether our curriculum accommodates for the type of sectors that are booming in today's world; entertainment and cultural industries, database systems, information technology which requires huge tacit knowledge base. How can all of these utilize If programming is the language the world speaks, how many can speak it in Africa? How can we get a critical mass to avoid outsourcing services and software creation to the tune of billions of dollars such as Nigeria. ICT Policy (2012) It is imperative that we assess the political economy of knowledge creation in Africa. The sources of popular culture Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo etc are not African. Though they are creating jobs, the economic implication in the long run would see Africa to be a continent that has the best consumer ethic and not a producer ethic. We have our successes, where Safaricom's M- PESA in Kenya has been recorded to be a global success. Hillary Clinton has labelled it as a "brilliant innovation" and wondered why it wasn't in America. Nevarajan (2012) According to Dan Senor and Saul Singers (2009) book- Start up Nation a small nation such as Israel get more venture capital 350 times more than China, 8times more than United States of America. Africa is a continent of over 1billion
  10. 10. 4.0 CONCLUSION In a world that is largely driven by competitiveness, cultural perpetuation and capitalism, the attendant effects of globalization is felt in every corner. Therefore, it becomes imperative that the understanding of popular culture its political economy and technological considerations are grasped at every point in time to design policy means through which society may grapple with them. The spheres for consideration largely are the creative industries, education and cognitive development, innovation, economic incentives, ICT infrastructure and policies that govern these areas. The appraisal of the knowledge economy should not be restricted to broadband and IT initiatives. UNESCO (2005). The possibilities of engaging rural populations with previous media as well as setting up telecentres where IT professionals can engage people through e- governance mechanisms and knowledge diffusion innovation is imperative. Above all, African countries need to have deliberate plans to ensure technology and knowledge transfer through engagements with trade partners. South Africa seems to be the only nation with a knowledge economy policy in Africa. Nigeria does not have a knowledge economy policy, neither does Kenya, though Kenya has some knowledge economy actions, just like Nigeria. The determination of cultural rejuvenation to support policy directions need to be established and clear as possible. In Japan, they have Kaizen. In China, they have gone through a cultural revolution. In Africa, we need to determine the cultural, not only economic direction. Popular culture must not be seen only from the angle of harmful effects on morals, music and fads alone. It must be seen as a tool for competitiveness for Africa and its diasporas. There are the choices of scholarly emphasis on the effects of popular culture on societal values as mass theory bothers, the tendency of production of hybrid citizens and the economic potentials of popular culture. Bearing that in mind, it's evident we have a lot of considerations to support our judgement. To this end the town and gown in Africa must co-create ideas to leapfrog Africa into the knowledge economy. Finally, with the current dearth of African grown knowledge, we must ensure proper channelling of Africans in the diasporas, knowledge transfer, engagement of our rural
  11. 11. populace with conventional media such as radio and TV with local content, then we must encourage the design of our educational curriculum to accommodate the logic behind the current dispensation of the spread of popular culture through the internet platforms- programming. Programming is the fundamental thing that engenders innovation in this age. Until we get hold of it, we would keep exporting billions of foreign money abroad and be grateful for it. We can engineer a new generation of humans that can make Africa the headquarters of the knowledge economy and outsourcing just like India is currently. Africa's population would double by 2050 according for Fareed Zakaria (2013). The implication of this is that Africa would either have a population of consumers of popular culture and economic products or producers and consumers of such since there is a widespread cultural and economic exchange. If I were a policy maker, I would obviously choose the latter. Choosing it is easier, pursuing, implementing and evaluating is the real task. Many things need to be done obviously, we need to act fast and precisely because the world we now live in demands it. The knowledge economy demands it.
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