I remember when I got my first mobile phone, the size of a packet of butter, weighing down my school blazer pocket in a reassuring way that meant I always knew that I had it with me; but the size and weight of my blue Nokia was irrelevant as the evolution in the way I could communicate with friends completely transformed my teenage life. No more knocking on doors or relying on landlines, you could now send a text message and find out exactly where someone was at any time of day. Life became about mobile top ups, text slang and the latest phone cover, the days of meeting at the canal bridge or waiting on the corner to meet people was long gone.
Papua New Guineas embrace with new ways of communicating is still in much earlier days but mobile phones are everywhere. Cheap handsets became readily available in 2007 and communicating by text boomed, but the recent introduction of affordable smart phones has changed the landscape of the way young people speak to each other. Text bundles make messaging cheap at around 20p for 50 messages and data bundles make access to the Internet affordable 75p for 60MB. In university you see students absorbed in their Alcatel One Touch Pixi’s checking Facebook but as well as transforming young people’s communication, mobile phones have had an incredible part to play in keeping people in touch in remote communities.
Currently around 76% of PNG has mobile phone coverage. Bulk messaging has significant benefit within development work to improve education, health, agriculture, employment, banking and even gender equality. It has been used to great effect by Voluntary Services Overseas within education as part of the SMS story project where teachers were sent daily text messages to improve literacy and the Language Support Program has embraced social media and bulk messaging to communicate the progress of the project to lecturers and trainee teachers.
There are barriers to mobile phone usage but there are unique ways for people to overcome the challenges. Where power is limited, people can come to towns and pay to have their phones charged! And having no credit needn’t stop you, as you have an allowance of 20 please call me texts per week if you dial *126*.
The novelty of mobile phone use really hasn’t worn off and anyone who has lived in PNG will be familiar with the random, relentless calls at any time of day or night where someone is dialing unknown numbers in an attempt to strike up a phone friendship. In remote settings Digicel, the leading PNG phone provider, has found that people use the free balance messaging service even when they haven’t used their phone as a way of getting information and for something to do. And capturing a photo on your handset is still exciting!
Young people have also come up with a unique number based code system to send greetings to each other. Not only do they use abbreviated Tok Pisin to formulate their messages, they also use a system of numbers to share messages. This is also used when writing notes as well as for text messaging. I’m probably a bit old to be down with the kids in the UK with how they use their phones but I really like these fun short cuts for sending messages:
143 (43) – I love you
99 – Goodnight
60 – Hurry up
19/9 – Nothing
72 – Same to you
82 – Hate you
3 – ID yourself
24 – No credit
100 – Urgent
3 – Yes (three letter word)
2 – No (two letter word)
91 – Nice one
Communication by numbers. 43, 99 🙂