Spectacularly Mobile: Narratives of New Media and Africa

Jennifer Blaylock
Film and Media
UC Berkeley

Today, on the pages of technology blogs and the lips of international development workers, is a reoccurring question: Can mobile phones save Africa? Yet, this is not a new question. Sociologists and communications scholars have asked similar questions about radio, cinema, and television. Rather than trying to answer whether mobile phones can save Africa, my dissertation explores why this question reappears with each new media technology and how this question produces a spectacular narrative of “new media” and “Africa.” At the center of this dissertation is the question: How has the concept of “Africa” structured global understandings of new media over time? I draw on specific examples from Ghana to consider how the apparent contradiction between simultaneous descriptions of new media as a shrinking of space and as a marker of distance is essential to understanding how new media are made meaningful as devices with the potential to “save.”