The mobile phone : the new communication drum of Papua New Guinea

Watson, Amanda Hazel Ann (2011) The mobile phone : the new communication drum of Papua New Guinea. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis examines the role of mobile telephony in rural communities in Papua New Guinea (PNG). It is a threshold study which reports on research conducted in the earliest stages of mobile phone adoption in these areas. It explores the ways in which this new technology changes people’s lives, social structures and relationships. The research focuses on non-urban communities, which previously had little or no access to modern communication technologies, but which are in some cases still using traditional forms of communication such as drums. It has found that the introduction of mobile telecommunications has generally been viewed positively, although several negative concerns have been strongly felt. Specific benefits related to enhanced communication with relatives and friends living away from home villages, and use of the technology in time-critical emergencies or crises. Difficulties have arisen with respect to the cost of owning and operating a handset, as well as financial and logistical challenges when recharging handset batteries, particularly in areas with no mains electricity supply. Perceived damaging effects of mobile phone access related to sex, crime and pornography.

The changes taking place are described through a social lens, by foregrounding the perceptions of villagers. The perspectives of key informants, such as telecommunication company managers, are also discussed. Employing the technique of triangulation (using different methods and sources) has helped to validate the findings of the research project. The sources constantly overlap and agree on the main themes, such as those outlined above.

PNG is a developing country which performs poorly on a wide range of development indicators. A large majority of the people live outside of the major towns and cities. It is therefore worthwhile investigating the introduction of mobile phone technology in rural areas. These areas often have poor access to services, including transport, health, education and banking. Until 2007, communities in such regions fell outside of mobile phone coverage areas. In the case of all ten villages discussed in this thesis, there has never been any landline telephone infrastructure available. Therefore, this research on mobile phones is in effect documenting the first ever access to any kind of phone in these communities.

This research makes a unique contribution to knowledge about the role of communication in PNG, and has implications for policy, practice and theory. In the policy arena, the thesis aids understanding of the impact which communication sector competition and regulation can have on rural and relatively isolated communities. There are three practical problems which have emerged from the research: cost, battery recharging difficulties and breakage are all major obstacles to uptake and use of mobile telephony in rural communities. Efforts to reduce usage costs, enable easier recharging, and design more robust handsets would allow for increased utilisation of mobile phones for a range of purposes. With respect to the realm of theory, this research sits amongst the most recent scholarship in the mobile phone field, located within the broader communication theory area. It recommends cautionary reading of any literature which suggests that mobile phones will reduce poverty and increase incomes in poor, rural communities in developing countries. Nonetheless, the present research adds weight to mobile phone studies which suggest that the primary advantages of mobile phones in such settings are for the satisfactions of communication of itself, and for social interaction among loved ones.

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ID Code: 47170
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Duffield, Lee & Romano, Angela
Keywords: cell phone, ceremonial drum, communication, development, drum, information and communication technologies, Madang, Melanesia, mobile phone, Pacific, Papua New Guinea, slit-gong, telecommunications
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 23 Nov 2011 03:09
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2013 02:50

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