Solar panels on hut roofs are used to charge phones and power lights and radios.
Face-to-face communication is more common, more diverse
In addition to simply describing how Maasai use phones, we also wanted to see if people use phones to communicate with more types of people or about more types of information than they do face to face.
In one of the most cited papers in social science, Mark Granovetter found that “weak ties” with acquaintances were more useful for finding and securing job opportunities than “strong ties” with close friends and family. The value of weak ties is that they provide new, diverse types of information.
We thought that phones may be helping people to expand their weak ties and broaden their horizons. What we found instead was that face-to-face communication was more diverse among the Maasai than phone-based communication, even when controlling for factors like age, wealth and education.
These findings are well aligned with those from other studies of phone use in developing communities. Generally, phones support longstanding, culturally ingrained activities – they don’t transform them. One change, though, is that phone use amplifies issues of trust and distrust.
These are some early findings, and many questions remain. This year, with funding from the National Science Foundation, we will begin examining how phone use affects the social networks of Maasai men and women differently.
Timothy D. Baird is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Virginia Tech. All photos are by Baird and used under Creative Commons License.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.