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The mobile Super-User

June 17, 2011  »  MobileOne Comment

Without assistance, it can be difficult to configure handsets for the mobile Internet. Would-be mobile Internet users often need help to get online. Navigating a phone requires a calibrated series of button pushes – a daunting task for those only starting out with electronic devices. Sure, a user manual could answer such questions, but:

  • language barriers block the path,
  • African cultures tend to be heavy on oral forms of communication,
  • user manuals aren’t necessarily included with phones purchased off the street or secondhand,
  • few literate consumers read manuals, period.

Who to bridge the gap skill/knowledge gap than a trusted intermediary. Friends and family often help others transition to mobile. In other cases, people turn to super-users.

super user mobile

A single super-user serves the tech needs of many individuals.

Simply put, a super-user is someone with the skill (and desire) to help others access a device’s functionality. Historically, the term “superuser” has been reserved for special user accounts used for system administration. In 2007, author Will Harris wrote of the rise of the mobile super-user. His British super-user was more of an individual obsessed with incessantly using his phone. In South Africa, a “Internet Super-User Textbook” is meant to allow students to get ahead by using the Web to become more efficient.

However, the term has recently been applied to individual people who society views as mobile gurus. These super-users have demonstrated an ability to use a variety of features across a diverse range of handsets. In many cases, the super-user functions as a 3rd-party vendor by installing software. Indeed, a mention of the term appears in a recent issue of the International Journal of Communication:

…we met one man, a Kenyan in a local market, who had acquired the nickname Fundi [Swahili for “expert”] from his friends. He explained: “People are always looking for me to put Internet in their phones…and so far I think I have set up more than 100 phones” (Donner & Gitau, 2009).

We can think of Fundi as an early adopter-turned-salesman. He maintains a high level of skill compared with the mean skill-set in his region. And, Fundi has made a career out of spreading mobile functionality to others. Perhaps his rates are cheaper than the establishment or perhaps he thrives on the familial mores of the culture. Either way, expect the super-user to become more common as mobile penetrates rural areas.

Do you know of mobile super-users in your community? Are you a super-user yourself? We’d love to hear your stories.

Source of inspiration: Jonathan Donner, Shikoh Gitau, and Gary Marsden, “Exploring Mobile-only Internet Use: Results of a Training Study in Urban South Africa,” International Journal of Communication, 5 (2011), 574–597.

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