The penetration of mobile phones into sub-Saharan Africa has occurred with amazing rapidity: for many young people, they now represent a very significant element of their daily life. This paper explores usage and perceived impacts among young people aged c. 9–18 years in three countries: Ghana, Malawi and South Africa. Our evidence comes from intensive qualitative research with young people, their parents, teachers and other key informants (in-depth interviews, focus groups and school essays) and a follow-up questionnaire survey administered to nearly 3000 young people in 24 study sites. The study was conducted in eight different sites in each country (i.e. urban, peri-urban, rural and remote rural sites in each of two agro-ecological zones), enabling comparison of experiences in diverse spatial contexts. The evidence, collected within a broader research study of child mobility, allows us to examine current patterns of usage among young people with particular attention to the way these are emerging in different locational contexts and to explore connections between young people’s phone usage, virtual and physical mobilities and broader implications for social change. The issues of gender and inter-generational relations are important elements in this account.
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