Friday, March 27, 2009

Reading recommendation: The mobile connection

Recently I just read the book "The Mobile Connection" from Rich Ling [1]. It covers the usage of mobile phones from a sociologist's perspectives and underlines its findings by excerpts of interview transcripts. In particular, the book focuses on adoption of mobile phones, the usage of phones concerning safety and security, coordination, texting and teens, and the intrusive character of phones.

In the following I provide a short summary of the book:

Mobile phones provide the notion of never-alone-in-an-emergency as it significantly reduces the time needed to notify emergency services. It is an insurance against potential dangers. It also can be used as a prop - showing others that you are not alone, but connected to friends and part of a social system. Whereas the phone itself can also induce new risks, e.g. if used during driving, even hands-free does not help, people mostly focus on the positive dimensions.

The most important property of the mobile phone probably is to allow new ways of coordination, to move away from synchronization via time to direct coordination by communicating with involved parties. In the beginning of modern times clocks have been developed to coordinate religious services, later mobile clocks could be used for marine navigation and coordination of meetings. Mobile phones finally cut out the middle-man clock needed as a parallel reference system. Instead, mobile phones allow for direct communication to adjust and re-work personal schedules. The consequence is that original schedules get softened since a a call ahead a meeting allows for re-negotation, e.g. "I'll be five minutes late" or "Let's meet at corner X insteand". A clear limitation is scalability. A rule of thumb says that within parties greater eight time-based coordinated will be still more efficient due to reduced overhead of communication and finding an agreement among all participants. Thus mobile phones do not completely replace time-based coordination but make it more flexible and organic.

Mobile phones among teens - apart from serving the needs of safety and micro-coordination - are definitely used for showing off, marking group boundaries, participating in youth culture, and in marking identities. The number of phone book entries is often seen as a quantification of one's popularity.

When we talk into phones our voice becomes different from face to face communications. Our louder voice and the emission of only half of the communication into the environment is breaking into the social norms of the environment, it intrudes and simultaneously excludes the surrounding from interacting with oneself. This is often expressed by postures such as ducking and an expressive face which are used to defend the quiet space where the call is being made. This behaviour can be quiet intrusive for the environment, social codes and patterns are yet evolving.

Texting is another important communication channel allowing to keep in touch in others when voice communication might not be appropriate. In contrast to email, texting can be used immediately, does not require any log-in and can be done rather unobtrusively. The constraints, instead, are limited battery life-time, awkward keyboards, small screens sizes and the limitation to 160 characters. Texting is quick and unit-priced, one does not have to worry about the complex voice price-plans. Instead of readings books with a flashlight in bed under the blanket teens write some last messages to their friends. Furthermore, the asynchronous nature of SMS allows editing before sending, manipulation of delays, and can be even a collective activity of friend co-present in a one location. Findings from research suggest that women write longer and flourish SMS and rather plan for immediate future, whereas men use SMS to rather plan further ahead. 10% of men leave out an opening/closing phrase. Generally, SMS appears to be very suited for our nomaidc modern lifes.

Overall the books suggests that mobile phone complete the automobile revolution: as automobile allowed for flexible and independent transportation, now mobile phones as mobile communication. This allows for real-time (re-)scheduling and reliefs from stricly sticking to ahead planned/agreed appointements coordinated by time. Mobile phones turn coordination into social interaction.

The mobile connection: the cell phone's impact on society
By Richard Seyler Ling
Edition: 3, illustrated
Published by Morgan Kaufmann, 2004
ISBN 1558609369, 9781558609365

1 comment:

Liza Jenifer said...

I think Mobile phones at long last remove the center man clock required as a parallel reference framework. Rather, cellular telephones take into account immediate correspondence to change and re-work particular timetables. The outcome is that unique timetables advance diminished since an assemble beyond a conference considers re-negotation. I would like to say Thanks for sharing such a nice article.
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