From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice

From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice

Christine Satchell (The University of Melbourne, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch024
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Early 21st century societies are evolving into a hybrid of real and synthetic worlds where everyday activities are mediated by technology. The result is a new generation of users extending their everyday experiences into these emerging digital ecologies. However, what happens when users re-create their human identity in these spaces? How do the tools of new technologies such as the mobile phone allow them to capture and share their experiences? In order to address these issues, this chapter presents the findings from a three-year study into mobile phone use in urban culture. The study revealed that for a new generation, the mobile phone was integral in the formation of fluid social interactions and had accelerated urban mobility. Users once restrained by pre-made plans were able to spontaneously traverse the city and suburbs, swarming between friendship groups and activities. Distinct user archetypes emerged from these mobile phone driven sub-cultures whose practices brought about fundamental changes in social mores with respect to engagement and commitment, to notions of fluid time versus fixed time and, ultimately, to urban mobility. Connectivity had become central to what it means to have a social identity and users responded to this by merging bits of data to create their “ideal digital self” through which they communicate socially. Yet, recent developments in mobile phone design reveal the potential for a new generation of people to recontextualize their use in a way that moves beyond “the social” as they utilise sensors and data capturing and sharing functionalities in new mobile devices to augment their “social butterfly” identity with an ideology of a “socially conscious urban citizen.”
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Introduction: The Mobile Phone As A Culturally Loaded Artefact

Ubiquitous, more addictive than cigarettes, empowering, disruptive, the most intimate communications device in the modern world, the new car; just how should we define the mobile phone and the mobile phone user? The discourses surrounding the mobile phone herald the artefact as the defining cultural icon for the digital generation, the one item a person can possess to represent their status as a participating member in early 21st century society. “If you want to assure yourself that you belong to the new century, this is the object to have in your hands” (Myerson, 2001, p3). Claims of this nature reveal much about the cultural times in which we are living. The shift from a post-industrial to a digital society has resulted in a culture that is not only obsessed with being in constant contact with each other, but where the idea of connectivity actually defines the culture.

The literature indicates that the many changes brought about by mobile phone use are occurring within a cultural dimension. The implications are that the mobile phone brings with it more than communication, it brings powerful notions of personalization and identity as can be seen in the work of Carroll, et al. (2002); Counts & Fellheimer (2004); Geser (2004); Goggin (2004); Ishii (2004); Ling (2002); Plant (2001); and Taylor & Harper (2002). Therefore, when the study presented in this chapter investigated young people in relation to mobile phone use, the major focus was on how users interacted with new technologies in order to create a sense of identity, both for themselves and the world they lived in.

Although the emerging themes were focused on the process through which mobile phones were engaged to enforce pre-existing social networks and do not encompass advances that happened after the study finished in 2005, the insights are potentially relevant for those designing for new uses of interactions in urban environments because they provide an informed snapshot of the nature of a young, urban mobile user and the environment they inhabit.

Understanding everyday practices is important for urban informatics practioners as was emphasised by Rhinegold (2003) who draws attention to urban informatician Anthony Townsen’s prediction that the mobile phone will have as much impact on urban environments as the automobile. Therefore, the first part of the chapter will describe the study design. The second section will present the findings from the study. The third section will examine the relevance of the findings as users, who previously defined themselves through social use and conceived the mobile phone as a private mode of communication, begin to identify themselves through new mobile paradigms such as active members of physically co-located communities (Bilandzic et al., 2008) or environmentally conscious citizens (Paulos, 2008). As Oktay (2002, p.261) notes:

Identity is one of the essential goals for the future of a good environment. People should feel that some part of the environment belongs to them, individually and collectively, some part for which they care and are responsible, whether they own it or not. At the urban level, the environment should be such that it encourages people to express themselves and to become involved.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Apparatgeist: The ability of an inanimate machine to possess a spirit.

Digital Augmentation: The enhancement of virtual presence through the use of digital content.

Mobile Phone: The mobile phone (also: cell phone) is a portable electronic device used for mobile communication. In addition to the voice function, standard mobile phones include SMS for text messaging, email, packet switching for access to the Internet and MMS for sending and receiving photos and video.

The Swarm: A patented mobile phone prototype that allows the user to simultaneously represent multiple digital identities and embed their virtual presence with digital content.

Qualitative Research: Qualitative research involves the use of qualitative data, such as interviews, documents and participant observation data, to understand and explain social phenomena. It provides an in-depth analysis by examining phenomena within a social and cultural context.

Identity: Relates to the way the person sees themselves either individually or as member of a group.

Grounded theory: ...A technique for analysing data that uses a bottom up approach allowing the researcher to build theory as the themes emerge.

Swarming: The spontaneous formation of social networks facilitated by mobile technologies.

Complete Chapter List

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List of Reviewers
Table of Contents
Anthony Townsend
Marcus Foth
Marcus Foth
Chapter 1
Amanda Williams, Erica Robles, Paul Dourish
This chapter critically examines the notion of “the city” within urban informatics. Arguing that there is an overarching tendency to construe the... Sample PDF
Urbane-ing the City: Examining and Refining the Assumptions Behind Urban Informatics
Chapter 2
Jaz Hee-Jeong Choi, Adam Greenfield
Once a city shaped by the boundary conditions of heavy industrialisation and cheap labour, within a few years Seoul has transformed itself to one of... Sample PDF
To Connect and Flow in Seoul: Ubiquitous Technologies, Urban Infrastructure and Everyday Life in the Contemporary Korean City
Chapter 3
Nancy Odendaal
Recent literature on African cities examines the way in which social networks function as critical livelihood arteries in the ongoing survival... Sample PDF
Creating an Analytical Lens for Understanding Digital Networks in Urban South Africa
Chapter 4
Wayne Beyea
Community planning is facing many challenges around the world, such as the rapid growth of megacities as well as urban sprawl. The State of Michigan... Sample PDF
Place Making Through Participatory Planning
Chapter 5
Mike Ananny, Carol Strohecker
In this paper, we describe the design and installation of a new kind of public opinion forum—TexTales, a public, large-scale interactive projection... Sample PDF
TexTales: Creating Interactive Forums with Urban Publics
Chapter 6
Jenny Preece
This chapter describes a small networked community in which residents of an apartment building in Washington, D.C., USA supplement their... Sample PDF
An Event-Driven Community in Washington, DC: Forces That Influence Participation
Chapter 7
Fiorella De Cindio
After more than a decade of e-participation initiatives at the urban level, what remains obscure is the alchemy—i.e., the “arcane” combination of... Sample PDF
Moments and Modes for Triggering Civic Participation at the Urban Level
Chapter 8
Michael Veith
Societies face serious challenges when trying to integrate migrant communities. One-sided solutions do not pay tribute to the complexity of this... Sample PDF
Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections
Chapter 9
Victor M. Gonzalez, Kenneth L. Kraemer, Luis A. Castro
The practical use of information technology devices in domestic and residential contexts often results in radical changes from their envisioned... Sample PDF
Beyond Safety Concerns: On the Practical Applications of Urban Neighbourhood Video Cameras
Chapter 10
Colleen Morgan
This chapter explores how we may design located information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster community sentiment. It focuses... Sample PDF
The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric
Chapter 11
Barbara Crow, Michael Longford, Kim Sawchuk, Andrea Zeffiro
The Mobile Media Lab (MML) is a Canadian interdisciplinary research team exploring wireless communications, mobile technologies and locative media... Sample PDF
Voices from Beyond: Ephemeral Histories, Locative Media and the Volatile Interface
Chapter 12
Helen Klaebe
This chapter defines, explores and Illustrates research at the intersection of people, place and technology in cities. First, we theorise the notion... Sample PDF
Embedding an Ecology Notion in the Social Production of Urban Space
Chapter 13
Vassilis Kostakos, Eamonn O’Neill
In this paper, we describe a platform that enables us to systematically study online social networks alongside their real-world counterparts. Our... Sample PDF
Cityware: Urban Computing to Bridge Online and Real-World Social Networks
Chapter 14
Katharine S. Willis
In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by information which weaves itself silently into the very fabric of our existence. Much of the time we act... Sample PDF
Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space
Chapter 15
Viktor Bedö
This chapter contributes to the ongoing effort to understand the nature of locative urban information by proposing that locative urban information... Sample PDF
A Visual Approach to Locative Urban Information
Chapter 16
Tristan Thielmann
Car navigation systems, based on “augmented reality,” no longer direct the driver through traffic by simply using arrows, but represent the... Sample PDF
Navigation Becomes Travel Scouting: The Augmented Spaces of Car Navigation Systems
Chapter 17
Daisuke Tamada
A lot of street view services, which present views of urban landscapes, have recently appeared. The conventional method for making street views... Sample PDF
QyoroView: Creating a Large-Scale Street View as User-Generated Content
Chapter 18
Hideyuki Nakanishi, Toru Ishida, Satoshi Koizumi
Many research projects have studied various aspects of smart environments including smart rooms, home, and offices. Few projects, however, have... Sample PDF
Virtual Cities for Simulating Smart Urban Public Spaces
Chapter 19
Andrew Hudson-Smith
Digital cities are moving well beyond their original conceptions as entities representing the way computers and communications are hard wired into... Sample PDF
The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World
Chapter 20
Laura Forlano
This chapter introduces the role of community wireless networks (CWNs) in reconfiguring people, places and information in cities. CWNs are important... Sample PDF
Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities
Chapter 21
Katrina Jungnickel, Genevieve Bell
From WiFi (802.11b) with its fixed and mobile high-speed wireless broadband Internet connectivity to WiMAX (802.16e), the newest wireless protocol... Sample PDF
Home is Where the Hub Is? Wireless Infrastructures and the Nature of Domestic Culture in Australia
Chapter 22
Andres Sevtsuk
This chapter presents the iSPOTS project, which collects and maps data of WiFi usage on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in... Sample PDF
Mapping the MIT Campus in Real Time Using WiFi
Chapter 23
John M. Carroll
We discuss the vision, plan, and status of a research project investigating community-oriented services and applications, comprising a wireless... Sample PDF
Supporting Community with Location-Sensitive Mobile Applications
Chapter 24
Christine Satchell
Early 21st century societies are evolving into a hybrid of real and synthetic worlds where everyday activities are mediated by technology. The... Sample PDF
From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice
Chapter 25
Jong-Sung Hwang
u-City is South Korea’s answer to urban community challenges leveraging ubiquitous computing technology to deliver state-of-the-art urban services.... Sample PDF
u-City: The Next Paradigm of Urban Development
Chapter 26
Dan Shang, Jean-François Doulet, Michael Keane
This chapter examines the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban China, focusing mainly on their impact on social... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics in China: Exploring the Emergence of the Chinese City 2.0
Chapter 27
Francesco Calabrese
The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and handheld electronic devices in recent years allows for a new approach to... Sample PDF
WikiCity: Real-Time Location-Sensitive Tools for the City
Chapter 28
Eric Paulos, RJ Honicky, Ben Hooker
In this chapter, we present an important new shift in mobile phone usage—from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement... Sample PDF
Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism
Chapter 29
Mark Shepard
What happens to urban space given a hypothetical future where all information loses its body, that is, when it is offloaded from the material... Sample PDF
Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-Saturated City
Chapter 30
Roger J. Burrows
Is it still the case that one can symptomatically read the early work of the cyberpunk author William Gibson as a form of prefigurative urban theory... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics and Social Ontology
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