A Critical-Cultural Look at the Early Days of Camera Phone Use and MMS Picture Messaging

A Critical-Cultural Look at the Early Days of Camera Phone Use and MMS Picture Messaging

Jonathan Lillie (Loyola University Maryland, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch094
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Abstract

This article takes a critical, cultural look at the early era (roughly 2001 to 2007) of camera phone and MMS (multimedia messaging services) use by reviewing several user studies, mostly from European and Asian countries. The article complements this literature review by considering the role played by one of the main regional and global industry actors (Nokia) in shaping the technology and then responding to user trends and innovation. The studies reviewed show that early camera phone users embraced the technology as a significantly enhanced form of the portable analog camera, as opposed to being more enthralled with photo messaging as industry players like Nokia had hoped. The article concludes by arguing for continued use of the cultural studies approach to studying new media users, texts, and contexts (i.e., the multiple influences of industry and regional culture) at the same time.
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Introduction

The introduction of picture taking and messaging capabilities to mobile phones is one of the four most significant and impactful innovations that mobile phones in general have offered to humanity in the last 25 years; the others being mobile telephony, text messaging, and mobile Internet access/services. Of course in making such a claim, one quickly runs into a morass of classification. After all, many mobile Internet behaviors are based in part on image sharing practices; and image sending piggybacks somewhat on the older texting platforms, both in terms of technology and behavior. The journey of camera phone use and image messaging – from early designs and strategies of phone manufactures to the wide diversity of practices that are observable today – is a classic example of technological innovation. And by “classic” I mean that innovation tends to never cease, especially with those technologies that are built on flexible platforms, or else where manufacturers have incentive to continually change the technology based on user innovation and practices. Such was the case when Nokia, and other handset companies, changed strategies (at least in part) after early user studies demonstrated that early camera phone adopters had different practices in mind than the companies did. Since that time, the innovation in mobile imaging practices has mostly been in the hands of user groups and social media companies.

This article takes a pseudo-cultural studies (or as the title suggests, “critical cultural”) approach to presenting a sketch of the early days of camera phone and MMS use. Scholars working within cultural studies generally study a specific issue or community with a triangular approach considering the users, texts and contexts involved. I use the term “pseudo” since no original research of users or text analysis is presented here. Furthermore, since the main goal of the article is to review relevant literature, it does not address the contexts of camera phone use for any specific user group or region in any depth. However, rather than merely presenting the findings of the many excellent studies of camera phone users in the early and mid-2000s, I hope to also complement these studies, in part, by showing the role played by one of the main regional and global industry actors (Nokia) in shaping the technology and then responding to user trends and innovation. In the book Everyday Innovators (2004), which is largely devoted to research of user innovation with mobile phones, Alexandre Mallard of the Center for the Sociology of Innovation in Paris concludes that, “where users will behave creatively seems to be quite unpredictable!” (p. 42). Users, he continues, often reproduce the roles proscribed for them by industry, but they can also discover and champion new unintended uses, and enthusiast can sometimes even alter the hardware or software to essentially change what the technology can be used for. The studies reviewed in this article (focusing mostly on European and Asian countries) show that early camera phone users embraced the technology as a significantly enhanced form of the portable analog camera, which had a long history of cultural practice, as opposed to being more enthralled with photo messaging as industry had hoped. At the end of the article, I will argue for continued used of the cultural studies approach to studying new media users and contexts (i.e., the multiple influences of industry and regional culture) at the same time, since together they form the machine of technological innovation and change.

Key Terms in this Chapter

New Media Studies: The study of how and why people use new media technologies, including a range of approaches in the social science and humanities.

Mobile Phone Culture: A term used to describe how individuals and groups use mobile technology in their everyday lives.

Technological Innovation: A variety of scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds have studied how people and companies create new uses for new or existing technologies, and how these new innovations diffuse within populations.

Camera Phone: Any mobile phone with a built-in camera.

Cultural Studies: A mostly academic, scholarly movement in the humanities that argues for multi-disciplinary and intra-disciplinary approaches to studying cultural groups, with particular focus often on media use.

Cell phone: A popular term used in many countries for mobile phones, arising out of the longer-term ‘cellular phone,’ indicating the devices’ uses of cellular radio systems for voice communication.

Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS): A mobile phone service that allows the sending and receiving of messages combining text, photos, and short video clips.

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