TOWARDS A NETWORKED SOCIETY

Mobile computing devices, and in particular the mobile phone, create new possibilities for human to computer interaction, and thus alter patterns of social exchange. As the world becomes linked via high-speed networked communication devices, we see the emergence of a global identity capable of communicating beyond cultural and geographical boundaries. Lunenfeld (1999) analyses the degree to which mobile phones and connectivity have become integral to our everyday lived experience:

the convergence of digital media with telecommunications is one where people interact and form communities, activities formerly thought to be restricted to the world. (Lunenfeld 1999:196)

At the touch of a button, a user can capture, forward or upload information to a selected web-based location or mobile device virtually anywhere in the world. The 3G networks promote new geographies where global and local co-exist within one heavily mediated environment. In his paper Towards a Sociology of the Mobile Phone, Mc Guigain (2005) notes:

The spirit of the machine in our mobile age of neoliberal globalization is not a phantasm to be wished away but deeply embedded already in routine social practices and relationships. (Mc Guigain 2005:55)

The convergence of interactive media presents new ways of being, as well as unique forms of expression and communications. Golding (2005) suggests that:
The increasing digitization of our personalities in the “Knowledge Age” will render the mobile an important instrument of exchange. (Golding 2005:238)

The recent introduction of the multimedia or smart-phone technology marks the beginning of a revolution in portable computing and communication devices. Arguably, the 3G mobile phone technology creates new realities from old fictions. The ability to make a video call, once thought of as the stuff of science fiction films, is now a common feature of many 3G or so called “smart” mobile devices.
The 3G (3rd Generation) mobile phone has enabled a transition to a “mobile self”, a digital identity constantly absorbing, creating and distributing content for an ever expanding networked community. Our image, and our essence are dissolved into data and reconstructed as information to be consumed by a new breed of reader. Information and messages may take the form of SMS, MMS, e-mail, video, photographs, and of course, the occasional voice-call. Inside this “mobile self” beats a digital heart, a “transcorporeal” manifestation of our dreams, desires and intimacy.
The mobile phone becomes an extension of the self, an auxiliary organ controlling the continual flow of information, to friends, lovers, and colleagues. The mobile phone is shaping our experiences, and transforming our perceptions of world events. It has become a digital prosthesis, a portable conduit for the distribution of personalized content. It is also a cache for the concealment and safekeeping of intimate messages and treasured memories. It travels with us, always within reach, a safety blanket for contemporary living.
Downes (2005) adopts the term “interactive Realism” to describe the role computing and transformative media plays in transforming aspects of social reality.
Downes states that:
Through digital communication we create new collective and individual identities, as well as new environments for human interaction. (Downes 2005: xiii)

The mobile self is always at the ready to distribute and/or consume media. He/she is a walking human transmitter armed with an arsenal of multi-media applications. The practice of life caching, the online documenting of one’s own life, has become a 21st century phenomena. The ubiquitous nature of mobile media means that in times of trouble, more and more often, it is the mobile phone that we reach out to for comfort and validation of our position in the world.

The aftermath from the bombing of London’s Underground railway system on 7th July 2005 was recorded and transmitted via mobile devices to friends and loved ones, websites and news services within minutes of the disaster. Perhaps, for the first time in modern history, it was the average person (via the mobile phone), rather than the traditional media sources, sharing first hand accounts in the form of intimate messages, photographic images, and video footage of the walking wounded. Across the digital network, we were able to witness the tears and the triumphs, as mobile phones continued to publish the personal narratives of the heroes and survivors. New forms of expression such as Podcasting, moblogging and “surfing the net” via the mobile phone are profoundly altering the way we access information and interact with each other. The mobile device has become an integral part of the self, influencing both our identity and social behavior. It would appear that the erosion of public space shows no sign of slowing as we continue our obsession with mobility.

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~ by Dean on July 2, 2006.

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