MOBILE RELATIONSHIPS

The mobile phone provides ongoing access to a world of networked devices. The ability to converse and share experiences with absent friends, family, loved ones and even strangers, profoundly alters our sense of intimacy and redefines our understanding of relationships in the digital communication age. In a busy world where the blurring of boundaries between work and leisure time has become common place. The mobile phone provides a valuable opportunity to forge, manage and maintain intimate relationships, whilst attending to a myriad of duties and distractions that constantly vie for our attention. Myerson (2001) suggests that:
more and more of our life will be lived in a systems space, where efficient and minimal messaging will replace the slow and messy process of dialogue. (Myerson 2001:66 )
The mobile phone becomes a lifestyle tool for managing our day-to -day relationships. If our notion of self is informed by a sense of belonging or connection, then one may argue that the mobile phone can also be used to establish our position within the hierarchy of people who share our mobisphere. The mobile phone can be used to initiate and/or discourage interactions in both the physical and virtual worlds. Incoming calls and messages are ranked in order of importance. The mobile user exercises his/her option to answer, ignore or return the calls and messages of those who attempt to enter our personal mobisphere.
mobilechat

The image above (see figure 3.) shows a woman listening to her messages on the mobile phone . In his essay “Emotional Attachment and Mobile Phones”, Vincent (2005) adopts the term “buddy space” to describe the:
intimate private world of the community that each mobile phone user inhabits. Each time the use of a mobile is initiated it invokes the absent presence of the other buddies who can be accessed via the device, whether or not they are actually engaged in mutual communications at the time. (Vincent, 2005:119)
Of course there are problems with being in touch with people 24 hours a day. Sometimes it means being in contact with people who you are trying to avoid. But the asynchronous nature of the mobile phone means the user has time to consider a reply. The identity of a caller whose number is stored in the phonebook of the mobile phone is displayed on the screen, therefore aiding our decision of whether or not to answer the call.
A mobile user can also customize the ring-tone. A friend of mine employed a menacing tone to indicate when his boss was calling him outside of business hours. Another friend adopted a love song to denote her boyfriend was calling. But what happens when someone unfamiliar calls and their identity does not appear on the screen?
I have witnessed amongst my friends and family the anxiety attacks instigated by “mobile stranger danger”. The thought of someone unknown penetrating our personal mobisphere may sometimes seem as intrusive as somebody invading our physical space. The personal nature of the information that is transmitted, received and stored in the heart of the mobile phone profoundly alters our relationship with mobile technology. The association of the phone with intensely private communications has helped imbue the device with a sense of intimacy. Levinson (2004) suggests that the actual act of using the mobile phone can further enhance mobile flirtation:

The phone is itself a highly sensual instrument. When you speak on the phone, your lips graze the mouthpiece, your voice travels to an earpiece far away, against which is tightly pressed the ear of the person who hears you. (Levinson 2004: 95)
Levinson goes on to say: Only lovers or very close friends or members of the family enjoy such proximity off the phone. (Levinson 2004: 95) The intimate meeting space that lies deep within the heart of the mobisphere evokes a physical and emotional presence. The mobile phone provides a virtual backdrop to project our post-techno dreams and desires. Together, users share a hybrid intimacy as they reach out across the mobile network. They touch vicariously through the medium of personal computing.
The mobile phone has also had a profound influence on our cultural environment and how we see ourselves in relation to others. So what are the cultural implications of a networked society and how does this technology alter our perceptions of intimacy? In a recent lecture, a colleague and I conducted an informal poll with approximately 90 tertiary student to ascertain their relationship with the mobile phone. The poll revealed that all students owned a mobile phone, and all students used SMS (text messaging) to communicate to peers. A staggering 90% of respondents said they kept their phones connected 24 hours a day, and 80% slept with their phones by their bed each night.
When asked how many students felt anxious without their phone on their person, all responded they did. And approx 60% said that if they forget their phone, they would return home to get it. For many people, the thought of being without a mobile device attributes to their sense of disconnection and displacement within the world.

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~ by Dean on July 5, 2006.

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