The influence of Media Convergence on mobile content

The mobile phone has arguably become the technological flagship of ubiquitous computing in the 21st Century. A convergence of media has transformed the mobile phone into sophisticated wireless computer capable of storing, producing and distributing media content. The mobile phone is emerging as both a communication and entertainment device capable of playing and producing a wide range of rich media content, but the look and feel of micro-narratives for the mobile phone is yet to be determined.
Over the course of this following chapter I will examine how media convergence and social practices surrounding mobile phone use are challenging our perceptions of narrative and instigating new forms of storytelling that are particular to the mobile phone.

In order to identify how narrative and aesthetic conventions may be applied and/or adapted for the creation of content designed specifically for the mobile phone, it is first necessary to examine how media convergence has influenced the conditions of possibility for both users and creators of mobile narratives. Over the past 3 years of developing content for the mobile phone I have witnessed the ongoing evolution of mobile media technology. It could be said that the early days of mobile media share similarities with the inception of the television or cinema industry, which like mobile media, underwent a period of experimentation whilst producers, writers and artists looked for new strategies that would best exploit the unique and ever changing parameters of the medium.

In the beginning of my research in 2005, mobile phones with colour screens, cameras and playback functions were few and prohibitively expensive. For many mobile users at that time, poor audio and low screen resolution was standard, as most people were still using old models that were restricted to small black and white screens, non-intuitive interfaces and limited memory capabilities. If that wasn’t enough to limit the creative potential of mobile media, expensive call rates and hardware costs further reduced the potential of the mobile phone as a platform for the creation and/or presentation of mobile narratives.

Early examples of mobile narratives were the result of artists acknowledging the creative potential and constraints of a mobile phone industry still in its infancy. Bound by the technical limitations of the mobile phone, creative projects were often based around the SMS (Simple Messaging Service) application, which enables users to send and receive brief text messages.


Figure 1

The SMS or “text message” has now entered the social vernacular and instigated a unique language form. (see Figure 1) The phonetic spelling and abbreviations associated with this mobile phone dialect are necessitated by the 160 character per message limit, but mobile text language and its host of catchphrases and are now woven into the everyday. Text messages provide a cheap and simple means of communication that negate the need for an expensive voice call. Even with the advent of the video call and cheaper call rates, SMS messaging continues to be the most successful and widely used mobile application in the world.

Artist Katie Lips was quick to seize upon the potential of the mobile phone as a means of extending her art practice. Lips Project 160, its title referring to the 160 character limit of the SMS message, is an archive of 160 personal SMS messages sent to Lips and made available for public viewing via a dedicated website ( Users can transfer Project 160 to their mobile phone and scroll through a selection of Lips’ communications between family, friends and strangers. Lips describes this project as a “snapshot made available for anyone else to browse how they choose, to make their own judgements about me, my text life, and the people who send me messages.”(Lips 2008) Like a digital version of the surrealist writing technique Exquisite Corpse, this voyeuristic project invites the viewer to construct a narrative from the debris of Lips SMS communications. Through her project, Lips acknowledges the influential role of the SMS phenomena in shaping both our human-to-computer and social interactions.

The U.K. artists ‘The Phonebook Ltd’, were amongst the first to traverse the mobile frontier. Their community based programs and workshops acknowledge the potential of mobile media to promote new forms of creative practice whilst extending public perceptions of narrative and new media technologies. These programs empower people by providing participants with the necessary skills to create personal narratives via the mobile phone. Many of the early micro-narratives produced in the “Phonebook Ltd” workshops took the form of prose and short stories that were restricted to the 160 character constraints of mobile phone’s SMS application. These early mobile phone narratives are the products of pioneers working within the parameters of an ever changing mobile media landscape.

Media convergence has extended the technical capabilities of the mobile phone, thus instigating new methods of human-to-computer interaction and socialisation. It also provides artists with the necessary media tools required to extend the narrative potential of the mobile phone. The introduction of sophisticated colour screen mobile phones, complete with video/ stills cameras, mp3 and video players, improved screen resolution and increased memory capability has altered public perceptions of the mobile phone. No longer just a portable version of the humble telephone, the mobile phone has been completely transformed from a simple communication device to a sophisticated networked multimedia production tool.

As mobile phones acquired the technology of the camera and the wireless web access, later workshops by The Phonebook Ltd promoted the mixing of traditional media formats such as moving images and audio with web-based applications to create online interactive narrative forms that took advantage of a new breed of mobile phone that was part screen, part camera, part phone and part web browser.

Media convergence has also provided artists, writers and programmers with an opportunity to develop and produce new narrative and media forms that take advantage of the unique qualities of the mobile phone. Narratives designed for the mobile phone may take the form of simple screen based games, animations, video, and photographic images. Emerging narrative forms include complex locative games that employ sophisticated GPS and/or tagging applications which provide mobile users with access to a variety of downloadable data via the mobile network.
Locative games such as Blast Theory’s I Like Frank (2004) transform geographical places into live story spaces. Exploiting the networked capabilities of the mobile phone, players, both online and physically present in the game location, are able to distribute and share clues and game information. The mobile phone becomes a conduit for multiple player interactions via multiple media formats, thus extending the level of interactivity and the potential for narrative forms that exist outside of conventional modes of storytelling.

Users may also capture content on their mobile phone, then send it to friends via Bluetooth and/or SMS/MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) applications, or upload content via the mobile phone or personal computer to a dedicated online location.

Media convergence has expanded the capiblilties of the mobile phone, and thus elevated the role of the mobile phone in society. In some cases, mobile phones create 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 (Third Generation) mobile phones.

Mobile phones with integrated cameras have penetrated the market and are the most sold digital camera worldwide, and as the technology advances, it is perceived that 2-4 megapixel camera phones will replace digital cameras in everyday life. (Taken from the paper “Building Social Discourse Around Mobile Phone Photos – A Systematic Perspective, p31)

The worldwide popularity of the mobile phone continues to grow and with more mobile phones comes the demand for small screen content. But in a world where mobile device specifications differ from model to model, the narrative artefact becomes device dependant and this dictates the development and presentation of mobile phone content. With hundreds of different mobile phone models on the market, it is not possible to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach to working with mobile media, but it is possible to design and produce content that acknowledges the constraints of the small screen whilst taking advantage of the unique parameters of the mobile phone.

As media convergence continues to promote advancements in mobile phone technology, it also alters our perceptions of mobile computing. The mobile phone is emerging as a portable computer capable of playing and producing a wide range of narrative forms.


~ by Dean on February 12, 2008.

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