Tag Archives: mobile phone

CFP: 10 years on: looking forwards in mobile ICT research

ICA Communications and Technology Division                                                                      Mobile Communications 10th Anniversary Pre-Conference Workshop

16th and 17th June 2013
London School of Economics and Political Science
Media and Communications Department

Lead Organisers:
Leslie Haddon (Senior Researcher LSE)
Jane Vincent (Visiting Fellow University of Surrey Digital World Research)

We are pleased to invite papers for the Mobile Communications ICA Pre-Conference Workshop. In celebration of its 10th Anniversary Year we also announce the introduction of an Award for the Best Paper. We look forward to receiving your submissions and to welcoming you in London in June 2013!

Abstracts 250 ­ 500 words to be sent to Jane Vincent by 16 November 2012. Please include a 50 word max biography. Confirmation of acceptance will be sent by 4 January 2012. Only Full Papers (max 8000 words) submitted by 31 March 2013 will be considered for the Best Paper Award.

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Materiality Matters at the Association of Internet Researchers Conference

In October I attended the 13th annual Association of Internet Researchers conference (AoIR or IR13) which was held in Salford, England at the University of Salford in the heart of the new home of the BBC, Media City UK. As a conference, AoIR has always been at the cutting edge scholarship on internet research and digital cultures. This year, the presence of Conference Chair Lori Kendall – author of Hanging Out in a Virtual Pub, one of the very first ethnographies of online communities — significantly shaped conversation by productively highlighting issues of gender and the changing relationship between various dichotomies (real/virtual, online/offline) emerging in everyday practice.

While I was not able to attend all of the sessions (there were up to seven simultaneous tracks on October 19th and 20th!! See the programme), a few key themes emerged that are worth sharing with the Material World community. The first was the centrality of ‘materiality’ as a concept for understanding digital media and technology. From Mary L. Gray’s discussion gay youth in rural America and the politics of visibility to Larissa Hjorth’s metaphor of the caravan as a way to rethink and move away from domestication theory to Susanna Paasonen’s analytical paper focused upon defining the ‘object’ of study in internet studies in an age of networked technologies, there was a concerted effort to understand the relationship between the qualities, properties and affordances of new media as they emerge through use. Subsequent talks by Daniel Miller, Zizi Papacharissi and an impassioned talk by Theresa M. Senft further highlighted how materiality matters in current debates in Internet studies.

Throughout the conference it became evident that part of the reason why materiality is so consequential to researchers at AoIR  revolves around the fact that what we previously understood as ‘internet research’ is changing. The dilemma of the object of inquiry in Internet research is no longer only about whether to study “online” or “offline” (although there are still important arguments for taking these perspectives and positions – see the recently released book Ethnography and Virtual Worlds). Rather, the various sessions and papers focusing upon mobile phones, mobile media, locative media (e.g. Jason Farman’s Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media won the annual book prize), mobile internet, mobile markets, mobile apps and so on (over 200 mentions of “mobiles” in the conference program) highlighted how ‘the Internet’ and digital media generally have become intertwined in everyday practice. How we understand, move between and relate to the various apps on our phones, what significance the places that are created through mobile phones, webcams, social network sites or virtual worlds mean for our varied relationships and sense of being human, and how the platforms, apps, data plans, regulatory environments and so on we use to access our friends, colleagues and acquaintances mediate our publics and politics – these all demand attention to the materiality of the various objects, tools and relationships we develop and maintain.

As someone who sees their work embedded within material culture studies, the focus upon materiality was an unexpected but welcome addition to the study of internet and digital media at AoIR this year. Indeed, there is a growing sense of revitalisation and excitement around our understanding of materiality, immateriality and material culture across a range of disciplines. These include the emergence of Platform and Software Studies, conversations around infrastructure in Ubiquitous Computing by scholars such as Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell, media and digital anthropology (e.g. the AAS Conference entitled “Culture and Contest in a Material World”), Cultural Studies (CSAA’s forthcoming conference “Materialities: Economies, Empiricism and Things”), to name but a few recent events, books and conversations. What was quite clear at an interdisciplinary conference like AoIR, however,  was that the concept of ‘materiality’ in play embodied a diverse set of debates and histories from Actor Network Theory, Critical Studies, Material Culture Studies and elsewhere. These debates and histories, of course, define how we approach the study of materiality, what the relationship between materiality and immateriality might be for digital media and the internet (and whether this dichotomy, as Tom Boellstorff suggested in the plenary discussion at AoIR, should persist at all) and the consequences of focusing upon ‘materiality’ for our practice. One hopes such a conversation might begin here.

Note: Next year’s conference, chaired by Lynn Schofield Clark (who has done fabulous work on media, religion and families), will be held in Denver in October 2012.

Speaking the language of ‘ring-cut’

Mihrini Sirisena, University of Edinburgh, DEepartment of Anthopology

Spanning eleven months spread between 2007 and 2008, I conducted fieldwork for my PhD thesis among university students in Colombo, Sri Lanka and the focus of my research rested on romantic relationships. During this time, one fine Sunday afternoon in mid-March, I noticed that I had missed a call from Padmika. Padmika is a young man in the first year of university and is full of youthful energy and enthusiasm.  I had already spoken with him once. Our first conversation flowed easily from talking about his activity filled university life to his past relationships. Padmika did not see himself in a relationship in the near future and was forthcoming about his past relationships and his views and ideas about relationships. I had left that conversation open, telling him to contact me if he felt the need to talk. Thinking that Padmika had accepted that invitation, I phoned him back and was surprised when he disconnected the call. On my third attempt, he answered and took me by surprise by saying: “oh akka, I was just giving you a missed call. I remembered you (matak vunā) and thought I would give you a missed call to let you know.” Though bewildered first, I was quickly engulfed in a child-like enthusiasm as I realised that I had become a part of that world I hesitantly entered, and that though unwittingly, I had been initiated into the language of missed calls.

During my fieldwork, I noticed that references to ‘ring-cut’ or ‘missed calls’ speckled everyday exchanges in all forms of relationships. Often used interchangeably, this referred to telephoning a person one wishes to be in touch with, yet rather than waiting for the person at the other end to answer the phone, disconnects the line. Thus, ‘ringing’ and ‘cutting’ or disconnecting is what happens, literally. These telephone calls are registered on the call log of the phone as ‘missed calls.’ This exchange of ‘ring-cuts’ is facilitated by the advent of caller identification, where the recipients are alerted to the persons who have called them, when they were not in a position to answer the phone. Neither the caller nor the recipient gets charged in this exchange.

Since my encounter with Padmika, I noted how often references to missed calls dotted our conversations, given when something triggered off a thought of someone close. Essentially, ring-cuts were exchanged between those who were considered near and dear and gained a special significance among lovers as this was deemed as a means through which the lovers let each other know that they were thinking about each other, when they are not with each other.  Hishani, for instance, like my most other research participants, said that loving someone is like carrying them with you; insignificant mundane acts such as eating, hearing a song or something you do, see, somewhere you go, gain significance as these may remind you of that person that you are carrying around. When you think of the person, it is important to let them know as, through informing them, you are reminding them of the place they occupy in your life and you in their lives. With missed calls, my research participants told me, they reached out and let the near and the dear know that they were thinking of them.

Missed calls served other uses as well. For instance, Hishani told me that if she gives three or four missed calls during the day, her boyfriend phones her back to talk to her. These were implicit terms of engagement, that were personal and intimate, and made sense only to those who were involved. If I were to elaborate these terms of engagement using Hishani’s relationship as an example, Hishani told me that it is mostly her boyfriend who bears the cost of phone calls as he is better off financially, in comparison to her. When she wants to talk to him, she asks him to call her by giving him a missed call. At the same time, both Hishani and her boyfriend use missed calls to let each other know that they are thinking of each other. To differentiate between a missed call given to let the other know that she/he is thinking of them and a request for a call, Hishani and her boy friend use the number of times the phone rings. Sayuri, exposing yet another layer of meaning of missed calls, told me that her boyfriend would give her a missed call around lunchtime, when he is about to have lunch, to let her know that he is having lunch, so, that though they are not in the same place, they would have lunch together, at the same time, if she were free to do so.

As for me, I did not quite master the language of missed calls and kept faltering, expecting my research participants to answer when they did not intend to. To this day, I have not managed to decipher the finer details and different motives driving the missed calls I received during the fieldwork year. What the language of ‘ring-cuts’ pointed out to me, however, is a need to look closely at the currents that spiral out from the use of mobile phones. Though it appears at first as empty of content, missed calls or ring-cuts point are embedded in layers and layers of meaning, which could not be grasped without a deeper engagement, for that meaning is contextual and personal. It is in this adaptability of the language of ‘ring-cut’ that lies its appeal. The ‘ring-cut’ elaborates the creative ways in which its users engage with mobile technology.