Sage Publications: New Media and Society

A new issue of New Media and Society is out, with an essay called Cellphones in public: social interactions in a wireless era.

Cellphones provide a unique opportunity to examine how new media both reflect and affect the social world. This study suggests that people map their understanding of common social rules and dilemmas onto new technologies. Over time, these interactions create and reflect a new social landscape. Based upon a year-long observational field study and in-depth interviews, this article examines cellphone usage from two main perspectives: how social norms of interaction in public spaces change and remain the same; and how cellphones become markers for social relations and reflect tacit pre-existing power relations. Informed by Goffman’s concept of cross talk and Hopper’s caller hegemony, the article analyzes the modifications, innovations and violations of cellphone usage on tacit codes of social interactions.

Another enticing essay is called Email forwardables: folklore in the age of the internetMarjorie D. Kibby

Email communication fosters an environment where messages have an inherent ‘truth value’ while at the same time senders have reduced inhibitions about the types of messages sent. When this is combined with a convenience and ease of communication and an ability to contact huge numbers of people simultaneously, email becomes a rapid and effective distribution mechanism for gossip, rumour and urban legends. Email has enabled not only the birth of new folklore, but also the revival of older stories with contemporary relevance and has facilitated their distribution on an unprecedented scale.

Why do I blog this? This essay appears to be another valuable contribution to the literature on understanding technology in context (technoculture) as it pertains to mobile communications. I’m interested in this topic because I’m trying to understand, from a design perspective, how to be more cogent about the mobile games project I’m presently working on for the netpublics fellowship. Yesterday I presented my topic and got some great feedback from the group. One of the challenges is that I’m in the middle ground between art-technology and emerging-technology. On the art side, I feel comfortable designing from instinct and from seeing things that are compelling to me visually or experientially, and for which I have not (yet) formed a articulate motivation for the work. On the other side, I would like to understand what kinds of social practices from which I am riffing in my current design sketches.

There were two components to the presentation. One was the netmagnet work I did while at Eyebeam Atelier in 2003. The other was where I intend to take that work (both the software and the articulation of that software into a near-future project.)

Netmagnet is a kind of p2p, zero-configuration, file sharing applet that used semantic tags to identify digital nuggets to share. It purposefully avoided explicit searches for media. In its existing form, you basically tag anything on your device, a catalog is formed based on that tagging, and you start your netmagnet client. Over time (hours, days, weeks — longer than a typical kind of search — it’s meant to be a slow…activity....that you don’ lots of..attention to..) — you may decide to look in your netmagnet grab-bag folder and see what the applet has slurped up over time. You could never precisely anticipate what was gathered because the system used tag ontologies that weren’t specific enough to locate, say, the latest 50 Cent album. (It was suggested in seminar that it might be interesting for a future form to allow for folksonomies. At the time, 2003, the semantic web was the king meme, as Marc T. pointed out, and it may very well have been that the rigid tagging of that “era” was in my head. I also only recently came to appreciate the upside to folksonomies, although my own jury is still at a deadlock.)

The theory that the netmagnet theory object was trying to work through had to do with networked publics that operate based on physical proximity. As people gathered in physical proximity, the netmagnet would establish (zero-conf) connections and begin making queries. If you specified that you were interested in “stuff” tagged “fun”, and someone nearby had “stuff” that was tagged “fun”, then netmagnet would retrieve it for you. Sort of silent, the background.

The near-future take on this is still up in the air. I committed to myself to create an object based on this concept during the second semester of the netpublics fellowship. One thought was to build out the existing application, adding new features and such, perhaps developing it as a theory object to discuss at the upcoming SIGCHI workshop on Mobile Social Software. Another is to “mobilize” it into a mobile device (phone?) application. I’m not sure this precise functionality would be supported on a typical mobile phone, and it only works if that’s the case because it’s not a one-off thing. It’s a social practice being explicated here and having six people in the world who are no where near each other doesn’t make it work well. So, in that case, having it as a “laptop” applet is perhaps more interesting, and even if it deploys just amongst a small tribe of colleagues/friends who, at times, occupy the same physical space, it might make for an interesting trial experiment. (Perhaps linked in with the blogjects concept.)

One possible articulation (perhaps in addition, since it feels like I might be doing this mobile game anyway) is the motility visualization thing that I’ve begun sketching. It isn’t about the swapping semantically tagged media, but it is about movement and interactions based upon objects/people in proximity.

Mimi had some great insights that helped me think about how to think about this. One important consideration was to look at existing social practices, and understanding existing social situations. That’s one of the reasons why the essay mentioned way above stood out for me.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,