From: Wade T. Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sun 26 Jan 2003 - 19:15:33 GMT
More than a trend, cellphones are a way of life
By D.C. Denison, 1/26/2003
What happens when an electronic device, the cellphone, becomes so
popular it's ubiquitous? It becomes a lifestyle.
That was the premise of a recent study by a group of anthropologists
who observed cellphone users in seven cities around the world. Context
Research, based in Baltimore, uses a network of 3,500 anthropologists
to study consumer behavior for major clients like Microsoft and Kodak.
Last summer, it focused its anthropologically based analytic tools on
cellphone users. The resulting report, just published, appears to
support the group's initial assumption.
''It's obvious that changes are coming that are much bigger than most
businesses expect,'' said Sean Carton, the ''chief experience officer''
at Carton Donofrio Partners Inc., the parent company of Context.
''Cellphones and mobile communications in general are much more than just a technological trend.''
The 36-page report, illustrated with stark documentary photographs of
the study's subjects using their cellphones in a wide variety of
locations, details a surprising number of lifestyle changes that are
emerging from the increasing use and integration of mobile technology.
For example, the study found that physical proximity is rapidly
decreasing as a barrier to forming communities among individuals. Since
wireless technology makes it easier to stay in touch, regardless of
location, cellphone users are able to maintain a network of friends and
colleagues that doesn't depend on face-to-face communication.
Also because wireless technology allows people to contact a person, not
a location (like traditional phones), the separation between private
and public space is starting to blur. Think about all the private phone
conversations that you've heard in the middle of public spaces:
annoying, but new. On the other end of the spectrum, ''alone'' no
longer means just physically alone; it means ''not connected.''
And who's organizing all this mobile networking? No one is ever
formally trained in the use of mobile technology, so it's the people
who are able to develop the ability to master these devices who become
key nodes in a communication network. Saturday night plans tend to flow
through the mobile users who are best able to orchestrate the group's
multiple mobile connections.
Ultimately, the study, loftily titled ''The Mobiles: Social Evolution
in a Wireless Society,'' makes the case that wireless technology is
enabling humans to return to their nomadic roots, freed from home- and
office-based technologies that forced us to into more sedentary
Some of these observations may not strike you as particularly novel,
but they add up to much more than just a fascination with a new
technical toy. In fact, much of the report parallels the observations
made by Howard Rheingold in his recent book ''Smart Mobs,'' which
details some of the social and political changes brought about by the
increasing use of cellular phones, pagers, PDAs, and hand-held
Carton, who wrote some of the Context report, told me he was heartened
to see Rheingold came to some of the same conclusions after touring the
world's most advanced wireless communities in Tokyo, Helsinki, San
Francisco, and elsewhere.
''It's still changing very rapidly,'' Carton said. ''Just two years
ago, we conducted a similar study, and we got different results: People
were fascinated by wireless, but it was more of a fetish, an electronic
object. It's become much more integrated into people's lives since
And Carton expects that the integration will continue to develop,
rapidly, now that open wireless technologies like WiFi have been added
to the mix.
''All these lines are going to blur,'' he said. ''Wireless used to mean
cellphones. Now it's much more than that ... eventually people are
going to expect to be able to access information everywhere.''
However it develops, the Context report makes a good case for
consciously tracking the coevolution of wireless technology and
contemporary culture, particularly youth culture.
''It's not surprising that teens are driving the integration of this
technology,'' said Robbie Blinkoff, the principal anthropologist at
Context. ''Teens have a lot of time, and friends, and they are very
good at sharing information.''
''Many of the people in positions of power in business are a little too
old to appreciate the impact of mobile technology,'' Carton added.
''Because most of the people who are driving this are between 12 and 25.
''For them, a cellphone is not a wacky, extra electronic thing,''
Carton said, ''it's how they live.''
D.C. Denison can be reached at email@example.com.
This story ran on page D2 of the Boston Globe on 1/26/2003. © Copyright
2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun 26 Jan 2003 - 20:18:32 GMT