Tuesday, November 25, 2008

cry w/out weepng, tlk w/out speakng, scream w/out raisng yR voice

it occurred to me today that i have not used my voice much, yet. this is despite the fact that within the first 3 hours of being awake i Skype messaged with a friend in england, responded to about 6 emails, initiated 4 other emails, text messaged my husband, wrote a note to our daughter's teacher in her communication book for school, and typed a letter to AirCanada miles program. i communicated to/with over 20 individuals without saying a word.

this is the daily reality of living partially in the virtual world where vocal expression is one of the available, but not necessarily the main, channels for sociality and expression. i have also found myself considering my non-vocal exchanges as talk; for example i might say "when we last spoke..." in reference to a text message exchange, or "i thought you said..." in connection with an email interaction.

speaking a thought is a far less mediated enterprise than writing a thought. especially if you don't think too deeply before opening your mouth (like me). far less opportunity for editing and reflection - quasi-instantaneous. writing provides the opportunity/pitfall of speaking in your head first before unleashing the thought unto others. for different people to talk without speaking offers a form of comfort. several participants in my dissertation research expressed discomfort with phone conversations (mobile and fixed line) versus text or IM, especially young men. even face-to-face interaction appeared to be easier for them since the physical body and environment offer forms of mediation that the empty stillness in a phone-line cannot.

thus, i cracked my knuckles to clear my voice and talked without speaking for much of today. still i had a lot to say, and many heard me. and i am quite happy with that. plus, i am sure i'll make up for lost audio when the next unsuspecting person calls or runs into me later in the grocery.

it's just that the U2 song came to mind today; are we running to stand still? i don't think so, neither do any of the young people in my survey, but then we are techno-optimists...

L8R, R
(ne1 can undRst if th will is thR, wEel an cm Agn)

Monday, October 20, 2008

love taps: wireless ties that bind

recently i overheard two (older) people talking on the subway about how foolish most teenaged mobile phone conversations are. what are they talking about? according to the social commentators of the subway - not a whole lot. a little "whatzup" here and "whachadoin' - not much", there. sometimes the odd gossip in short form. in fact, the majority of 17-22 year old participants in my study claim to idly pass time on their mobile phones about 50% of the time they are on them.

well, what a waste. yet, is it a waste? in a recent PEW Internet report by Wellman and Kennedy (see here) the mobile phone is one of the technologies that may be binding us together. In a US poll of 2,252 people, they found that one in four people felt that using mobile phones and the Internet make them feel closer as a family. Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, calls these silly phone calls "love taps" - just checking-in on each others well-being. in Communications Studies this is considered phatic communication which is more about social grooming than conveying information in the traditional sense.

in my study on mobile phone use among 1st year undergrads i found that participants were subliminally conscious of who called/texed them the most and likewise those whom they mainly reached out to. thus, reciprocity features highly in these "love taps" and in turn contributes to how close young people feel to each other.

so next time you amble past an airy-fairy mobile chat, smile and share the glow tap-tapping its way through the airwaves and heartstrings.

c u l8r allig8r, R

Thursday, July 24, 2008

trippin philippina

well, let's just say it's been a tad busy since last i blogged. there was a trip to hong kong, a conference in the philippines, vacation on the softest sand and in the turquoisest water, Ashe, camp, house buying and selling, and of course my research.

in manila i had the extraordinary experience of witnessing how closely the mobile phone is interwoven with a culture. everyone - and i mean everyone - has a mobile, or 2. even the catholic church in manila has set up a service sending daily catechism via text to parishioners.

philippinas are a people who have completely embraced this communication vehicle. according to John Barrett, senior analyst, asia-pacific, at pyramid research inc. in massachusetts, the philippines has the highest rate of SMS usage (text messaging) in the world. between 1998 and 2001, total mobile subscribers increased 550% to 11.1 million from 1.7 million. today it is estimated that there are over 48 million mobile phone subscribers in the philippines, sending 1 billion text messages every day. compare this to the total of 10 billion messages that all Canadians sent in 2007. oh yeah.

i chatted with a young (23 yr old) woman in the cebu airport and asked her why i saw so many people holding 2 phones - often looking at the screen on the 1st while dialing on the 2nd. she explained that it was a way to beat network cross-charges - i.e. call your "Bell" friends on your Bell phone, and your "Rogers" friends on your Rogers phone. i love it - grassroots arbitrage at its best. the developed world may not have riches, but there is a wealth of good research on mobile phone use taking place within the philippine academy. go south-east asia, go!

L8R, R
(ne1 can undRst if th will is thR, IMO. nuf Z)

Monday, April 21, 2008

the garden spade as medium

the one good thing about winter is spring. hailing from the tropics, i am struck with surprise every year at this time to see the seemingly dead patch of land in the front of our house offer life from the damp and snow crushed soil. at the sight of the first industrious bud hacking it's way out to the light, out i go with garden spade in hand to offer support to the renewal at hand.

invariably, within two minutes of my horticultural endeavours a neighbour ambles along and makes a garden-related comment. this prompts a friendly exchange that is the first conversation that i have with this person in about four months (the last encounter taking place just after the snow flew the season before). in the space of about 30-minutes, i would have four or five such chit-chats and gardening is the ice-breaker every time. so it strikes me that the garden spade mediates the renewal of my neighbourhood social network each spring. and i love it.

in his new book "New Tech, New Ties: How Mobile Communication is Reshaping Social Cohesion", Rich Ling looks at rituals as activities that foster community by offering a point of mutual engagement through which barriers to social interaction can be reduced (a la Durkeim, Goffman and Collins). my dissertation research on mobile phones and sociality supports Ling's assertion that these devices, and the rituals build on their use, positively mediate close-tie relations in our social networks.

perhaps in a similar way my garden spade mediates the renewal of my neighourhood networks, and underpins a springtime ritual that begins with, "My goodness neighbour, how does your garden grow!". happy spring.

L8R, R
(ne1 can undRst if th will is thR, IMO. nuf Z)

Monday, March 10, 2008

FIS Research Day 2008

on friday 14th, the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto (my faculty) hosts research day where faculty and students showcase current research efforts. i will present a preview of a paper that i am working on titled "On my own: using mobile phones to bridge loneliness". The following is the abstract for the paper.

This paper reports on findings from a November 2007 survey of mobile phone use in the personal social networks of 17-33 year olds in Toronto, Canada. Findings are articulated within a social affordances lens for this new media, where in this case, social affordances refer to the properties of mobile phones that foster sociality, particularly within transitional environments. The paper considers the role that ritualistic practices associated with the mobile phone play in how 1st year university students manage feelings of loneliness. In particular, using concepts drawn from Activity Theory I analyze the way mobile phones are used to bridge social gaps in 1st year undergraduate personal networks that are exaggerated when students geographically move further away from well-established social and emotional supports provided by kin and high-school friends to attend university. The paper concludes by proposing a framework that can be used to understand the implications of using new media, such as the mobile phone, in bridging gaps for relationships founded in face-to-face interaction.

Keywords: mobile phone, cell phone, social affordances, social networks, transitions, loneliness, rituals.

Monday, March 3, 2008

travel and talk

i attended the 3rd annual iSchools conference held in Los Angeles (and hosted by UCLA) yesterday. apart from the obvious benefit of escaping the coldest days in Toronto for the balmy breezes of Venice beach, there was real benefit in attending this years' conference. the "hot" topics - for me - were (1) mobile phones and intimate relationships - this was a roundtable facilitated by some solid researchers at UC Berkeley and could not have been a better session for my dissertation research; (2) Science and Technology Studies - a panel of some top researchers in this analytical approach; and (3) Communities and Technologies - a "wild card" session which attracted a large group of interdisciplinary researchers who ended up brainstorming the very definition of "community". all-in-all a good meeting, great topics and new extensions in my academic and friendship networks... thanks Ramesh!

tomorrow, March 4th, i present to the Canadian Marketing Association in a roundtable called: "How does social media fit into your marketing strategy?" See http://www.the-cma.org/?WCE=C=47|K=228020. among other things i offer research findings on the demographics that use social media and how privacy/ethics can be considered by marketers.

ciao for now.

L8R, R
(ne1 can undRst if th will is thR, IMO. nuf Z)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

social graphing, identity and privacy

Google has recently announced the availability of its Social Graph API, which is an application programming interface that allows software developers, product developers, and frankly anyone who reads and writes in the languages of the Internet, to uncover the people connected to each other through their connections to Internet documents and services. for more on this see http://code.google.com/apis/socialgraph/docs/.

i use the word uncover appropriately here since because i have a webpage, a blog, and a facebook account, and you may have linked to any one of these three "documents" but have decided against making yourself explicitly known to me; what API's like Social Graph does is remove the documents so that i can now see that you and i, and some of your friends who are linked to you, are indeed connected.

in the initial reactions to Google's Social Graph API some* have raised concerns about privacy. the debate can be over-simplified into two camps: a) it's all public information anyway, and privacy by obscurity is dead already, so why not? And b) even if a) is true, just because we can mine this data without requesting user permission, ethically speaking should we?

i want to point out a fundamental flaw in the way privacy as a socio-legal construct is interpreted. in north america the legal doctrine considers what our "reasonable expectation of privacy" is in public. with the exception of Quebec**, case law says that our houses (the brick and mortar ones versus "home" pages) is the place where we should expect to be protected from the prying eyes of the state and others. however, once we step outside of the home this expectation rapidly diminishes. according to the laws of our lands there is a geographical delineation of where we can expect that our actions are private. this falls apart in online communities where there is no geography of bits. where when we post something, like a revealing photo to our Facebook friends, we may not expect that only our fb friends are watching. yet, there is nothing equivalent in the physical world to applications like the Social Graph API. short of having a way for armies of private investigators to very quickly amass the data on everything and everyone we connect to in public spaces, and the friends of their friends too. for this reason and many others, the way that privacy as a legal doctrine is currently used is not valid when we look at these api's. there is a growing gap here between what privacy means ethically and what our recourse will be legally.

my second, thought on this is that there is a troubling and, depending on who is using these api's, dangerous underlying assumption at work; that the identities that we construct in these different online spaces, connecting to very different groups of people, may be summed up to equal a coherent representation of a person. if you strip out the context of the interactions - which is what these api's do - is the resulting data on the social connections even sensible anymore? for a good read on this see David Phillips' paper on the use of pseudonyms as identity masks online and the implications for software designers (***reference below). because the word surveillance is coming far to quickly to my mind and i wonder if what is being interpreted is anything worth having at all.
then again, it always is...

L8R, R
(ne1 can undRst if th will is thR, IMO. nuf Z)

*http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/google_privacy.php; http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2008/02/04/just_because_we.html

**Quebec is the only place in North America where photographers are required to get permission from the subjects of photographs that will be presented to the public.

***Phillips, David J. (2002). "Negotiating the Digital Closet: Online pseudonymity and the politics of sexual identity", Information, Communication & Society, Vol 5, No. 3, pp. 406–424.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

the more things change...

reflections on how dependent and tethered we have become, and are still becoming to technologies like the mobile phone leads me to consider what others thought about technology adoptions in the past - a historical look back.

National Public Radio (NPR) in the US ran a story on mobile phones on Christmas eve 2007 and included this excerpt. For the full story, including a quote from Barry Wellman, one of my dissertation committee members and friend, see here http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17587238&ft=1&f=1006

"The cell phone, some worry, is encouraging rudeness and eroding social graces. In that sense, this new technology is nothing new. We humans have always had misgivings about new technology. When the train replaced the horse and carriage, 19th-century critics worried that the new, high-speed juggernaut signaled the end of leisurely, contemplative travel.

The advent of the telephone (land lines, not cellular) prompted Mark Twin to pen this Christmas greeting in The Boston Daily Globe in 1890:

It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us all throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, except the inventor of the telephone."

over and out for this week,

Friday, January 25, 2008

tech-mediation: parents and children

when i left the small island of Trinidad in 1996 for the slightly larger island of England/Scotland, email had only just hit the mainstream public Trinidad. but recognizing how much it would save me - both financially and emotionally - i made sure that my mother learned how to use it so that we could stay connected during my first steps away from home.

to her immense credit, she persisted through flaky 14.4 kbps dial-up connections often needing to rewrite entire pages of hard earned typing when the system would fail, but truly she was probably one of the 1st power users of email in her generation (not counting the email corporate crowd, of course). thus, technology and particularly communications technologies can be a powerful connector and mediator across generations, especially where there is another motivation to use the technology - holding on to important relationships when geography gets in the way. still for many parents the onslaught of mobile phones, Blackberries, webpages, iPods, iPhones, blogs, wikis, flickr, Skype cams, Second Life, etc. is a huge hurdle and sometimes an obstacle in the already complex dynamics of communicating with their pre-teens, teens and young adult children. further, as the aging baby-boomers arrive at retirement and leave easy access to these technologies at the workplace, connecting to grandchildren is even more problematic and confusing.

never before in history have so many communications media been available at the same time. and as we, of the tech-generation hurry to use and explore these with excitement, it is worth a pause to consider whether the armfuls of technologies that we settle on for this month or that help or maybe alienate those who still want to just feel near to us. and in that pause consider the tax we ask the previous generation to pay for loving us. just a pause. then wheel an' come again...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hodgkinson lashes out at fb

with a well-inked pen, Tom Hodgkinson whipped the blogosphere into a frenzy with his Jan 14 op-ed in the Guardian "With Friends like These", see http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/jan/14/facebook. using one of those inevitable lapses into bored procrastination, you should check it out. stinging, hot, and bright - kinda like the tropical sun, but...well, not. there is lots that is being said out there about it and i add 2 reflections; faces and places.

first, faces. in the midst of the piece Hodgkinson echoes what i have heard others say before about fb and other such spaces; people are manufacturing and carefully maintaining a proxy of what they "look" like on fb. naysayers are unhappy about this, and point out that we are not being honest about who we are on these virtual spaces, loads of our fb friends are imposters, and in our fb profiles so are we. well i ask, who are we in physical space, anyway? do you have one face? instead, perhaps all of these new spaces are places for us to put on many different masks and have some fun. for a long time anthropologists have studied the cultural significance of masks and identity presentation across cultures; from french-colonial balls, to Trinidad carnival, to halloween, we love to mask, even in the physical world. in general, we are told that masks have two important social functions: (1) they provide a disguise for the wearer and (2) they allow the wearer to assume the identity, at least temporarily, of some other person or being. in new media, there may be a third social function: (3) virtual masking allows us to highlight and project in a much more flamboyant way that we can in face-to-face interactions a sub-set of ourselves geared to the whomever we perceive to be the audience. e.g. perhaps i want the explicit-content, spoken-word orator in me to be my dominant face for MySpace, but push my academician face on my website? (btw, i don't yet have an explicit-content spoken-word orator in me... but it's a thought).

second, places. while Hodgkinson catches plenty, he misses the point that many people get disappointed with this glorified utopia that is the physical, f2f world - where environmental degradation, terrorists, pedophiles, corruption, politics (of any kind neoconservative, liberal, whatever), and mindless jobs persist, and where we get to go to pubs with our friends loads of times. my research subjects tell me that virtual spaces like fb are places where they can just relax, take a rest, and whoa betide, have fun of the silly, mindless ilk. especially when life says that f2f is rarely possible when we need it.

so, i largely don't buy what hodgkinson is selling. not because there is not some truth in it, but because every now and then i know that folks just want to escape the f2f, and throw a chicken at someone out there.

L8R, R. (ne1 can undRst if th will is thR, IMO. nuf Z)

why me?

so although for many i'm a little late to the party thumpin' on the blogosphere, among my peeps i'm still gettin' here early. i thought i'd better answer their immediate question in the first post...why Rhonda, why are you doing this?

as a researcher in new media, i kinda hafta be in here. a bit of participant observation if you will. and i believe that what John Gregory Dunne said is true, that "writing is manual labour of the mind: a job, like laying pipe". so it's a workout. lastly, and more seriously, i'm playing with this blog thang as a form of asynchronous conversation with the big, bad whomever, that i will lovingly call "my public".

so, my public, since research shows that less than 10% of people who read blogs ever post a comment/response, i invite you to every so often be that 10%. let's talk.

L8R, R
(ne1 can undRst if th will is thR, IMO. nuf Z)