2008-07-09

"New Tech New Ties" - Thoughts and Response



In preparation for this project, I am finishing reading the book, New Tech New Ties by Rich Ling. Ling is a sociologist and researcher at Telenor (the Norwegian phone company) and, along with Per Helmersen, will advise me and hopefully share some knowledge and experiences on mobile interactions. Here is a brief description of the book, and the impact it might have on my research:

The main proposal of the book is that mobile phones enhance the social relationships between family members and close friends perhaps at the expense of those that are co-present (sharing the same public space). He approaches this explanation through the perspective that mobile interactions are composed of rituals. My simplified understanding of his thesis is that friends and close family members are always in contact. My brother can reach me if I am in my house, in California, or Norway. If he wants to call me to ask about a movie or share a piece of news, he doesn’t even really need to know where I am – other than that I am on the phone with him.
Similarly, Ling describes scenarios where face to face interactions are extended through mobile interactions. If I’m meeting someone for dinner, I can be speaking with them on the phone right up until the point when I bump into them outside the restaurant. We can then discuss the meal on the phone later that evening. Examples such as these show that social relationships can be strengthened through mobile interaction.
On the other hand, Ling describes scenarios where social ties between those sharing the same public space may be disrupted. How do I follow through with a ritual greeting with a restaurant host if I’m on the phone with my friend talking until she arrives?

In any case, there are some potentially strong implications for my own research on mobile learning interactions. If mobile phones do in fact enhance close relationships, then perhaps I would design a museum scenario that encourages children to use their phone to interact with family or friends outside the museum. They could send pictures, questions or engage in other forms of learning conversations. Maybe children would be doing this anyway. On the other hand, perhaps these disrupted face-to-face relationships in the public museum space should be addressed directly. If I know that mobile phones dissuade museum visitors from asking questions to each other, then I might need to design an exhibit or mobile technology that encourages these visitors to engage with each other.

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