Dallas, Costis (2006) Socio-cultural aspects of the emerging mobile communication society.

15th IST Mobile and Wireless Telecommunications Summit, 4-8 June 2006, Mykonos.

Socio-cultural aspects of the emerging mobile communication society*
Costis Dallas◊
My personal experience with mobile devices is perhaps typical of Europeans in their forties. I only bought my first mobile phone in the mid-1990s, perhaps a couple of years after they were in circulation. Working daily with computers since my student years in the early-1980s, I did not feel the need for a PDA until the last few years, and then, before I could settle for a standalone PDA, I was taken over by combination mobile phone-PDAs, using them regularly to the present day. I synchronise my current mobile phone with my work computer; I input and manage appointments directly on the phone; I carry a few MP3 songs for the odd moment of rest in public transport; I check the weather on the Internet, especially when at sea on a small boat; I send text messages very occasionally, especially when I’m tied up in meetings and cannot respond to an urgent call; oddly enough, I don’t have a camera in my current phone, and while I have a few pictures on its memory card, I don't feel I am missing something important. I would therefore have little new to offer on the basis of my personal experience. Professionally and academically, on the other hand, I have been involved for a number of years in the field of cultural communication and management, as well as in conceptualising, designing and creating web and multimedia solutions for relationship management. I will start my brief exploration of mobile technologies from the field of arts and cultural heritage. During the last few years, I have been involved as Steering Committee member with the Digicult series of strategic foresight and technology watch studies, funded by the European Commission IST programme. As part of our Technology Watch Report series, in 2004 we published a report on "Mobile access to cultural resources", in which we identified the potential of mobile phones, location sensing, Bluetooth networking

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Address to the 15th IST Mobile and Wireless Telecommunications Summit, 5 June 2006, Mykonos. Lecturer in Cultural Heritage Management and Advanced Technologies, Department of Communication, Media and Culture, Panteion University; Vice-Chairman, PRC Group – The Management House;
© 2006 Costis Dallas <cdallas@panteion.gr>. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution -Non Commercial -No Derivatives 2.5 License. Electronic version: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/>

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and PDAs as a powerful means for enhancing the experience of the public within the arts, heritage and tourism sector. Among the couple of dozen other areas we looked at were agents and avatars, personalisation, RFID devices and smart tags, innovative human-computer interfaces, semantic web technologies, virtual and enhanced reality solutions. We focussed on providing definitions, on establishing what the state of the art was in each particular technology areas, on identifying innovative existing practice and on deriving foresight scenarios from experts in each field.1 Our choice of mobile technologies among these selected topics was not accidental. Mobile computing applications appeared in the field of culture almost as early as the appearance of the first mobile devices in the mid-1990s. The notion of providing enhanced, interactive, location-aware, multimedia access to augmented resources via a handheld device, through orientation and learning support services to museum visitors, emerged a natural development from the tradition of human guides and docents in visitor attractions, combined with the long-existing technology of audio-guides and the more recent forays of cultural institutions into interactive, hand-on exhibits. Solutions such as the Sotto Voce application developed by HP for guiding visitors at the Filioli historic house, the Rememberer developed for the San Francisco Exploratorium, the Worldboard solution of the University of Indiana, installed in the local Mathers Museum of World Cultures, CIMI’s Handscape project, led by Cornell University HCI lab and involving several US museums such as Field Museum and the Smithsonian Institute, and Glasgow University’s Equator, developed for the local Lighthouse Centre for Architecture and combining a handheld device with ultrasound location sensing, virtual environments and hypermedia technologies, were greeted as important developments of the last few years. Current practice by established leaders in the field, such as the Tate Modern, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, involve renting out specially configured wireless-enabled PDAs, with varying multimediality, interaction and location-awareness abilities, and are producing lively debate between innovators and luddites in the museum field. However, as is noted in the Digicult technology watch report, “in contrast to the use of audio guides or other specialised devices which typically required to be maintained by the cultural heritage institutions and were borrowed by the visitors, new mobile devices are often owned by the visitors themselves. This may bring a radical change in the way heritage institutions think about formulating and financing their technology strategies.” And, should I add, also a radical change in the types of interactions and services made possible, as each individual will be accessible through his or her own personal mobile

1

Ross, S., Donnelly, M. & Dobreva, M. (2004) Mobile access to cultural information resources. In Digicult Forum (2004) Technology Watch Report, 2, 91-118.

© 2006 Costis Dallas <cdallas@panteion.gr>. Some rights reserved.

SOCIO-CULTURAL ASPECTS OF THE EMERGING MOBILE COMMUNICATION SOCIETY

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communication device, combining, apart from voice communications, capabilities of text and multimedia messaging, Bluetooth networking, an embedded camera, and the ability to run push applications. This point is fundamental, and not limited to the field of culture and the arts from which we started our exploration. We already see a significant increase in the market of personal devices that combine mobile telephony, networking access, and significant computing and storage capacity to allow the deployment of sophisticated information and communication services. Without underestimating the hard work still needed before significant issues of performance, scalability, quality of service and security are overcome, one cannot help but sense that our current ability to conceptualise, design and develop solutions that make justice to what is possible, already lags behind the current capabilities of the technology. Well-known network society theorist and professor of the University of Southern California Manuel Castells introduced, in a recent ground-breaking report funded by the Annenberg Foundation, the notion of the mobile communication society.2 Castells’ research team investigated a global perspective of quantitative and qualitative data, exploring trends of social use of wireless communication technologies in Europe, America and Asia Pacific, their findings concerned, among other things, "the deep connection between wireless communication and the emergence of youth culture, the transformation of language by texting and multimodalty, the growing importance of wireless communication in socio-political mobilization, and changes in the practice of time and space resulting from wireless communication." They illustrate, notably, the trend towards saturating time with social interaction - through the use of mobile devices - when all other practices cannot be conducted (as in queue waiting or during travel); the prevalence of affective - related to feelings - rather than instrumental use of texting; the significance of SMS messaging and mobile phones in recent political campaigning in Korea and the Philippines; the prevalence of content-driven mobile platforms, such as DoCoMo and i-mode in the Far East; the increasingly blurred context of mobile device use, including, apart from interpersonal communication, image taking and sending, audio retrieving and playing, and data transmission; and, on the whole, the emergence of a "nomadic way of life", whereby the actual location of social actors is not anymore a determining factor for communication practices, and the whole notion of social time and space is altered.

2

Castells M, Fernandez-Ardevol M, Qiu JL, Sey A. 2006. The Mobile Communication Society: A crosscultural analysis of available evidence on the social uses of wireless communication technology. Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. (http://arnic.info/WirelessWorkshop/MCS.pdf).

© 2006 Costis Dallas <cdallas@panteion.gr>. Some rights reserved.

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Intriguing recent experiments appear to support the intuitions of Manuel Castell's study. The Social Tapestries research project, led by London consultancy Provoscis in close association with London School of Economics Media and Communications department, and a host of other partners, “develops experimental uses of public authoring to demonstrate the social and cultural benefits of local knowledge sharing enabled by new mobile technologies.” The two software prototypes developed by the project as part of the Urban Tapestries platform – one for mobile phones, the other for wireless-enabled PDAs – were tested in public trials in order to investigate the potential use of mobile technology beyond the narrow consumption and consumerism straitjacket. By means of providing capabilities of spatial annotation and publiccollaborative authoring, the experiment verified the potential of mobile technologies to provide users with an modified, and in some ways, richer experience of space. This richer notion of space goes beyond a narrow definition of x-y coordinates location to include topographical, social and cultural information, as well as indications of human presence as manifested by other users’ traces, or by sound maps of one's own experience. 3 Social Tapestries researchers looked into scenarios in the field of education, community arts and regeneration, social housing, and local government. Similar to Castells’ view, and enriched by cultural and social research by writers such as Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau and Guy Debord, they focus on the idea of a new kind of nomadic social experience, whereby people's interactions move across physical and social space, and on the need to provide significantly differentiated technologies which will support a "nomadic way of life" – one that is not confined, anymore, to adventurers or vagabonds, but which typifies the social and professional experience of a large number of people at a time of increased work mobility, international travel, urban consumerism and fluid social and economic bonds. The quest for identity and locality, which goes together with globalisation, adds yet another dimension to the nature of this "nomadic way of life". The conviction that mobile communication technologies will have profound implications on a wide spectrum of social practices is echoed by the Demos think-tank in their "London Calling” report, published in 2003: they envisage a world whereby mobile phones will be used to store passenger smartcard credits usable in public transport; whereby in-car guidance systems will be enhanced with local knowledge about places, services and facilities; whereby citizens will increasingly use mobile phone cameras for security and crime reduction, and will be able to transmit such information to the authorities in

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Lane G. (2003) Urban Tapestries: Wireless networking, public authoring and social knowledge. In Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, pp. 169-75; Lane G. Social tapestries: public authoring and civil society. In Provoscis Cultural Snapshots, 9, pp. 1-9 (http://proboscis.org.uk/publications/ SNAPSHOTS_socialtapestries.pdf).

© 2006 Costis Dallas <cdallas@panteion.gr>. Some rights reserved.

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real time; whereby wireless note-taking will help medical stuff reduce paperwork; whereby education will be enhanced by the capacity of mobile devices to serve interactive multimedia content in real-time, and will allow more direct and frequent communication between students and parents; and, whereby the tourist experience will be revolutionised by the ability of mobile devices to help reduce queuing in attractions, book tickets, and push relevant location-based information to users.4 There is a significant amount of work needed, focussing on the issues emerging from the increasing importance of intangible assets and their management by companies and organisations. It is important to recognise the increased importance of ICT-based solutions for helping organisations achieve business and organisational goals, and of conceptualising, designing and deploying such solutions as knowledge portals, sophisticated call centres, and analytical CRM applications. Such solutions, however, should not be seen as isolated, self-sufficient means. On the contrary, ICT solutions should be viewed as part of a wider, socio-technical system. Given the massive penetration of mobile devices, and the profound implications of their social use, noted above, advances in mobile and wireless computing should be taken onboard as tools for providing better services to organisations, and thus for maximising the utility of their intangible assets. In fact, the areas of mobile, location-aware, wireless solutions are an important pillar in a cutting edge technology solutions offering, together with knowledge web applications and relationship management solutions. Driven by a public-centric, user-laden approach, one may envisage a future where services across the intangible assets management spectrum are integrated seamlessly with applications delivered via mobile information devices. In the field of tourism communication, for instance, I recently led a team to conceptualise and design a content-rich, XML-based, WAP and mobile Internet portal, accessible from small screen devices such as web-enabled PDAs and mobile phones – the first service of this kind in Greece, hosted by the national rural tourism agency Agrotouristiki.5 In a typical scenario, a tourist on the way to Cyclades, Crete or the central Peloponnese is able, in only a few steps, to select her area of interest on her mobile phone, get a listing of alternative tourism hostels or farms, call them directly from the phone, and get additional information about cultural and natural spots of interest. If she wishes, she can supply her mobile phone number, so that the system can send updates and provide personalised information. The system contains real-world information, but it is available only to mobile phone owners with a data connection and WAP or web-enabled devices. We

4

McCarthy H & Miller P. (2003) London Calling. London: Demos. Accessible at http://mobile.agrotravel.gr..

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© 2006 Costis Dallas <cdallas@panteion.gr>. Some rights reserved.

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are still scratching the surface of the possibilities: wouldn't it be good, for instance, if the system could use the actual location of a visitor to provide him with locally-relevant information, foregoing the need for selecting location? In addition, wouldn't it be nice if, on arrival, users could be called back by a system to be provided by an audio introduction to what a historic place or other point of interest has to offer? And, wouldn't it be great if the same mobile phone could be used by people to capture photos or short videos of actual places and post them by a single click to the information system, for friends to access? And this is only in this particular field of tourism: one could equally think of ways in which blended learning and training, as well as on-the-job training, could be revolutionised by the use of mobile devices; or, by new mechanisms to support collaborative work, sharing personal and group information, and enabling better interaction between remote coworkers, using such technologies. I have the feeling that we are on the way to such developments as will allow such functionalities, and more. For public organisations, companies and even individuals, technologies are what anthropologists call "extra-somatic means of adaptation" to changing needs. In the current stage of a post-industrial, knowledge-driven economy and society, it becomes evident that technologies evolve to support everincreasing degrees of embeddedness and mobility - represented, respectively, by the sectors of pervasive computing and mobile computing, deemed to merge, within the foreseeable future, within a unified vision of ubiquitous, ambient intelligence. A socio-cultural approach, addressing the social and cultural communication aspects of emerging technologies, may be an essential element for a successful deployment of this vision.

© 2006 Costis Dallas <cdallas@panteion.gr>. Some rights reserved.

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