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Mobile communication and the transformation of daily life: The next phase of research on mobiles


In 2004, Prof. Christopher Henshilwood of the University of Bergen discovered in South Africa what appears to be the oldest known jewelry—75,000 year old pierced and ochre-tinted tick shells. His discovery suggested the importance of jewelry and other forms of interpersonal communication and representation. Henshilwood asserts that “once symbolically mediated behavior was adopted by our ancestors it meant communication strategies rapidly shifted, leading to the transmission of individual and widely shared cultural values” (Graham 2004). If we agree with Prof. Henshilwood’s assessment of the import of the initial use of symbolic display technologies (in this case, tick shell decorative jewelry), the implications for evolving practices of mobile communication technology may be even more significant than we generally assume. Specifically, novel forms of widespread mediated communication could alter the cultural values we embrace and transmit. They could also transform social structure, interpersonal processes and land use in ways we might neither anticipate nor desire.

The lines of investigation sketched above are important since the illuminate understand current and emerging social practices and their implications. Mobile technology allows unprecedented permutations and concatenation of innovations in communication at the levels of place and space, individual, group and mass, and creative new services offered from a range of entities from amateur creators to gigantic corporations. Therefore, we have an opportunity to structure services and social practices in a self-aware way that should be conductive to outcomes that are better than would otherwise be the case.

I would, for the purposes of argument, go further and suggest that it might be the case that the mobile communication is also likely to be a transformative technology.

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He is the author of Connections: Social and Cultural Studies of the Telephone in American Life (1999) and editor of Machines that Become Us: The Social Context of Personal Communication Technology (2003), both available from Transaction Publishers.

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Katz, J.E. Mobile communication and the transformation of daily life: The next phase of research on mobiles. Know Techn Pol 19, 62–71 (2006).

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  • Mobile Phone
  • Cell Phone
  • Mobile Communication
  • Mobile Phone User
  • Mobile Communication Technology