Larissa Hjorth from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology did a marvelous job in editing this issue on the world-changing nature of camera phones. She collected together a group of researchers all over the globe, posed them a question about how camera phones are changing the world, and guided them through the writing process. The results are in this collection, which is the first of its kind.

As several writers note, the great paradox of camera phones is a mystery they pose to us. On the other hand, camera phones have been a stellar success commercially. It would be too much to say that everyone on the planet who owns a phone also owns a digital camera, but this is not far from truth either. In fact, as mobile phone videos from Tehran have shown recently, with their introduction to mobile phones, digital camera technology has become ubiquitous, making the life of power holders and powers-to-be increasingly difficult. On the other hand, we know from telecoms that very few people actually send multimedia messages. It is the handset manufacturers who have enjoyed success, not telecoms. It is the latter observation that has tended to lead to what could be described only as a nihilistic attitude toward camera phones. They are not used, why study them?

This collection takes a different tack to the question. Specifically, it looks at camera phones in the context of our changing visual practices. Thus, rather than looking at phones as a means of communication, the papers in this collection ask a question that is better grounded in present technological and Internet realities. Namely, we have Web 2.0, which has made sharing content produced with digital devices easy and enjoyable. As owners of camera phones, we take photos, record sounds, text, and sometimes submit these recordings to the Web.

Reading the papers in this collection, it was obvious to me that this is what has changed. I think it is fair to say that with a few (then) students of mine, I was a pioneer in camera phone studies, having published what must be the first research monograph on the topic as early as 2001/2002. However, what I and few others focused on at that time was communication: taking photos, annotating them with text, sending them, and then responding to them. I guess the culmination of these Mobile Multimedia 1.0 studies was my Mobile Multimedia in Action published in 2007.

What this collection does is something else: It looks at an issue I explored with my colleagues already in 1999 with no success, namely, the interconnections of mobile phones and the Web. Back then, we stopped our studies because it was clear that even technologically agile people did not put their images to the Web. Today, as the papers show, the situation is dramatically different. As Barbara Scifo notes in her paper, mobile phones are in fact the dominant recording device of our age. People use them in many possible ways to document and chronicle their lives, as well as their friends’ lives. In countries like Korea, Mobile Multimedia 2.0—as I called the Web-based culture in a conference paper about a year ago—is a reality people enact daily. Our culture is not just brief Twitter “presence” bits but also multimedia-based, lively, as ordinary as it may look like. At least, this is the case if we look at young people.

We may be on our way of becoming a culture of watchers, seers, and photographers. Our new technical abilities may be changing the way in which we look at the world and render it tellable and reportable for others.

However, for a social scientist, the good news of this collection is that all its papers point to a familiar direction. Even given our vastly improved means of visual communication, there is still a common thread in all the new technical means, sociability. We mainly communicate with our friends and acquaintances; however, these terms are understood cross-culturally. When we take a picture of a cup of coffee and a Danish, it is not high art. Nor is it meant to be. However, it may be meaningful for those who know us well. Even the new forms of mobile multimedia seem to function as glue that keeps us together, making our friendships and allegiances not just public but also ratifying them and keeping them alive. One does not have to conduct ethnomethodological studies to appreciate the value of this observation and the cataloguing of mobile multimedia practices this issue presents.

Again, many thanks for Larissa Hjorth for her able editorship. Many thanks also to writers who contributed to this volume, which is particularly close to my heart.

17 July 2009 in Punavuori, Helsinki,

Ilpo Koskinen