What do you use your mobile for?

 screen-shot-2013-05-03-at-100504.pngArianna Mazzeo from the University of Catalonia  gave an interesting workshop recently for us at Leicester. The focus was on the ways in which people are using mobile phones these days. She had us working in two groups and asked us to draw a timeline to indicate how we used our phones over the course of a day. In our group we indicated the function used above the line and mapped what we were doing at the time underneath. There was a lot of overlap between the two groups; for example using the phone as an alaram clock in the morning, using it to surf the net, read articles, answer email, check Facebook and use Twitter, but also some differences. One member of our group is going ‘An audio a day challenge’, so uses his phone to take recordings, Others of us are doing something similar in terms of ‘A photo a day challenge’. What was particularly striking to me was a) the fact that neither group mentioned the use of the phone as a erghh phone… and b) the variety of ways in which the phone was being used and how it was an integral part of our lives. 

Such an intimate relationship with the phone is a relatively recent phenomenon; arising as a result of the emergence of smart phones, such as the iPhone. The variety of functionality and Apps now available is truly amazing, providing anywhere, anytime access to support a range of daily activities we undertake. I remember years ago being in California with people from Apple. One guy was telling me that we would be able in the future to look up on a device restaurants in the area, along with ratings and then be able to remotely book a table. At the time it seemed like Science Fiction, but of course nowadays we don’t think twice about being able to do such things.

It makes you wonder how we survived before such devices! And I can’t even conceive a time before Google and the Internet. Anyone remember ‘Yellow Pages’? For me the way in which we appropriate technologies goes back to Gibbon’s notion of Affordances; i.e. technologies have key characteristics but these are only realised in relation to an individual and their personal preferences, skills and context. It takes time to appropriate technologies into your daily practice. I was personally reminded of this very recently. I got an iPad in the Autumn. At first I was excited about it and played about downloading various Apps, but after a while I found I was no longer using it and had reverted to using my Mac Air. I was lucky enough to win an iPad Mini (I never win anything!) at the Ascilite conference at the end of November, but just somehow never got round to playing with it much. Five months on, just before I went to Saudi Arabia, I decided to make a concerted effort to give it a go. Whilst waiting in the airport for my flight I downloaded various Apps and in particular iBooks, along with some free books. I found a book I liked and started reading it… Soon I was totally hooked, the interface was nice to read and the size and weight of the device was much better than the iPad, which is just too heavy. Having made the breakthrough with using it to read books, on my return I started downloading lots of other Apps – Feedly for reading blogs I follow, Facebook, Twitter etc. of course, various curation tools, games, reference sites, a full Spanish dictionary, a range of work Apps (such as Office Apps, To Do lists, expenses Apps, etc.), various media tools etc. I can really see the power of the device now. As I said on Facebook this morning ‘Not love at first sight, but definitely a permanent partner now’.