First Monday

FM reviews


Studying mobile media Larissa Hjorth, Jean Burgess, and Ingrid Richardson (editors).
Studying mobile media: Cultural technologies, mobile communication, and the iPhone.
New York: Routledge, 2012.
decorated boards, 248 p., ISBN 978–0–415–89534–7, US$125.00.



Studying mobile media: Cultural technologies, mobile communication, and the iPhone gathers together several explorations at the intersection of untethered technologies and their many users. Each paper takes an aspect of increasingly ubiquitous smartphone culture and tells its story with a focus on on particular technological phenomenon: the iPhone. This collection brings together authors and editors from around the world that have shaped contemporary media and communication studies. Within, studies of the iPhone’s transformational impact on people, organizations, and industries slowly build an understanding of ubiquitous computing on sociality today.

This book isolates mobile media, enabled by constant connectivity and the extrasensory capacities of the smartphone. Studying mobile media ‘locates the field’ of media with these affordances by telling a story of technologically mediated propinquity; of communities based on software platforms and networks inhabited by strangers; and of the individual, physically alone and yet enclosed in a ‘telecocoon’ of ambient intimacy. The authors suggest that modern information infrastructures, embodied in information appliances, are changing the ways we work and play and spend time between each activity.

The relationship that users have with the iPhone in particular is noted as being integrative and paradigm–shifting; the device may live in a ‘walled garden’, but it has been the harbinger of change and smartphone uptake as it emerged in various markets with a staggering variety of uses. The community that has formed around what is now a symbol of connectedness in the technological and social sense has catalyzed this collection and provided further context for what might otherwise have been an unwieldy discussion.

This book is split into three parts, considering the iPhone: as a cultural movement, as a platform and phenomenon, and as it has affected labor. In terms of cultural movements, theories are reviewed and shaped in light of contemporary mobility and mass self–communication; changes in what personal computing is and ought to be are described through milestones in the iPhone’s history; a case is described in which technologically convergent devices mediate presence despite distance; and a further case is described in which contemporary mobiles enable hyper–connectivity and demand fluid navigation of users between various communication channels.

The second chapter suggests that mobiles afford the user new levels of connection to — and capacity to create — data. More specifically, the authors discuss: the decreasing significance of personal and conspicuously consumptive photography as compared to image capture as data collection now that cameras are ubiquitous; sensors, infinitely appropriable by developers and their users, creating a ‘universe of reference’ with silicon and radio waves; augmented reality as an extension of context limited only by the imagination and user–prescribed utility; and, screens as a site of activities that allow us to inhabit global publics online while demarcating a private physical space.

The book closes by focusing on the device’s impact on industry. It begins with a look into the idea of the iPhone as a platform of innovation. Then, a sobering look into the deeply physical element of mobile media, that of actually producing these devices in factories. Further entries describe the various ways in which an iPhone listens and can be listened to, and how these methods are normalizing with ubiquity; how personalization has been acquired as an industry standard instead of as an oppositional hacker culture, but traditional power dynamics still manifest despite customization; and, how iconic artifacts pit organizational policies against passion in various levels of hierarchy — to turbulent ends.

Studying mobile media includes analysis and insight into a world in the wake of a so–called personal computing revolution. Such devices are changing ways of communication and understandings of presence, normalizing and gamifying data collection, and drawing attention to the inescapably physical nature of ubiquitous computing. Through a review of theories past and present, as well as various case studies into already visible change, this book lays a foundation for further scholarship in mobile media and sociotechnical query in general. Because of its focus on the iPhone as a context, the text has a grounding and certain familiarity that will likely give it wide appeal. Studying mobile media places the iPhone at the forefront of change, suggesting that the physical device and its symbolic equivalent are a key actant in the shaping of contemporary communication and innovation yet to come. — Zack O’Leary, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh; Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, National University of Singapore. End of article

Copyright © 2012, First Monday.

Book review of Studying mobile media: Cultural technologies, mobile communication, and the iPhone
by Zack O’Leary.
First Monday, Volume 17, Number 9 - 3 September 2012