EXPLORING THE IMPACT OF 3G MOBILE PHONE
TECHNOLOGY ON GLOBAL COMMUNITIES
RICHARD BENSON, MARK RADCLIFF, STEPHEN ARMSTRONG, ROB LEVINE
1 INTRODUCTION 6
2 3G AND COMMUNITY 8
3 3G AND SELF 11
4 3G, LOVE AND ROMANCE 15
5 3G ETIQUETTE 19
6 3G AND POST-VERBAL COMMUNICATION 25
7 3G AND SPEED 28
8 3G AND SPACE 31
APPENDIX A: Research Methodology 36
APPENDIX B: Report Summary/Key Findings 38
APPENDIX C: Some Cultural Differences 42
APPENDIX D: Glossary 43
A decade ago, most of us were aware of mobile telephones, but had no logical extension of that newly-familiar mobile world. On the other, 3G
idea what possible uses they might have in our everyday lives. A wireless comprises a series of developments and applications – web and email
telephone was an intriguing, even mysterious concept, but as a tool was access, stills and video photography and videoconferencing, music recording
generally seen as something for other people: certain kinds of professional and playback, television, high-speed connections and downloads – so
specialists; long-distance workers; wealthy gadget-freaks. Others might have extensive and diverse that unexpected and all-new telephonic rules and
looked on with a degree of admiration, but rarely envy. After all, as the relationships are emerging.
saying went, what am I going to do with one of those?
In Korea and Japan, countries leading the global take-up of 3G and between
That question was answered in different ways for different people. Maybe them home to more than 60 million out of a global total of 180 million
it was that first wasted hour at a misheard meeting point, and the sudden who have so far subscribed to 3G. In pioneering European hubs of previous-
realization of how quickly the confusion could have been ended if it had been generation mobile telephony such as Sweden and Finland, adaptation to
possible to stay where you were and call your friends. Perhaps it was a first the new protocol and attitudes to it are still embryonic, in many respects.
encounter with the simple magic of the Short Messaging Service. It could In the USA, business users are helping to define the role of the new
even have been that holiday, work excursion or single afternoon where a technologies; in Central and South America, penetration is low but
phone was first borrowed. Or rather, that strange feeling, once that borrowed interesting 3G preferences are already emerging. In Dubai, there are only
phone was returned, that something was missing from your life. around 5,000 3G users, nearly all of them in the city, but (as we shall see)
that concentration, combined with a traditionally pronounced involvement of
Regardless of the means, the end result goes without saying. Now, we public servants and social rules within people’s private life, has already bred
all chime, What would I do without one of these? Mobile phone systems, some fascinating innovations. Remote communication, spatial proximity and
handsets and services have become part of our lives. Mobile phones have the intense interconnection of public and private zones have all helped define
become forms of cultural shorthand, signifying everything from love and work 3G’s uses in the territory.
to ringtone-induced annoyance. We take their presence for granted, embrace
or at least resign ourselves to their role in our lives. When Sadie Plant wrote The aim of this study, then, is to examine some of the ways in which 3G
On the Mobile, her Motorola-sponsored study of the behaviour of mobile use is redefining, has already redefined, our old-fashioned mobile world.
users, in 2001, saying “no” to the mobile was still an option. Now, in many To go to some of the unexpected places it has been taken and to begin
contexts, it no longer is. to make sense of the logic behind some of its unlikelier, user-generated
applications. To ask where the 2G notion of mobile phone as enabler of
In just a few years, mobile voice and text services went from novelties for individual freedom (not to mention the associated fear of mobile phone
specialists to familiar, depended-upon and near-universal components of our as device-enhancing social atomisation and individual isolation) meets
lives. Now, we’re in the middle of another shift. On the one hand, 3G is the the yearning for community and connection that so many 3G services and
adaptations fulfil. To explore the idea of telephonic exchanges beyond the crucial personal information. All illuminate our relationship with 3G
boundaries of voice and SMS. technology, explain how it is changing us, and vice versa.
Research for the report was carried out by researchers on the ground in Anyone doubting the value of and scope for such a survey might resort to
each of the countries discussed. They observed behaviour patterns, assessed a familiar refrain, one to which the pages that follow constitute an answer
media attitudes to 3G and interviewed owners of 3G phones about their of sorts:
thoughts on the technology and their hopes for its future. In leading territories,
further research was carried out with focus groups that represented a cross- I just want to make calls and send the odd text…
section of the phone-using public.
What would I do with one of those?
It should be noted at this point that, asked their opinions of 3G, many
interviewees and expert commentators were largely negative. Thanks to
delays in its rollout and grand expectations in many places before 3G was
launched, and early issues with pricing, download speed, reception and ease
of use, lots of people were – at best – lukewarm about the technology. In
Hong Kong, for example, many people said they’d returned to their pre-3G
handsets and were going to wait for 4G before upgrading again. In San
Francisco, which has a long history of celebrating “open source” software
culture, they complained about “closed browsers” which prevented them
from accessing content beyond that sanctioned by their service providers.
One: “costs too much”, two: “takes too long”, three: “is too fiddly to use
properly”. Those three basic observations just about cover all the technology-
based complaints logged during our research, and since the remit of this
report was to explore interesting 3G behaviours rather than provide a
quantitative account of attitudes, those complaints are not discussed at
length in it. The complaints that are explored are compelling ones that also
provide insights into the wider cultures of the countries surveyed – fears of
being found via video or tracking services; concerns about people becoming
ever more dependent on their phones for their senses of self; anxieties about
privacy in an age where a handset is often the site of storage for some
2 JUST THE THREE OF US: Telephony and Community
Mixi, pocket peers, instant postcard – these The defining mobile-phone conversation in the voice-and-text era was a
communication between two people in different places, each no longer
are just three of the forms which community tied to particular locations as landline callers had been. The emerging 3G
archetype is of communities, of exchange(s) between groups of anything
spirit and collective thinking are taking from three to many thousands. In addition, in the 3G era, even many two-way
exchanges indicate a reinforced notion of “sharing”. In Sweden, for example,
in the 3G era. Below, we explore some LunarStorm, a mobile-phone and online community for young people, uses
the model of two teenage girls giggling over media content on a telephone,
of the new ways in which the technology then sending it on to a boy who proceeds to share it with one or more of his
friends. In their modern forms and with their new functions, phones
is informing and affecting our relationships increasingly move on from being objects of interest only for their owners to
become storage and display systems in which items of interest to a wide
with other people. range of other people are gathered.
In Japan, the mixi mobile-network site is a hugely popular subscription
community. (Though the network’s pushing of the system means many
Japanese have upgraded to 3G without making a conscious decision to do
so; one young interviewee explained that several of her friends had moved
to 3G expressly to utilise mixi.) Mixi is a social networking system – that
is, a digital system for making or maintaining remote friendships and
relationships – with more than 500,000 members. Each of those members
typically operates within small groups of friends that usually number from
10 to 20. The contrast with the nearest Western equivalents – ‘open-ended’
online networking sites such as the US-based Friendster and MySpace, in
which your contacts list is limited only by the interest levels of observers
who find an individual’s profile interesting, and popular or attractive
individuals can quickly gain lists of hundreds of ‘friends’ – is intriguing.
On the one hand, this comparison is in line with common assumptions
about national character – Japanese culture stresses humility and collective
achievement; Western societies typically promote the cult of the individual a social gathering, some young Japanese play videophone janken (their
who stands out from the crowd. On the other, it suggests a likely route for version of the rock-paper-scissors game) to select who will be in charge.
the future of 3G exchanges worldwide. Despite the differences in national The phone allows this kind of decision-making and delegation, but allows
habits, these ideas of circles of trust, communication with distinct it without the embarrassment and social awkwardness that had previously
(but flexible) boundaries, of calls as group events rather than two-way been unavoidable.
exchanges, all point to some fundamental shared approaches to the
technology, wherever we are. The instant postcard
As well as being a symbol of their emotional closeness and affection,
Pocket peers the old-fashioned method of sending postcards was, inevitably, also a
Among many users, 3G is enabling new kinds of interaction with peer groups. reminder of the distance between two friends or relatives. The writer
For young users in particular, the phone is becoming an always-on peer would compose a personal message and then submit it to the delivery
panel, a way to canvass opinion on matters that couldn’t be addressed system, through which it would pass over space and time, the addressee
through text or voice. In the context of clothes shopping, where mistakes can receiving that message days, perhaps weeks, after it was written. By then,
be costly and instinctively purchasing something to be regretted at leisure, despite it being an expressly intimate and personal form of sending letters,
such 3G peerchasing sees the “impulse” buy remain an urgent, but now that envelope-free postcard could by definition have been read by anybody
a considered, purchase. In Korea, taking pictures of prospective outfits and involved along the way.
mailing them to friends for their verdicts is already an established practice.
In Australia, a young interviewee explained that she uses her handset’s video The third generation of mobile-phone technology further complicates the
facility when shopping, calling them from changing rooms to ask their opinion strange status of the postcard. The old paper postcard emphasized the
about what she’s trying on, rotating the camera like a 360˚ mirror so they physical separation of sender and recipient. By contrast, the new telephonic
can assess her would-be outfit from all angles. postcard is about immediate interaction and dissolving distance. The
postcard becomes a private moment instantly shared, rather than
Back at home, the same respondent uses her handset’s video facility to ask retrospectively received, by the addressee(s). One young Israeli interviewee
her friends if her outfit for a night out meets with their approval. In Japan, sends her boyfriend video clips of interesting things she sees and wants
video means the 3G phone enters the decision-making process at to share with him: “It’s as if he were there with me because he saw
an even earlier stage in the build-up to an evening with friends. Given the it almost at the same time I did.” Another young female respondent, this
traditional Japanese emphasis on respecting the different perspectives time in Australia, had another take on this kind of exchange: “My boyfriend
and desires of others (rather than the imposition of individual will), taking sent me a picture message the other day. He had driven down south for work
a decision on behalf of a group of friends can be awkward. Now, though, and stopped at an amazing beach. He took a picture of it and sent it back to
in order to decide who should buy the food or make other preparations for me to make me jealous – I was sitting in the office. I sent him one back of
looking really bored. Communicating through images can be a lot more requests to photograph them. Again... When she still uses the video
effective than words sometimes.” functions, it’s mostly to share images and video, generally of other family
members, with her daughter, who also has a 3G phone. In Japan, meanwhile,
The third generation there’s a trend among grandparents to purchase two 3G handsets at one
Though the young have been the most conspicuous adjusters to the 3G- time: one for themselves and one for their grandchildren.
community model, the broader picture suggests that comfort with the
technology doesn’t simply correspond to chronological age. It’s more,
perhaps, to do with how much importance members of a particular section
of society place on being part of a wider network. Teenagers (friends)
and grandparents (family) typically find communication playing a
central role in their own lives and identities, just as businesspeople are
positive about new opportunities for keeping in touch with distant colleagues
and market developments. In Russia, for example, 15 to 18-year-olds and
business users aged 40 and younger were the groups most informed about
3G. Those in-between (a 30- or 40-something parent, say, for whom time
always seems to be running out, maintaining family contact is more duty
than privilege, and work calls outside the office can be seen as invasion
of domestic sanctuary) are the ones most likely to see always-on availability
as a looming threat.
By contrast, like their young counterparts, older members of the third
generation have found that the new world of 3G is becoming an aid to
their old social traditions. A 58-year-old Israeli interviewee explained that,
upon acquiring her 3G phone, she adjusted to internet-browsing and video-
calling features right away. Now, though she mostly uses it for voice calls,
her handset also works as a photo album featuring pictures of her
six grandchildren. When she goes out for coffee with friends, they take
out their photo albums and she just takes out her phone. She has more
willing subjects too – her grandchildren are rather taken with her new
phone approach and so have more patience with and interest in her
3 ME, MY CELL & I: The Individual and the Mobile Phone
Selfhood and 3G
Does 3G extend or erode our sense of self? The relationship between selfhood and phone is perhaps the single
greatest, and most enduring, area of moral debate in the mobile age.
Is it changing our behaviour, impacting on Across a wide range of cultures and countries, many critics insist that
connecting with the world through a piece of technology doesn’t
the way we present ourselves to the world? simply make contact with other human beings easier, but actually
replaces them in importance. The phone, not the owner of the voice
Will it make us into wired-up multitaskers or face on the other end, becomes the object of affection. Their opponents,
meanwhile, see our sense of self being enhanced and evolved (rather than
or device-dependent cellular couch potatoes? threatened) by these developments.
And where are we supposed to find room for People such as Sven Birkerts, a literary professor and author who has
written extensively on the impact of electronic communications and
all these gadgets, anyway? technologies, argue against mobile phones: “The electric involvement
leeches out traditional meaning and sense of self by shattering the basic
space-time co-ordinates we have always lived by.” Conversely, writers
like Steven Johnson, author of the recent high-profile pop-science book
Everything Bad is Good for You, contend that modern technologies are
honing our reflexes, our capacity for multitasking, and our ability to
engage with complex ideas – that, as humans, we are naturally drawn
to the intricate and sophisticated because it engages us. The former line
suggests we’re throwing away everything that makes us human and
meaningful for contingent thrills and flighty diversions. The latter says
we are doing exactly what humans always did, but with new materials
In Japan, concern has been expressed about “mobile addiction” in young
people who lack self-assurance. “Young people are increasingly controlled
by their mobiles because all of their information is stored in them,” was one
opinion articulated in a report commissioned for this study. “Without their
mobiles, they cannot affirm themselves as persons. They want to failure isn’t actually so simple. Complicated street layouts in Japan’s major
confirm the number of friends they have, or reminisce over the kind of cities, combined with the lack of planning restrictions allowing new building
photographs they took together. This desire for self-affirmation means developments to often drastically alter an area’s geography, mean that
that their mobiles are indispensable, which leads them into a vicious circle navigation for many residents has long been a matter of recognising
of dependency.” A similar despondency is evident in some South Korean local landmarks rather than remembering streets or road names. The
observers who mourn the apparent sight of young people getting “lost” in memophoto is simply a handy, all-in-one method of maintaining this modern
their telephones. But the evidence suggests that the relationship between urban tradition.
our selves and our phones is significantly more nuanced than that.
The video stage
Mobile memories i) Video-equipped phones everywhere have had an impact on phone users’
Memory is a crucial component of thinking about phones and self, minds ideas about themselves. The arrival of the mobile phone meant that people
and memory. During the research for this report, one Japanese business could exist simply as voices on the other end of the line, wherever they were
user expressed concern that the instant availability of information via the and whatever they were doing. The arrival of video again rewrites the
web would wean young people off learning facts themselves. A report, rules of the telephonic exchange. The mobile voice call could be made
also in Japan, recently warned that the dependency of the country’s “thumb from anywhere, meaning that where a caller was and what he or she was
generation” (so called because of their dependence on that digit for texting, doing were unknown quantities to the person on the other end of the line.
playing videogames and other modern technological diversion) on digital Video-calling, by contrast, increases the possibility that where callers
short cuts is preventing them from learning the 2000 kanji characters deemed are and what they are doing will be self-evident to the person at the
necessary for everyday conversation. other end. When there’s a bar and a line of empty bottles in the frame behind
you, telling your partner you’re still in the office is a pretty hopeless exercise.
However, the practicalities of mobile memory often appear less about
replacing human memory than taking over the roles of old-fashioned ii) Different people respond to that prospect, that change in the information
aids to it. A 19-year-old Australian interviewee explained that he takes that participants in a call are party to, in different ways. Distinct sets
photos of bus and train timetables – the kind of information which previously of attitudes to being seen while speaking are already taking shape and
would have been only available in stations and stops or, at a stretch, would – fittingly, given that the new dilemmas revolve around anxieties about
have meant carrying a leaflet everywhere – and stores them on his handset performance and audiences – the neatest way of articulating them is via
for reference. In Japan, where cameraphones were introduced in 2000, the metaphor of theatrical performance.
equivalent memophotos are an established means of recording prices,
maps and other pieces of information that might previously have been jotted
in notebooks. But again, what superficially looks like collective memory
Videotypes The mask
This strategy enables opting into video calling while retaining some of
The understudy the anonymity of voice and text calls and internet chat rooms. The caller
Willing to talk on the videophone, but not comfortable with it. “Often you’re is represented not by his or her own image, but by an “avatar” or animated
speaking to someone while you’re doing something else like packing the character instead (such characters are already an accepted alternative, and
dishwasher,” said one 20-year-old Australian respondent, who also confessed known as Chara-den, in Japan).
that she wouldn’t be “comfortable” with the knowledge that her conversation
partner could see her facial expressions as they spoke.
The leading wo/man For years, mobile communication devices such as pagers, mobile phones and
Unconcerned about what there might be to hide, the leading woman or man PDAs were seen by many outsiders simply as tools for business. It took the
seeks the spotlight and plots techniques for turning it to her best advantage. widespread adoption of the mobile telephone as a personal tool to naturalise
Some Japanese girls actively prefer phones with lower-resolution cameras the notion of a portable, networked consumer electronic item. Once that
so that their blemishes and imperfections disappear. Many shoot themselves happened, the integration of mobile phones into so many areas of everyday
from below to enhance their faces and exaggerate the size of their eyes and life paved the way for other devices – such as the MP3 player, the digital
go further towards creating an ideal image of themselves. camera and, latterly, the “grown-up”, networked portable games console
– to be pitched as indispensable, user-defined items. Thanks to our comfort
The no-show with our telephones, we’re increasingly inclined to treat those other devices
Some people are innately averse to the idea of being seen (caught?) on video. like MP3 players in the same way, as extensions to our psychic space. But
Businessmen in Hong Kong expressed deep concern about even the idea of there’s been a related consequence for our physical space: it’s increasingly
accepting video calls from wives while entertaining business contacts in cluttered with gadgets. As one mobile manufacturing executive put it,
contexts that their spouses wouldn’t understand. his daughter “came home with a pregnant handbag”, one bulging with
phone, camera and MP3 player.
The natural embraces video-calling not, like the leading wo/man, as an Which is where teleconvergence comes in. Many people asked for this
opportunity to project a particular version of her or himself, but as a fuller and report still had their doubts about the idea of one handset performing all
more honest extension of the voice call to a known and trusted audience. For those functions – phone, camera, music player, etc – but then a few years
a 24-year-old Swedish respondent, video-calling with someone he cares for is ago many of those doubters would have been incredulous at the idea that
something to be cherished: video calls filter out less of the conversation by they’d ever want or need a digital camera or machine for playing music
retaining unwitting gestures and expressions and so are, for him, more natural. downloaded from the internet. Now, though, some young Japanese
interviewees are already at ease using their phones as MP3 playback
devices, and music download services (one of the biggest of these is
called chaku-uta) are utilised to the tune of ¥120 billion per year, a figure
comparable with takings at the iTunes music store. In the UK, marketeers
and experts on radio downloads have predicted that podcasting will
become a truly mass proposition when people use their phones as
their primary MP3 players. When phones with sufficiently high-resolution
cameras became available in Japan, consumers started to buy and use them
to replace – rather than merely back up – their standalone digital cameras.
The signs are that the problem of the pregnant handbag, a consequence of
the change in habits mobile-phone culture has brought about, is being
resolved by that culture too.
4 INTIMATE CONNECTIONS: Love & Romance
Would like to meet…
Mobile phones began changing intimate i) Given mobile phones’ influence on our sense of self and relationships with
others, not to mention the centrality of 2G technology to the development
relationships as soon as they crossed of all-new new romantic rules, it is no surprise that the impact of 3G upon
intimate relationships is proving an interesting and multifaceted one.
beyond the strict boundaries of business Or that it can be felt from that initial point of contact, the first date.
use. They rewrote the protocols for initiating, Dating services and mobile phones are natural bedfellows. In a
sparsely populated country such as Finland, where far-flung and isolated
maintaining and even ending relationships. lifestyles can make meeting new people tough (and, as one interviewee
put it, “the general dating culture is one of shyness”), dating services play
The third generation brings images, video a crucial role. In another shy nation, Japan, dating services operated by
a company called Deai are almost an institution. Those Japanese asked
footage and high-speed connectivity into suggested there’s a major benefit to text-based systems, in that you can
be anyone you want to be, without showing your face. (Deai’s video-call
play – and so is changing the rules of the dating service was not a success when it first launched.)
game once more. Such services can also be extended to the extent that they promote follow-up
contact in person. Deai members fill in information about themselves which
is then compared with candidates of the opposite sex for suitability. This is
then processed in conjunction with location-based services and a user who
has accessed the service gets sent a percentage-based suitability calculation
when a prospective partner is nearby.
A single man in Israel explained how he improvised a dating use for his
phone in conjunction with a Jewish dating service compatible only with
the internet (and not with 3G). When he’s located someone he thinks
he might like via the online service, he explains, his next step will be
to send her a video message via 3G. He loves this because he can get
a sense of who someone is, what they’re like. The website already lets him
watch video messages, but he finds their prerecorded, forced atmospheres moblogging and social-networking sites are incredibly popular. “Brazilians
“corny” and restrictive (“Hi, I like long walks on the beach!”). Video messages don’t have the kind of restraint you see in Anglo-Saxon culture,” says
make it all easier, more casual, less intimidating. “You can hear their voice, Brazilian scientist and telecommunications commentator Silvio Meira.
see how they move and smile,” he says. “Here, your private life is public!” Interestingly, while photo-messaging
has yet to have the person-to-person success in the USA that it has enjoyed
ii) Some Japanese we spoke to felt that technology helped to in Asia, Europe and elsewhere, many Americans are embracing fotoblogs.
encourage shy individuals to be more extrovert. Finns noted the way However, this appears to be less an indicator of a Brazilian-style instinct
messaging systems had permitted a slightly remote kind of dating protocol: to share one’s inner-world and more a kind of self-publishing with defined
a would-be seducer who would have been flustered in person instead has subject boundaries. American blog culture is more professional and
slightly more time to think of witty responses and test the waters with a widespread than its equivalent anywhere else; in a country where phone
prospective partner without risking public embarrassment. photos are relatively rare, using them, like blogging itself conveys a distinct
viewpoint and sense of individuality. Moblogging is the opposite of the idea
In Japan, girls attending gokon, parties designed for meeting members of a picture message for a single intended recipient; it’s a picture message
of the opposite sex, have a similar, picture-based strategy for establishing for the world.
interest. Instead of overtly requesting contact information from boys in
whom they are interested, they’ll innocently ask to take a picture together In closed-door societies and subcultures, video-calling and the new
and courteously ask for his mobile number so they can send the picture on. data and location services features of 3G are a cause for concern. Though
Similarly, Swedes saw text and media messaging as a relatively “passive” Swedes, for example, think new avenues of communication have
approach to an object of affection compared to voice calling, but also a more made their countrymen more outgoing, they also have a strong
intimate one: “SMS has made a big difference in the way we communicate, sense of individual integrity which they fear 3G might undermine.
how we express ourselves and how we write. Especially love-talk and stuff Interviewees expressed fear that new possibilities for data capture would
like that.” make Swedes more reserved about what they communicated.
Hands off: attitudes to privacy and 3G In back-door communication cultures, where presenting different versions
In open-door communication cultures, users embrace the new communi- of yourself in different environments is often regarded as essential for getting
cations opportunities offered by 3G with few reservations. In Korea, there on in life, video communication and tracking services are regarded with deep
is a sense that – despite being on call at all times – 3G is greatly suspicion. High rates of infidelity among married Hong Kong couples,
enhancing privacy in a society that has long felt a pervasive foreign for example, create high anxiety about being caught on video in the
presence (Japanese occupation, US forces, Western pop culture). In Brazil, wrong place, of being caught out by wives or being “stalked” by girl-
though 3G take-up has been limited by practical and economic factors, friends and relatives. A similar level of anxiety also exists in specific sections
of society in other countries. Middle-class Muscovites, for example, tend to ‘Tooth and fiction: Bluetooth encounters and urban myths
marry younger than their peers elsewhere and discreet phone use is crucial The promise of Bluetooth is ripe for romantic intrigue and myth-making.
to those who are often on to multiple affairs (and marriages) by their 30s. The prospect it offers, an instant connection with any stranger within range,
is the antithesis of the studied obliviousness to passers-by that typifies
Long-distance love citizens of so many modern cities. The opportunity to share a transmitted
In Australia, a physically vast country whose relatively small population moment, to establish a bond with other switched-on users without
has always clustered around distant urban centres, mobile communication anybody in the vicinity knowing, is a technologically-enabled twist
has made sustaining long-distance relationships feasible. The phone on love at first sight.
doesn’t merely facilitate physical encounters, but also acts as an alternative
to them. In other, smaller countries, where jobs rather than geography are In the chapter below on etiquette, we will see how, in Dubai, gifts of
the obstacle to personal proximity, it serves a similar function. So in Sweden, handsets are presented by suitors in person in order establish contact
a fighter pilot uses his 3G phone to stay in contact with his girlfriend. The between them and the objects of their affection. Bluetooth creates a
actual information he exchanges with his girlfriend during video calls is not similar interface between the physical and digital world in Dubai
significantly different than it would be with voice only, he explains, but the too. At the sweeter beginning of the process, it works like this: a boy in
moving image adds an emotional dimension, things that can’t be said. a coffee or tea shop will spot a girl and discreetly wave his mobile phone
In Israel, another compact country, the obligation to undertake national
service means that military life affects most people’s existences. The peak In Australia, according to 20-something interviewees, Bluetooth is becoming
hour for phone calls, for instance, coincides with the hour of personal time integral to a new type of flirting. Singletons are checking who else in the
that soldiers are allocated each evening. A young Israeli woman used her pub is on Bluetooth, sending messages and then arranging to meet
3G phone to contact her boyfriend when he was away on military service. them for the first time at the bar. There are also second-hand stories there
At first she would send him kinky video messages which he loved to receive, of strangers spotting that someone else has Bluetooth and sending them
but was unable to reciprocate. Now, they stick to PG-rated exchanges, their romantically-targeted ringtones.
messages more about affection than explicitness. It’s probably the natural
middle-ground for such exchanges. An army barracks was traditionally Stories are precisely what the interface of Bluetooth and romance tends to
a location structured to omit ideas of private and personal space breed, though. In 2004, a technology journalist in the UK fabricated the
completely. Mobile phones in general and now 3G in particular have phenomenon of “‘toothing” as a 3G answer to the British media’s
introduced an element of intimacy and privacy, but it’s an intimacy that fascination with the practice of “dogging” – seeking out strangers for
still operates within defined limits. sex. On the foundations of nothing more than a neat name and an internet
forum filled with posts from nonexistent “toothers,” the writer and two
friends sent a link to a gadget blog to start the publicity ball rolling and
the story was followed up by Reuters, the BBC, Wired and the Telegraph.
One genuine service that sounds like a full-blooded myth already operates
in Finland, where a Bluetooth vibrator can be remotely controlled through
phone-based software from another phone. In addition to the controlling
device, the software also transmits images and sound between partners.
In this case, without wishing to put too fine a point on it, Bluetooth is not
used to establish connections, but more as a substitute for physical presence
in existing relationships.
5 THREE'S A CROWD: The New Phone Etiquette
Something old, something new
A decade of mass mobile consciousness
i) In Russia, phones should be seen and heard. “If you go to someone’s house
means that in many parts of the world, for dinner,” one interviewee explained, “Everyone gets their phones out
and shows them off. It takes at least 10 minutes at the start of the
the conventions of mobile-phone use have evening.” In her home city of Moscow, like other major urban areas, more
people own phones than don’t. In company, it’s perfectly acceptable to make
started to become predictable. In this light, calls, send texts, look at photos and films, or send emails. Russians asked
about the arrival of video regarded it as a feature that would be embraced in
the global rollout of 3G is a complicated similar terms: one seen not as alienating or rude, but as another opportunity
for phone content to stimulate conversation and enjoyment between
blessing. For all the new possibilities physically present friends.
it opens up, that rollout also means the India is one of the world’s fastest-growing mobile markets, with most of the
growth there having taken place in the past five years. Consequently, mobile
old mobile rules are being revised – and etiquette has not been established as clearly there as elsewhere. While
authorities such as the Bombay Times have recently suggested basic rules
sometimes radically replaced – as the for polite and respectful behaviour on the one hand, a younger generation
enamoured with the technology is making its own rules and is excited about
worlds beyond voice calling and SMS the next steps. Given that the average age of the Indian populace is 26, that’s
a lot of people.
enter the etiquette equation. In terms of previous generations of mobile telephony, Dubai has a
similarly laissez-faire approach to voice-based mobile communications.
There’s barely even a notion that use of a mobile phone could cause offence.
People practise reverse call-waiting: they break off in the middle of
meetings, conversations and meals in restaurants to take calls without a
word of apology or explanation, then make no obvious hurry to end them,
instead leaving the people they are with to wait for the call to come to its
Camera features on phones, however, mark a crossroads where Russia and Anthropomorphic angst
Dubai suddenly diverge. Historically, Dubai has had a complex relationship i) A third change is in progress: those places in which mobile phone use is
with the issue of photography and has rules intended to protect people from most regulated by social convention are also those where not taking a call
being photographed by strangers. (Until early 2005, cameraphones were can cause most anxiety. That is to say that cultures which emphasise
outlawed altogether in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.) dignified and decent behaviour on the phone and a constant awareness
of others, can breed a kind of accidental ostentatiousness. It’s a
ii) Then there’s a second kind of territory, one where mobile ownership is phenomenon that 3G applications, with their power to show the face of
very common and talking is entirely acceptable in a wide variety of public the human on the other end, can serve only to intensify.
contexts. Israel is a small, densely populated country where an almost
Chinese notion of physical distance combines with an Italianate tendency In Sweden, where social codes emphasise respect for and consideration of
towards expressive speech and strong family bonds. Bystanders often get others, interviewees spoke in anthropomorphic terms about their handsets.
so much of a sense of the conversation that they feel like they’re in the One said that not answering the phone was like not answering a friend you
room with the two participants. (As is often the case in Brazil, too.) were sat with in a café; another said that having your phone ring loudly was
like talking while someone else was talking.
As in Israel, mobile-phone penetration in Australia is huge (19 million
handsets to a population of just over 20 million) and, in keeping with the ii) In another notably polite society, Japan, there is an emphasis on discreet
national stereotype of straight-talking unpretentiousness, users are generally phone use. Obtrusive ringtones and alerts are seen as vulgar, as in Sweden;
comfortable with talk in a communal space: frequently people can be seen many Japanese (bar some 50-something males thought to find it difficult to
talking on their mobiles in libraries and on gym treadmills. But given their shake the ingrained habit of shouting, a relic of old landline use) employ
mutual dependence on and interest in telephones, take-up of 3G has been “quiet voice” modes so they can speak softly but their voice will be amplified
relatively slow to gather pace in Australia. In such sociable territories, and audible at the other end. Checking data or texts when in company is
it seems that candid voice communication in public is so widely frowned upon. Yet for the Japanese, as for Swedes, the pursuit of good
practised and that voice calls alone provide so much scope for manners leads to a more involved relationship between user and phone in
expression, that the need for newer, 3G-specific forms of emotional another way too. In Japan, the gestural language of “stomach talk” – the
communication is felt less acutely than in more socially reserved nonverbal communication that expresses respect and is often more important
countries such as Japan and Sweden. in an encounter than any words that are spoken – is crucial to social
interaction. Japanese phone users studied for this report made the
same nonverbal signals of gratitude and deference to their interlocutors
when talking on the phone as they would have in person: covering the
mouth with the hand, nodding vigorously to display comprehension or
agreement. Though they acknowledged that they did it, Japanese users a system that was once about liberation but is now about obligation. What
weren’t aware of this “stomach talk” until it was pointed out to them. As was an exciting mode of communicating to anybody in the world from
video calling expands and body language therefore becomes a conscious a computer on a desk has become yet another duty binding the
strategy for interacting with someone on a video-call, this phenomenon, the worker to that computer and that desk. The new indicator of success
paradox of polite phone-using societies, looks almost certain to intensify. is the ability to “deal” – to work remotely. In the US, more than any other
territory, PDAs and palmtops have historically been highly visible in business
Alpha mail: status and email browsing in America’s cities communities as a means of remobilisation in the face of this double-edged
It is now so well-known as to have become almost a cliché of mobile-phone email effect. Early adopters to 3G are following a similar route, with cachet
lore that American users of 2 and 2.5g phones did not embrace texting in attached to text-centred 3G devices rather than to handsets that look
the ways that their peers in Europe and other parts of the world did. Various conspicuously phone-like. Further status-related subdivisions arise from
factors appeared to have contributed to this distinction: the relatively low the specific characteristic of US urban centres, as outlined below.
cost of voice calls, for one. Then, there was the fact that SMS was, as
elsewhere, widely seen as a “cheap” application, whereas, especially in the New York: the player-displayer
US, the prestige of the phone as a post-pager communications device was While some businesspeople would rather not leave their handsets on
intertwined with the idea of its all-new innovation: mobile speech. Thirdly, their table when sitting down in a restaurant or café, these anxieties do
email and internet access and culture were entrenched in the US earlier than not necessarily applied to their the email-enabled 3G devices, which many
elsewhere, so various PC-based instant-messaging systems already had a are more happy to have accompany them in such a way. Being able to
claim on that space for a social text technology that SMS had been able to discreetly check that email you’ve just received is a sign that you can
claim elsewhere. still deal during the commute or that urgent espresso: that you are
on if not in and that you always mean business. As is also the case in
While SMS usage has picked up among particular age groups in specific Washington DC, the urgency and frequency with which an individual needs
contexts, that American distinction still applies widely and has interesting to be contacted is an index of his or her importance.
ramifications in the 3G era. Email was at first a novel and, for many, a
liberating experience: contact anyone, anywhere, with the click of a mouse. San Francisco: the always-on entrepreneur
In business, having an email account was a status symbol and not a burden, The archetypal modern San Franciscan business is an innovation-driven
because it was not a widely used enough technology for anybody to expect setup with a smart corporate face but a small workforce aiming for efficiency
a reply to an email – especially not an urgent one. both in reality (to make the dream succeed and develop the business) and in
appearance (in order to win and retain clients, even the smallest consultancy
ii) The irony of the evolution of email culture is that, in its contemporary must be able to demonstrate that it will use fees wisely and make up for its
ubiquity, it feels to many users like a chore where it was once a pleasure, size with its application and ingenuity). The always-on entrepreneur is
concerned not so much with the appearance of importance, but availability email, he or she wants to receive instant mobile notification of the fact from
and efficiency. In a city dense with numerous bright young things and their his assistant so that he can advise said assistant of how to deal with it.
firms, standing out from the crowd is crucial, too. While more traditional
businesses users elsewhere tend to be drawn to the same 3G styles, brands Mind your language: 3G and own-language applications
and applications, their San Franciscan equivalents are more intrigued by Though, as we have seen above, Russians’ urban etiquette imposes few
esoteric open-source applications and handsets that differentiate them. protocols on phone use in public, one text-related code of conduct is emerging.
Russian users are increasingly using Cyrillic text services in place of the old
Los Angeles: mediated mobility standard of communicating in English or Russian via the Latin alphabet.
In San Francisco, one’s availability, work ethic and technological Though inputting in Cyrillic typically takes longer, and messages written in
aptitude are all key (and all indicated by one’s relationship with it can cost more to send, not making the effort to do so can cause offence.
mobile communications). In New York, information technology has, “Six months ago all my friends changed to Cyrillic,” a Russian
in many sectors, made the old, expensive institution of the executive’s businessman explained. “Now, it’s not very nice if you send
assistant redundant. In Los Angeles, however, things are different. someone a SMS in Russian written in Latin letters. It’s rude.”
Despite great professional interest in scope for music-, TV- and movie-
related 3G services in the “entertainment capital of the world”, there is Brazil, a country of 180 million people and 70 million mobile-phone
less of a cult of 3G there than in other US cities. This is undoubtedly, in owners, sees itself as a key power in its region. Accordingly, though
part, a consequence of environmental factors – with a far more limited public users make do with English language interfaces and services on their
transport infrastructure than in those other cities, and thanks to the sheer phones, there is an increasing drive towards Portuguese-language
size of its sprawl, LA is an automotive city where in-car speech has an systems. As in Israel, where there is a similarly strong (if niche) desire for
obvious advantage over more advanced, visually centred 3G applications. Hebrew-language technology, this is arguably desire born less of necessity
But it is also a result of the social politics of the entertainment world. New than national pride and a sense of entitlement. Brazil’s government
York’s business status indicators related to delay-free deal-making; San encourages businesses to use open-source rather than proprietary software
Francisco’s to efficiency and availability; but in LA, status is also about the in order to cut costs and encourage entrepreneurial invention – a policy that
more nebulous idea of “importance”. If a person has to be his or her own is likely to breed a great deal of homegrown, Portuguese-language software
secretary, to engage with the administrative dimension of his or her work, in the near future.
that person cannot be too important – because doing it oneself means that
one cannot afford or attract an assistant. If the businessman in New York or ii) Regardless of the success of Cyrillic text among certain groups, for many
San Francisco receives an urgent email, he or she wants to be able to reply young users it’s still cool to use English words, and knowing and accurately
to it instantly. If the Los Angelino executive who exemplifies the successful using English-language terms and acronyms like Bluetooth, MP3 and MSM.
lifestyle of which mediated mobility is a key indicator receives such an Young Russians’ latest hip word for a mobile is a “mobil” rather than the
standard “mobilny”, while the cutting-edge cool pronunciation is “mobail”, secure status points over another – “Oh, you don’t have his latest mobile
even closer to the phonetic English original. In Finland, a different kind of number? Oh, I see.”
appropriation of English words is taking place. A few years back it was
regarded as cool to use English words or phrases. Now, it is seen as out-of- In Brazil, multiple-mobile users practise a different kind of social selection
date and socially undesirable. Instead of borrowing English words without in relation to handset use. In the big cities such as Rio and Sao Paulo,
alteration, Finns create ironized, “Finglish” versions of them (wanabbi for there is an awareness of high rates of crime and, therefore, a resignation
wannabe, hani for honey, faili for a digital file) spelt the way they hear them to the relative likelihood of being robbed in certain areas. As one Brazilian
in their language. woman explained, therefore, she owned “two phones – one to use in
In a transitional period between generations of mobile technology, the Video etiquette
opportunities to establish social orders and preferences via the contrast In the emerging field of video etiquette, precisely where you focus
of ageing, last-generation phones and newer and better-equipped hand- your phone’s camera is a crucial decision in setting the terms and
sets multiply. In Dubai, young people have improvised new courtship rituals establishing the possibilities of the video-call to come:
with mobile phones. One trick is for teenage boys to buy a pre-paid
handset with a sim card and drop it into the handbag or through the Passport control
car window of a girl they like. As the girl and boy move on, he will call The visual parameters of the default videophone conversation parallel
that just-delivered phone and engage her in conversation. Phone camera those of the frame of the passport photo: the handset is pointed at the
features have enhanced this kind of exchange – the gift-giving boy will head, the sightline focused above the neck, the angle at once about instant
now often include a photo of himself on the handset, often as caller id. identification as an individual and conformity to a collective standard – which
It was a very effective gimmick when it first began to take off, but now, is the essence of its appeal the standard, “neutral” mode for the exchange.
it is so common that many girls expect a top-of-the-range new handset
from potential suitors – otherwise they might refuse to answer the call. Necking
This frame indicates that the call is sexually charged or flirtatious. The
Handset hierarchies also apply to social relationships. In Russia, many camera is not held in a precise relationship to its human subject and so
people in the 20-35 age range maintain multiple mobile numbers at any the viewer’s sightline yo-yos. It is an ambiguous approach that opens up
one time. Not passing on the number of your newest handset can the possibility of (but in no way guarantees) an exchange that goes well
be a way of prioritising relationships and shedding the friends you beyond standard, strictly-business stuff. There is potential – but nothing
no longer want. This also creates opportunities for kudos and competition more – for further and more intimate connection.
between the multi-mobile owner’s circle of contacts: one mutual friend can
The sightline is deliberately brought below the neck. The ambiguities and
interpretative dimension of necking are instantly removed, the personal
nature of the exchange instantly foregrounded. While going down is still
not a promise of any ultimate payout, it does set the tone and affirm that
anything in possible – all bets are off.
6 IMAGE-MUSIC-TEXT: Some Developments in Post-Verbal Communication
We have examined the ways in which third-generation technology is
beginning to rework our ideas of selfhood, our social and romantic networks,
mobile manners, business etiquette and more. But the new technological
possibilities it brings to the mobile lifestyle are just as important too.
It enables new kinds of exchanges and new assertions of cultural pride
and identity. Moreover, it’s drastically altering relationships between
ordinary people and “specialists”– whether equipping us for instant
communication with experts like doctors, or making us experts ourselves.
As we have seen, camera features in phones are having a dramatic impact
on cultural purposes and perceptions of photography. In Japan and Korea,
respondents observed how camera phones have changed the nature of
the photographic image: as the instant postcard effect demonstrated,
it is moving from the model of artwork to be admired to one centred on
capturing an object, person, place or event as personal memento or means
of sharing an experience. On the first day of the 2005 election campaign,
surrounded by schoolchildren, British Prime Minister Tony Blair took a
photo of himself. At George W Bush’s re-inauguration a few weeks earlier,
outgoing secretary of state Colin Powell had done the same thing.
Both events were, naturally, being recorded for posterity by several
teams of fully-equipped, highly-trained professionals, but in each
case these powerful statesman sought their own, personal visual
documents of the event too. And, in taking those pictures, Powell and
Blair also made a dramatic gesture of connection with their audiences:
Look, I want my own phone photo of this occasion, just like you do. Like
the young Korean users who record concerts on their phones or the tourists
who raise their phones above the ever-present throng to capture a snapshot
of the Mona Lisa, these 3G-era exchanges are not about capturing
a definitive representation of a particular subject, but just about
capturing a moment, making a representation, that is definitively polyphonic tones are parts of elaborate systems of social and cultural
one’s own. signification. In the words of one writer, Brazilian teens are “crazy about
ringtones” taken from Brazilian pop hits, which older users regard as frivolous
Mofessionalism but which are more sophisticated and less novelty-focused than its US and
On the one hand, then, media functions and digital democracy make European equivalents. In that very public, expressive society, song selections
amateurs of everybody. On the other, they also open up a route to situation- are seen as an index of high status rather than evidence of its absence.
specific kind of mofessionalism – according to which where rather than In Israel, there’s a burgeoning trend for selecting theme music from
who you are defines your importance as a documentarian. Japanese once-forgotten cult blue-collar Israeli dramas of the 1960s and ‘70s
users joked about the volume of breaking-news footage in their country that – a knowing, slightly self-deprecating expression of national identity
was taken from mobile phones of civilian witnesses. Indeed, the increasing decipherable only by those in the know. In Mexico City, a popular
difficulty of distinguishing mofessionals from old-fashioned professionals ringtone is the jingle from advertisements for a group of tamale restaurants.
was amply illustrated by an incident that took place in Mumbai in early 2005. The joke is that, despite the restaurant brand’s folksy, downhome advertising
Happening upon an altercation between a traffic warden and a taxi driver, identity, it is in fact a large, identikit chain. “Your phone,” explains an editor
a passerby recorded the incident on his phone, after which, according to at a technology magazine there, “sounds like the tamale guy.” At once a
his account, he in turn was set upon by the traffic warden. The story made mockery and an affirmation of nationality, not to mention a comment on the
the news because it subsequently transpired that the ‘amateur’ phone possibility of a “unique” individual identity in a mass consumer society, it is
cameraman who’d captured the violation was Nikhil J Alva, an accomplished perhaps the most self-reflexive and nuanced national ringtone appropriation
and award-winning documentary filmmaker. The warden was subsequently to have surfaced to date.
arrested. After London was attacked by suicide bombers in July 2005, images
and footage of key events that had been recorded by normal people on their What’s up, doc? Health and 3G
phones formed important parts of the professional news outlets’ coverage, In Sweden, 3G has been heavily marketed towards deaf users as the
so much so that mofessionalism became a widely noted and much discussed ideal system to enable them to become participants in the world of mobile
matter in the UK. Did it, one newspaper even wondered, mark the end of telephony. In Lapland, patients with particular ailments can photograph
old-fashioned vocational journalism? them and send them to their doctors instead of making the long journey
for a diagnosis in the flesh. At the Nepean hospital in Sydney, doctors
National anthems: regional ringtones demonstrated how they used phones to photograph hand injuries and
In Sweden and Japan, social snobbery and suspicion often falls upon send X-rays to consultants. In a prime example of the increasing
phone users with dramatic musical ringtones. In the UK, the popularity global connectedness of both physical and virtual worlds, a British
of the globally ubiquitous Crazy Frog ringtone was matched by those who chef was bitten by a highly venomous Brazilian wandering spider that had
were mortally offended by its brashness. In other places, however, real and come to the UK in a bunch of bananas. He used his camera to photograph
the offending arachnoid and the positive identification allowed local doctors seemed to suggest that phone culture was an obstacle to spiritual
to treat him promptly. Administering the correct anti-venom is dependent on connection. Yet in 2005, while the body of Pope John Paul lay in state
identifying the biting animal, so this kind of use could become especially in Rome, hundreds of thousands of mourners passed by each day,
useful in countries such as Australia where mobile-phone usage is widespread many of them capturing the moment on their phone cameras.
and large numbers of different poisonous spiders and snakes are native. Gianluca Nicoletti, media commentator at La Stampa, saw it as a
modern version of an ancient rite of the religious faithful: “In the past,
At a decidedly less serious and scientific level, some people suggested pilgrims would take away a relic, like a piece of cloth on a saint’s body. Here,
that phones can add six minutes to the lives of smokers without them even there’s been the transposition to a level of unreality. They’re bringing home a
thinking about it. In Moscow, an interviewee described the way theatregoers digital relic.”
rush out at the interval to check their phones as a modern alternative to the
older habit of going for a smoke. In Japan, teens spoke of “time-killing” 3G Interviewed about the impact of 3G for this report, American technology guru
pastimes such as checking up on the webcam at the Tokyo Tower as the Douglas Rushkoff said that the success of the 3G in Korea, one of the world’s
equivalent of “having a cigarette”. two biggest and most developed 3G markets, wasn’t necessarily a dry run for
other nations because of Korea’s distinct social makeup. “You have to look at
Closer to God: some spiritual reflections on 3G their unique position culturally,” he argued. “On the edge of Japan, which is
In the Japanese horror film Juon (The Grudge), the spirit world makes contact the leader in this; on the edge of Asia; on the edge of communism. And in
through a mobile phone. It’s a clever play on the personal attachment people some ways, culturally, South Korea is very close to South Vietnam: it’s a
have to their handsets, and on the original Greek root of the word telephone combination of a high-tech culture and a high-touch culture that’s still
(tele meaning a psychic connection between physically separate people). In connected to iconic, spiritual stuff.” But perhaps, as the unprecedentedly
the real world, phones increasingly figure in the spiritual life of users, large crowds who came from far and wide to the Pope’s passing seemed to
too. In Israel, phone users can ask service providers to switch off connection demonstrate and London School of Economics professor and writer John Gray
to their handset for the duration of the Sabbath (which lasts from sundown has argued, the Western world is experiencing an upsurge in spirituality too.
on Friday to sundown on Saturday) – a useful, automated removal of possible Hi-tech and higher powers are likely to continue to move in mysterious and
temptation. Religious observance, this time to Islam, is also the reason why unexpected ways.
many devout Emirati women have little use for the face-to-face
communication opportunities provided by the videophone era.
In 2004, the Church of Sweden sponsored a poster campaign which featured
a handset with the word “Acknowledgement” written on its screen, followed
by the question: “Are you looking in the right place?” The formulation
7 LIFE IN THE FAST LANE: Big Bandwidths and High Speeds
Pipe dreams (and nightmares)
No more collecting messages, as there had been in the time of the landline.
No waiting for the pages to come through, as there had been with the fax
machine. No obligation to call back, as there was with the pager. The mobile
phone introduced a drastic acceleration of our expectations of the time it
took to get hold of someone, to have our calls returned, to locate what we
were looking for. The speed of 3G opens up an equally responsive and
available world on a number of other fronts, and the ramifications of that
fact are various and still emerging.
The speed of 3G phones in comparison to their previous-generation
counterparts has, understandably, been likened to the shift from dial-up
modems to broadband internet. Before broadband, down- and uploading
content from the web tended to be time-consuming and so reserved for
special occasions. Before broadband, those with high-speed networks at
the office would find the narrowband set-up at their house a painful reminder
of the gulf between professional and domestic space. Consumers went from
waiting patiently for seconds-long, pixilated novelty clips to arrive on their
PCs to downloading entire sitcom series with a single click; from watching
a single image load line-by-line to keeping an eye on half a dozen
hyperactive website windows. When novelty becomes habit, when
what was a diversion becomes a basic element of everyday lives,
our relationship with technology changes too. Broadband didn’t make
our internet experiences the same, but faster. It made them faster and
therefore not the same.
In the world’s largest current 3G markets, Korea and Japan, domestic PC
culture is less entrenched than elsewhere, and high-speed web access was
a key factor in many consumers upgrading to the format – for them, the high-
speed internet is not so much a useful metaphor for 3G as a key selling point.
With interviewees in Hong Kong, meanwhile, an interesting effect of (This echoes the US model of 3G as means of making business progress
the speed-enabled switch from novelty to habit could be observed. faster, which was examined in Chapter V.) One spoke of the gratification
Many users complained about the lack of updates to their favourite mobile of knowing he’d made more time to do business by using his phone to
sites. News sites are a very popular use for 3G in Hong Kong, but news negotiate traffic. A student explained that he would watch his lectures
junkies who repeatedly returned to them in pursuit of breaking news and as broadcasts on his phone rather than in person because that gave him
complained that updates were insufficiently frequent. When high speed is more time to get on with conducting commercial business. Other Korean
the norm, when access is instant, the connected consumer goes from being interviewees expressed great satisfaction that they could check emails
a grateful recipient of drip-fed data from content creators to a nightmare anywhere and know that they would never keep business contacts waiting.
for them: a rapacious downloader who expects something new to explore Some appreciated that their phones were allowing them to get on with
whenever he or she has the urge to connect and will complain when nothing their own entrepreneurial endeavours without being “bad” family members.
new is found. Keeping abreast of and acknowledging special occasions was easier and
more time efficient; the forgotten birthday was a thing of the past. (Like
Time is money: 3G and the entrepreneurial spirit the missed TV programme is in Japan: one application for 3G used there
In those places where 3G penetration is at its highest, connection speeds is programming the home hard disc recorder via the handset.) Streamlining
are being taken advantage of in interesting ways. In Japan’s cities, many one’s business is a preoccupation elsewhere: in Sweden, and in Hong Kong
commuters have embraced the digital equivalents of their time-honoured in particular, interviewees polled on their 3G desires expressed great
escapes. Manga comics are read on the phone, panel by panel. E-novels enthusiasm about the possibility of a ‘secretarial’ function that would
– books converted into phone which now include a much-appreciated page- help them manage their time. The faster life gets, the more precious time
turning feature which prevents readers from feeling like they’re scrolling seems to become.
down an endless list of text – are serving in place of real paper ones.
Younger Japanese users also play a wide variety of online and single- Junior elites
player computer games on the commute even if – as interviewees claimed Parents in Finland express concern that they are increasingly out-of-touch
– nobody ever finished the longer role-playing mobile titles (DragonQuest, with their mobile media-savvy offspring. In Korea, older interviewees worried
Final Fantasy and other titles which, in their home console versions, typically that the instant gratification of speedily downloadable content and imagery
take 60+ hours of dedicated play time to complete) in the way they would was making children too lazy to take the time to read words. But young
have done at home. Koreans themselves see the change as empowering in relation to their own
senses of what are important priorities. “I don’t like to know music later than
Even when commuting, Koreans, in keeping with the image of their others,” one explains. “When I was in school, I’d run out to get new
society as an upwardly mobile and entrepreneurial one, focused far music at breaks. Now, with 3G, I can get it any time.” In the UK, such
less on escaping the real world and far more on keeping pace with it. junior elites have been demonstrably ahead not only of their parents, but
also of the entire machinery of the newspaper world and the rolling
headlines on the breaking news-obsessed 24-hour channels – by a distance.
Several months before mobile-phone videos and pathologically annoying
ringtones became shock!horror! headline news for the London-based
media, children in school playgrounds nationwide were au fait with these
phenomena, passing them around and adapting to them as previous
generations did nursery rhymes.
Delay by design
In previous sections, we have looked at some of the ways in which 3G time
enables those not physically present to “share” an experience in realtime.
Connected communities from the smallest number (a couple) to the moderate
size (a group of friends), to large-scale tribal allegiances like sports support
(“with all the excitement – Ding! They scored! – it’s almost like being there,”
explained one football fan of his team-specific goals subscription service; in
India, where 3G launched in July 2005, cricket clips are expected to be key
to take-up of 3G) and particular national preoccupations like major political
decisions (in Israel, key parliamentary debates can be followed on 3G TV).
But when access and downloading are no longer time-consuming
or unreliable, when dispatch and receipt are near-instant activities,
taking an event or experience out of its chronology and deploying it
at a more advantageous time becomes a conscious process; the
option of deliberate delay enters the emotional equation. Rather than
watch appointment TV at its appointed times, some Japanese now convert
programmes to 3G-compatible format and catch up with them on the move.
Similarly, as storage capacities and speeds expand, saving films or images
until the time when they will have most impact becomes a social strategy in
itself. “If a good picture is taken on a night out,” a young Australian woman
explained, it could be distributed to different friends according to when it’s
most needed - “as a reminder of the weekend, or to cheer someone up.”
8 3G SPACE: Here, There & Everywhere
Where are you?
“Where are you?” was the question Sadie Plant identified in On the Mobile
as the archetypal enquiry issued down the line to a person on a mobile phone.
The perfect answer was, of course, “On the mobile”: not tied to any one
location, but rather to the handset itself and to the idea of absolute mobility.
Geographically speaking, “On the mobile,” could mean anywhere. It’s
an exchange that worked for the GSM and GPRS eras, but in the time
of 3G – when 24 satellites positioned around the earth are capable of
tracking the location of a handset (and any attached human) to within
a few metres – it needs re-examining.
In South Korea, for example, the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) enables
individuals to configure the locations of friends on to their mobiles and then
keep abreast of their whereabouts via an on-screen map. If they wish to
do so, users of this service can add notes about specific places on the map
which their friends will be able to read and add to. Young Japanese people
make less use of comparable features, preferring an improvised method
knowingly dubbed “analogue GPS” – that is, calling a friend and giving
them directions – because they regard it as more personal and helpful.
Interviewees say they tend to resort to it only when they feel lost and have
no option – which, given the popularity of country hiking in Japan, is a state
of mind many find themselves in when outside of the nation’s urban centres.
Thanks to GPS, there are now fewer instances of underequipped
Japanese weekend hikers getting lost in the mountains than there
used to be.
ii) As their concerns about 3G and privacy demonstrated, many people in
Hong Kong don’t merely look at tracking systems as an optional function to
be used (as in Korea) or underused (as in Japan). Rather, for them, tracking
is often regarded as an Orwellian threat to liberty. Men in Hong Kong worry
about it intensifying the sense of being always on-call for work, that their In Japan and Korea, phone users – especially business users – are increasingly
superiors might find out where they were. At the domestic level, the idea using mobile-based payment systems for essential basics from tickets and
of being able to keep track of their wives, children and even aged parents travel passes to impulse purchases like cans from vending machines.
appealed, but the thought that their partners could track them was a cause
of grave concern. In India, where the household matriarch remains a The game of life
powerful cultural idea, the concept of the “spy cell” – phone as tool Rather than being aids to convenience or means of streamlining the number
for keeping tabs on husband, children and domestic staff – already of devices required to interact with the real world, some applications for
exists, and one interviewee said she was excited at the prospect of video connecting that world to the mobile phone emphasise exploration of that
on phones because it made their spying efforts even more effective. space purely for pleasure. Among New York’s trend-focused hipster set in
New York, Dodgeball is a social game that allows 3G users to tell people
Sweet-toothed children in the US may soon be contending similar anxieties, what bar they are at, establish who else is present, and play cat-and-mouse
according to a recent research project at the University of Philadelphia’s with people they wish to avoid or, conversely, hookup with. Players of
Cartographic Modeling Society, which worked on a project mapping burger Botfighters, a mobile application which originated in Sweden and now
bars, doughnut shops, street vendors and delis in the neighbourhood also operates in Finland, Ireland and Russia, create and discuss robot
through which children travel to school. Designed as a measure to combat avatars online but head out into the street to actually engage in the game.
obesity (offspring could be re-routed so that they went via a fruit stall The phone becomes a “battle terminal” through which players take aim
instead), it is the kind of geographically-focused service that concerned at other participants, with mobile positioning used to determine the power
3G-equipped parents would surely embrace – after all, it’s one thing to and precision of a “hit”. City streets are transformed into science-fiction
ask a child not to pass by the candy store, quite another to know whether battlezones for those in the loop, while the rest of the population goes
or not he actually does. about their business oblivious to the existence of this parallel world and
the combatants in it.
A remote control for reality
Even putting GPS aside, the ways people use mobile phones in relation The infinite corridor
to their physical worlds are increasingly sophisticated and elaborate. In How, then, to begin to define this new mobile space? The model of the PC-
Sweden, where ownership of a summer house is widespread, people based internet, where a virtual world is accessed through a fixed physical
check up on their remote second properties through webcam links terminal, clearly doesn’t suffice. As the metaphors of the web and net make
accessed via 3G. Others used similar set-ups as security devices for their plain, the internet is a network of branching virtual connections in which
own homes (and, in Japan, users would check up on pets via the same sort physical space is an irrelevance. But mobile-phone space promotes
of connection, while one Swedish interviewee fantasised about using it to something more akin to webturfing: connections between the geography
catch his girlfriend in the act of cheating). of the world and of ideas, the body and the mind, and creates a middle
ground. It can conquer physical distance if that’s what you want from it, inventiveness of tomorrow’s users of the technology will outwit the
but it is also a means of allowing others into your location, whether via forecasting skills of today’s experts. When they looked to the future and
video, tracking, or online communities. In reaction to the research for this were asked what they’d like their handsets to do in five years’ time, our
report, Kensuke Suzuki, a research fellow at Japan’s Center for Global interviewees hoped for more speed, more services, more applications in
Communications and the author of several sociology books about technology, the vein of security camera and remote controls. They wanted phones that
noted, “A change that’s already happening is that people are constantly measured body fat and tracked other health factors. They wanted phones
fiddling with their mobiles when they are in a public space when they do that would instantly translate speech so conversations could be held in other
not have to get involved with other people. In most cases, they are either languages. They wanted phones that reminded them of their appointments,
sending emails or text messages, or they are playing games while they are told them which routes to take through town, phones that enabled them to
waiting for a reply from someone. In other words, people are acting in public pay for anything a credit card does today. They craved newness even when
spaces as if they are in private places, such as their own homes. This has they couldn’t put their finger on what or why. As for the where – where
led to criticisms against the use of mobiles, especially against young people. 3G will take us, and what “where” 3G space will ultimately come to mean
But with easier access to virtual places through mobiles this will become – only Generation Here, and their forthcoming adventures in telephone
even more common.” culture, will tell.
With 3G, people are not merely “on the mobile”, or “surfing the web”, or
even “on the train”. The space that technology has opened up might instead
be likened to an infinite corridor, a hallway between worlds. We can walk
through any door, into any world we choose, in moments, invite others through
our front door, meet in the middle. Being “on the mobile” means being here,
there and everywhere.
As we have seen over the course of this report, take-up of and attitudes to
3G vary greatly. In a couple of countries, it’s already on its way to becoming
the de facto phone standard. In many others, 3G still seems like a remote
possibility, a distant dream. In those places where the system is established,
the ways people are using 3G are already surprising. In other areas, its
uses have yet to evolve. As a result, it would be glib to attempt to hold a
crystal ball up to 3G’s future – the one thing we can be sure of is that the
APPENDIX A: Methodology and Personnel
1. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY 2. REPORT STAFF
The research here is unique in its scope and approach. Between the end
of 2004 and the beginning of 2006, Motorola commissioned dozens of Editors
world-renowned writers and journalists both to work with its professional
researchers, and to travel the world themselves in search of the stories Steven Armstrong is author of The White Island and a writer and editor for
behind the statistics. One by one, the members of this team travelled The Guardian, Wallpaper*, Time Out and numerous other publications.
to their specified country or countries and spent time interviewing and
observing 3G users, and assimilating information on the state of wireless Richard Benson is the author of the Guardian First Book Award-nominated
communications in their allotted area. Input was also sought from The Farm, a former editor of The Face and a contributor to The Observer,
acknowledged commentators, analysts and academics, who gave in-depth The Telegraph and GQ magazine.
interviews that provided experts’ insights into individual states and regions’
relationships with 3G. Elsewhere, focus groups of current users and their Peter Lyle has written for magazines including Wired, Edge, Giant, America
peers were interviewed about their phones, watched as they used them, and Wallpaper*. He is a former editor of award-winning title Carlos and
and asked what they hoped the future would add to their 3G experiences. current editor of The Observer’s quarterly fashion supplement O:.
Armed with information, observations, transcripts and ideas, they then met, Field research staff
talked and rigorously compared notes to identify regional trends, similarities
and contrasts. This was not a report about quantities or 3G penetration Murmur is a London qualitative research company founded by Mark Ratcliffe.
–service providers and manufacturers such as Motorola itself could easily He and his team undertook research with groups of 3G users – a cross section
have handed over statistics if it had been. This was a report about nuances of users and potential user-bases – in territories that have historically been
– about behaviour and adaptation, about creative and unexpected uses early adopters in wireless technologies: Japan, Korea, Sweden and Finland.
of mobile phones. About anything that confounded, rather than simply
confirmed, expectations. Researchers were looking for factors in line with Steven Armstrong
that approach. What was universal? What was geographically specific? How
were old phone protocols affected by new phone technologies? What did 3G Richard Benson
mean to the people who used it? The result is an aggregation of scientific
analysis and journalistic investigation which raises questions as well as Selena Firth is a senior researcher at Murmur.
defining key developments.
Rob Levine has been a senior editor at Wired and is now a
New York City-based freelance writer.