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Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc
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Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone.doc

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  • 1. teleconomy Group Plc Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone The Research The paper stems from speculative research undertaken by teleconomy about the influence mobile phones have on society and the use of other media. The research is a qualitative study of over 210 early individual (consumers rather than commercial users) mobile phone Internet / data adopters. Primarily the research centres on behaviour – how people behave with their mobiles, why WAP has been adopted now and what the effects on other media usage are. The work tries to capture the experiences of mobile phone users and explores what they are thinking and, whilst addressing the hopes and concerns that are becoming embedded in the new media age, the research locates these in a broader context that considers social and cultural issues of identity. Many interesting ideas arose from the research which were not explored to their full extent in the commercial report. This paper provides an opportunity for their development. The research is interpreted using applied frameworks from sociology and philosophy. The frameworks are mainly derived from the work of Anthony Giddens, Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard. The leading concepts are identity, dialogue and symbolism. The empirical research is wholly independent of both network and content providers and our subjects included users of the main British networks. The primary work therefore represents, within the limitations of research methodologies, an objective view of consumer behaviours. It should be remembered that the adopters interviewed are ‘voluntary adopters’ and therefore are at least to some extent interested in or amenable to early concepts of Internet mobility. Why have a mobile? More than half of all people in Britain now own a mobile phone. David Teather (2000) comments how these figures confirm one of the most conspicuous social changes to have taken place over the last 10 years. He quotes a spokesman from Orange as saying: “A few years ago people were still debating how many people would have mobile phones and how often they would use them. It is now pretty well accepted that in the next couple of years virtually everyone will own a mobile phone. The debate is no longer about how it will happen but how long it will take.” This is echoed with comments from the research such as “I just couldn’t be without one now”, and “If someone just pinches it now, I’m dead, I’ve had it.” By 2004, Nokia predicts, cell phones will outpace PCs in Internet connections. Guyon (1999) shows that Nokia is not alone in its belief that the cell phone will become a super- portable computer. Media companies such as CNN, software companies such as Microsoft, and Internet giants such as Yahoo are all angling for a piece of this market. 'Why develop applications for people to use during the little time that they are stuck in front of their PCs?’ asks Dominic Strowbridge, Motorola's technology marketing manager for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. 'Why not use a device that's with them Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 2. teleconomy Group Plc all the time?’ However, the consumers and users need to be comfortable with the technology: “Well, I think people have got to accept it first. They’ve got to be at ease with it.” For some there is a notion that “It’s overcomplicating the telephone at the moment.” This notion has proved to be common in the research conducted. These concerns are important and should not be undermined but as users adjust to the new technologies available on the mobile so these concerns will diminish “People are just starting, I mean, a lot of people have got mobiles but they’ve only had them for a year or two then that’s it, they want to get used to using their mobiles and I think technology is jumping a bit too fast for them.” The role of the mobile phone Perceptions of the mobile phone are already changing; the mobile is taking on a new meaning and has superseded its utility as a medium solely for voice telephony; it is increasingly perceived as a multi-purpose device. The paper addresses these issues, looking at what the mobile actually means to the individual - both the device and the functions it performs. When the mobile phone first came into the market it was indeed just that – a phone that could be used when mobile. As mobile penetration levels have increased so has the ability to do more with it. Aside from WAP the mobile can be used as a communicator through voice telephony and SMS text messaging, an entertainment device through games, an alarm clock and an address book. There appear to be differing views about the role of the mobile phone; some people have not yet widened their view to incorporate the idea of the phone as a multi-use device - “I see a TV as a TV and a phone as a phone,” while others see the mobile as a device that can encompass a number of tasks: “When I haven’t got time to switch on my computer and connect to the internet I use my mobile.” WAP users ultimately see the mobile as a device that can encompass a number of tasks. The role of the mobile is beginning to change, “It’s great, you can find out all sorts of information…and then ring up about it.” There is a shift in the way other media are used and use of the mobile is not confined solely to being mobile, “In the evening I tend to come in, whack the TV on even if there’s nothing on just for some sound, y’know some background and sit and play with my phone.” A more advanced view of the mobile as a multi-purpose device is reflected in “When I haven’t got time to switch on my computer and connect to the Internet I use my mobile.” In the seminar, M-Commerce: The rise of the mobile phone (October, 2000) Douglas Hunter, Consumer Insights Manager, Motorola presented the idea of a hybrid device. At the moment no such product is consumer friendly. He comments how the future will bring with it very different devices. Presently, manufacturers are experimenting with new devices that will change the way the device will look in the long term. Consumers will come to expect to use this device for a range of operations from simple communication to information searching, purchasing, banking, word processing, listening to the radio, playing music and more. In the future, he states, “phones will be talking to machines.” The success of this hybrid device will depend on the ability of machines to talk to each other. The technology may be on the horizon and consumers are adapting their habits and use to begin to incorporate the idea that one device can perform multiple Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 3. teleconomy Group Plc tasks. Hunter feels that there may be a use of two devices which aren’t necessarily phones, there may be one device for social use and one for business. These devices, he reiterates, will need to be able to talk to each other for example, the PC at home will need to talk to the PC at work or a virtual PC. One interesting point about the mobile phone is that its sheer existence and role as a communicator presupposes the existence of another. This other may be a machine, human or software. The mobile cannot exist on its own, indeed it would serve no purpose. It therefore relies on a network made up of software, hardware, people and their behaviours. Teenagers There has been much writing about what the mobile means to the under 25 age group. New technologies have been adopted by teenagers at an extraordinary rate. The pay as you go mobile has allowed many teenagers to possess a mobile which in turn has changed their patterns of behaviour and their perceptions of their restrictions of mobility. Peter S. Alexander (2000) explores how teenagers define and re-define the identity of the mobile as a dynamic social technology. He feels that if we limit our view to the mobile phone’s present utility we may be ignoring some of the most powerful aspects of it. He notes that because teens may not be as comfortable with more verbal ways of communicating affiliations and interests, the symbolic identity of fashion and style becomes even more important as a catalyst for social interaction within teen subculture. Identity, however, is fluid for all groups, not just for teenagers. The mobile has many functions, not only as a communicator but also as a signifier for identity and an added device for consumption of communication. ‘Always-on’ technologies (GPRS, 3G) will be significant to this group. Connectivity will not only influence their patterns of mobility but will also influence their identities and how they see themselves. Many social theorists have looked at the importance of fashion in teenage life. Not only can fashion make a statement to others about identity, it can also help teenagers to understand their own identity. The mobile acts on many levels, as a fashion statement, as a communicator, as a badge of identity and as a decoder. Undeniably, we all read signs from other people, we decode in effect everything around us. Roland Barthes (1957) develops an approach to identity and consumption, in which he argues that there is always a dual aspect to consumption, that it fulfils a need but that it also conveys and is embedded within social and cultural symbols and structures. A mobile phone, for example, could be used for keeping in touch whilst also signifying an image of the kind of person one is or wishes to be seen to be. The mobile can be tailored to the individual by changing the ring tone, adding logos or stickers, changing the interface of the colour of the phone and more. Teenagers use mobile phones in an almost semi-disposable way like a piece of clothing or fashion accessory. Jean Baudrillard (1983) notes that all goods have meanings that are generated within the system of signs and symbols which engage the attention of the consumer. Consumption is never a process of a purchaser trying to Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 4. teleconomy Group Plc satisfy a basic pre-given human need in response to biology. Mobile phones meet no biological need. Baudrillard sees the consumer as always actively creating a sense of identity, both individually and collectively. In this sense the mobile can create or reinforce identity; the status of the device is much more meaningful than the actual device itself. Similarly, Alexander argues that the physical design and presence of the mobile has alternate meanings that go beyond its utility such as status, social connection and even popularity. It is possible that teen mobile owners view their devices as extensions of themselves and their personalities. As we have discussed, objects represent a system of signs which speak about the owner. The mobile is a prime example where teenagers are concerned. Alexander believes these myths are socially constructed and could represent many ideas that go beyond a concern with personal adornment and self- presentation and further impact the construction of self-identity in the teen. Availability One of the most common questions asked on a mobile is, ‘where are you?’ Nicola Green (2000) looks at the capability of the mobile to act as a technology of surveillance. Rather than the state and institutions ‘surveilling’ populations, Green suggests the populations are also ‘surveilling’ themselves and each other. Mobiles can be used to resist surveillance; for example, when using caller ID; you choose whom you will answer to: “If someone rings and you know who it is, if you don’t want to speak to them I just don’t answer.” For some younger (18 – 25 year olds) respondents the mobile was a useful device to block out unwanted intrusion “I use my mobile as a barrier when I’m on the train.” Ironically, the same group does not mind always being available through their mobiles and welcome distraction through it, “You can’t ignore a text message, you just have to have a look.” Having a mobile in theory means that there is the option of constant availability. Technologies such as GPRS and 3G bring with them an always on connection. The under 25 groups were willing to be ‘contactable’: “I never turn mine off”, whereas the older groups were more selective: “I turn mine off at night and I think I only really have it in case of an emergency.” We were interested in how this age group experience media in general. They appear to live amongst an environment of quite consciously created noise and images: “anything for background noise. Because I don’t like silence”. In many cases these images and noises run together, e.g. the CD or radio plays and the television is on simultaneously. From this ‘stream’ of media they pick out items of interest. In other words they are constantly available for persuasion or contact. This leads to such statements, in the context of the mobile phone, as “when I lost my mobile I was like panic stricken.” This availability contrasts markedly with older groups that tend to be less available and more deliberate or purposeful in their usage. In short the 18-25 group looked to access media content or ‘items’ from amongst a flow which was ever present (they simply turn devices on to break up silences). Individual ‘items’ tended to emerge from this flow. We should not be critical of this mode of behaviour, rather this Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 5. teleconomy Group Plc phenomenon indicates a behavioural adaptation designed to gain maximum benefit for minimum effort from our media saturated lives. Identity Nokia state that a mobile phone is the most intimate communications device in the modern world. When providing services into a WAP enabled phone, a company can connect directly with people’s lives. Nevertheless, “There’s a lot of privacy behind a phone.” Within this private, intimate space identity can be constructed and reconstructed. Giddens’ (1991) theories about the reflexive project of self-identity are useful in thinking of how the mobile can create identities: Giddens writes, “A self-identity has to be created and more or less continually reordered against the backdrop of shifting experiences of day-to-day life and the fragmenting tendencies of modern institutions.” As intelligent mobile portals become available the user will be able to select who and what is granted privileged access through this highly personal device. The mobile phone is positioned above any other medium in terms of a personal device. Mobile phone users are, in Giddens’ sense, ‘clever people’, at home with postmodern uncertainties and skilled in the reflexive reworking of identity. This personal device, as we will discuss below, is often seen as part of the self, and is commonly referred to as an extension of a limb. In this sense it may be useful to think of the mobile as an internal reference point in the sense used in Giddens (1991) account of the evolution of the reflexive project of the self. In a traditional context identities are formed within fixed communities using externally referential systems such as customs, habits, knowledge and the physical environment (Hay et al 1993). The condition of late modernity is bereft of such external referential points and as such there is a shift from external to internal referentiality. Extension of the self / Prosthesis So intimately connected with identity is the mobile phone that many people with mobiles have begun to rely on them so much they see them as an essential item, an extension of their self: “It’s part of me.” It is plausible to argue that no other device has infiltrated society so widely and so quickly and as such has had a consequent change on lifestyle. The mobile is becoming imbedded within society and is indeed becoming part of the culture of late modern societies. The reliance on this device is profound: “If we said tomorrow right, we’ll take your mobile phone away from you, you’d feel like you’d lost your right arm.” No other medium has been considered to be so personal that panic arises when if it is lost. “If I had it stolen, I would be dead.” In this sense loss of the phone is likened to physical disintegration. Would the same comment apply to the loss of the computer? Contrary to Baudrillard’s arguments about consumption serving no biological need, it is as if the mobile phone has come to meet a biological need; more, it has become part of our bodies, and therefore of ourselves. Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 6. teleconomy Group Plc Mobile Phones as Ingestion The mobile phone is a highly personal object which is often kept close to the self, like a garment. It is also part of a lifestyle. Its proximity is close to that of a body function and its removal has been likened to the loss of a limb. To think so highly of a portable device in this way suggests an important insight. It may be that we need to think of the mobile not in terms of the ergonomics of technology but as something like a bodily function. An alternative metaphor is to treat the mobile as analogous to food. Taking the view that food is a great pleasure in life the following metaphor unfolds: CONTEXT FOOD MOBILE Personal Decide what goes in, when Decide when, where and and where how the mobile is used Customise Choose according to Deciding what information individual tastes infiltrates the mobile, if any. Consumption The body ingests, digests Deciding what to do with and excretes (input to the information we receive output – a process – cf. (voice or mail) Cybernetics) Choice The choice to eat or not and Selecting who and what and to be selective when we are contacted Invasion If an incorrect meal arrived Unsolicited material on the when ordered at a restaurant mobile may be an invasion we may complain… of privacy… …or we may welcome a …or this material may be Welcoming pleasant surprise acceptable and enjoyable Change in Media Use - the future for mobile technology Giddens has been criticised (Hay et al 1993) for the blandness of his claim that reflexive, playful identity construction is within everyone’s capacity. He writes, for example, as if everyone in advanced western societies can choose what to eat, or select from a range of available therapies the approach most in line with one’s current identity. He is accused of neglecting the realities of social and economic exclusion. His work is valuable, however, in reminding us also of the negative side of the postmodern experience; the loss of stable, centred identities can produce ‘ontological insecurity’ (Giddens, 1991) and anxiety as well as pleasure and playfulness. One response to that insecurity is an attempt to recover the mythic certainties of the past, a process Giddens (1994) calls ‘fundamentalism’. For Giddens, fundamentalism can be defined as the refusal of dialogue, and his desired political alternative is ‘dialogic democracy’. Can we see the mobile as a medium for the promotion of such dialogue? Unlike supermarkets, haute couture and even the Internet, pay as you go mobile phones are within the economic grasp of almost everyone in modern societies. Can we see the mobile as a genuine social leveller, and thus as a means of defence against ontological insecurity and the fundamentalism it may produce? An Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 7. teleconomy Group Plc example of human agency being enabled by the mobile can be found in the demonstration outside Citibank in the Philippines earlier this year. According to LeMonde (February 2001), it was [sic] the mobile message which was instantly forwarded that allowed enough demonstrators to gather and block access to Citibank where Joseph Estrada was believed to have deposited tens of millions of francs, the product of corruption. The actual SMS message read: B AT CTIBANK B4 9. ERAP LAWYRS PLANNING TO WDRAW $30M. WE HAVE TO STOP DIS. This point of action was enabled by the mobile and the slightly privileged access of the device (4.5 million or 6% of the Filipino population have access to a mobile (Pomonti 2000)). Such social action is positive, indeed Giddens may refer to such ‘clever people’ reflexively constructing their identity (both individually and collectively) Mobile telephony is beginning to affect the perceptions and, more importantly, the use of other content media. The rhetoric around the influence of other media contradicts the actual behaviour found in the research, which shows that there is a shift in media use that entails the incorporation of the mobile to carry out tasks previously performed elsewhere. As mobile Internet access becomes more widespread and technical limitations are improved, amongst other things the convenience of use may result in the death of the PC for some groups of people. Amongst a number of significant findings the research indicated that in the age group 18 to 25 the home computer was often regarded as ‘outside’ their normal range of behaviours. This group preferred to run forms of media such as television, radio or permanently connected mobile phones concurrently in ‘background’ mode, picking out items of interest from this ‘flow’ of content. Standalone computers were seen to be outside this ‘flow’ requiring switching on, loss of time and changes to behaviour which were considered intrusive: “It’s boring, you have to sit in a room and it’s just you and your computer.” The strength of feeling from this highly mobile age group was surprising. However, the method of media intake was clearly seen to be one of extracting individual items from a constant stream of content. PCs were seen as just too much trouble to be regarded as an integral part of their lives. This partly relates to limitations in their not being permanently connected and also often to their location within the home, which is perhaps typically not the main living area. Quite simply the PC in its current form looks like a device that may well see itself squeezed out. This may lead to the death of the PC as we know it for this group and a return to its original purpose and a surge in its use for games and entertainment: “I do enjoy games on the PC, you can have your mates round but you don’t really do that with the Internet do you? It’s just you and the computer.” Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 8. teleconomy Group Plc If we now compare this to television (and iTV) and mobile devices (including devices such as Walkman or MP3 players) we find a very different relationship. Here the devices are actually used as part of the process of creating environment in both public and private spaces. The act of creating the streams of ‘noise’ previously referred to can be seen as a deliberate act of shaping the individual’s immediate environment. It is conscious, and involves initial acts of choice, to turn devices on and to access channels is considered likely to fulfil emotional or intellectual needs (although here remote control devices allow easy channel ‘hopping’ within a personal range of channels). There are constant references to this ‘environment’ being used to create moods or emotions, say before going out clubbing. These media use activities may have a public or social dimension, as in watching television. In this case iTV facilities for watching sport were particularly valued when watching with others. It was felt they stimulated discussion and made the single activity of “watching the match more interesting and fun”. In the personal domain many mobile devices were seen as opportunities to create environments specific to the individual whilst in more public places “yeah, when I go on the train…with my Walkman on”. Similarly, the use of text messaging in the public domain is commonplace. Indeed, Japanese teenagers are referred to as the ‘thumb generation’ for their exhaustive use of the mobile keypad. In Green’s (2000) research on the use of mobiles on trains and in stations, changes in behaviour were strategies employed by users to create ‘fictive boundaries’. These included changing seats, crouching the body over a seat, or averting the gaze in what Goffman would refer to as ‘civil inattention’ (Green 2000). The mobile by its sheer capabilities of mobile voice telephony has impacted the way in which other media are used. Coupled with WAP it makes the mobile a powerful communicator both through voice and text and enables information to be obtained while mobile or stationary. Sometimes the mobile does the same function as other mediums but when mobile “Someone might be trying to get hold of me and they aren’t at their PC so they can send a text. In short, if they want me or some sort of response, it’s probably the only way to get hold of me when I’m on the move”. For other people the mobile allows them information they wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere “The benefits, mine’s with me twenty-four seven so I’ve got the information in my pocket.” One interesting notable change amongst teenagers was highlighted by BBC Manchester whose research suggests teenagers’ current obsession with mobile phones could be helping to turn them away from smoking. Smoking has declined among British teenagers from 30% in 1996 to 23% in 1999, while ownership of mobile phones among 15 to 17 year olds shot up to 79% by August 2000. According to Clive Bates, of the anti-smoking group, ASH, the pocket sized devices are smart, chic and adult and, like cigarettes, are an important part of socialising to teenagers. Prepaid cards could be consuming teenagers’ pocket money that might otherwise be spent on cigarettes. The idea of a shift from cigarettes to mobiles for the teenager, signifying the possibility that the mobile has become a substitute for cigarettes, is a striking indication for its potential for social change and highlights some of the points we address in our research, the behaviour toward the influence of new media. Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 9. teleconomy Group Plc BIBLIOGRAPHY Alexander, P.S. (2000) ‘Teens and Mobile Phones Growing-up Together: Understanding the Reciprocal Influences on the Development of Identity’ Submission for the Wireless World Workshop, University of Surrey Barthes, R (1975) Mythologies, Paladin: Hertfordshire Baudrillard, J (1983) Simulations, Semiotext(e): New York BBC Manchester, (2000) ‘Phones not fags are the new cool’ in www.bbc.co.uk/manchester Giddens, A (1991) Modernity and Self-Identity, Cambridge: Polity Giddens, A. (1994) Beyond Left and Right, Cambridge: Polity Green, N. (2000) ‘Who’s watching Who? Surveillance and Accountability in Mobile Relations’. Submission for the Wireless World Workshop, University of Surrey. Guyon (1999) ‘Next up for cell phones’, Fortune, October 1999 Hay, C., O’Brien, M., Penna, S. (1993) “Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: The ‘Hollowing out’ of Social Theory”, Arena, Journal no.2, 1993/94 Hunter, D. (2000), Motorola. ‘M-commerce: the rise of the mobile phone’. The Research Show, Olympia, London. Strowbridge, D. in Guyon (1999) ‘Next up for cell phones’, Fortune, October 1999 Teather, D. (2000) ‘Half of Britain now owns a mobile phone’ The Guardian. Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 10. teleconomy Group Plc APPENDIX METHODOLOGY Ethnographic interviews – Twenty-five personal depth interviews every 6 months for 2 years. Although there was a series of structured questions the interviews were designed to encourage the respondents to talk about their experiences and emotions relating to their WAP phones and current content/interactivity. Each interview lasted approximately 2 hours and was conducted in an environment of the interviewees choosing i.e. home, shopping or work. Telephone interviews – Fifty-five depth interviews. Again the respondents were encouraged to talk around the structured questions eliciting qualitative rich information also as well as quantitative data. Each interview was approximately 45 minutes in duration. ADDITIONAL RESEARCH This sample represents a more transient group which will not be followed in detail over the duration of the project (the initial 80 will be interviewed on a 6 monthly basis) but these groups and their subsequent successors are used to provide a broader social understanding of mobility and its cultural significance. FOCUS GROUPS • Qualitative research • 3 focus groups, 8 people each • Mixed gender • Age segmentation – 18-25, 26-45, over 45 • Respondents had exposure to at least two remote media; iTV, WAP/mobile, telephone and PC based web • Mixed experience levels of these media • Exploring use of these media, content, context, appropriateness of use, current and envisaged future use ETHNOGRAPHIC INTERVIEWS • Qualitative research addressing similar issues in the focus groups • Male and female from each of the above age groups • In depth interview exploring themes arising from the focus groups TELEPHONE INTERVIEWS • Over 100 telephone interviews • Quali-quant style questionnaire • Exploring use of media, in particular the Internet for shopping Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle
  • 11. teleconomy Group Plc AUTHORS Michael Hulme, MPhil Chairman of teleconomy Group Plc Senior Research Fellow of Lancaster University, Management School Michael Hulme is the Chair of teleconomy Group Plc. He is also Senior Research Fellow in the Management School at Lancaster University. He specialises in behavioural research and social change, in particular the impact of new media technologies on the individual and society. He employs a holistic approach to academic frameworks and enjoys a future oriented predictive way of thinking. Sue Peters, BA (hons) Research Analyst, teleconomy Research Assistant, Management School, Lancaster University Sue Peters is the Insight Research Manager at teleconomy and a Research Assistant to Michael Hulme in the Management School at Lancaster University. She has conducted extensive research into social behaviour and new media, in particular Internet use and shopping, interactive television and WAP adoption, and consumer behaviour and channel ubiquity and mobility of market segments. Contact details teleconomy Research House Caton Road Lancaster LA1 3PE UK Tel: (+44) 01524 382000 Fax: (+44) 01524 388899 e-mail: michael-hulme@teleconomy.co.uk sue-peters@teleconomy.co.uk Me, my phone and I: The role of the mobile phone Michael Hulme and Sue Peters CHI 2001, Seattle

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