iPodolatry And Crackberries


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From a talk on BlackBerries and iPods I gave for Mount Royal College’s Faculty Professional Development retreat in Banff. The two technologies were discussed somewhat separately. The focus of the Blackberry part of the presentation was the idea that this type of device allows for the withdrawal from co-present interactions to engage in technologically-mediated communication via these devices. The focus of the iPod portion of the presentation was on the way that iPods are used as a way of inhabiting the spaces that people move between. Using anthropologist Marc Auge’s idea of “ordeals of solitude” in non-places (spaces without meaning formed in relation to certains ends such as transport and commerce), I argued that iPods provide a way of aestheticizing the spaces their users move through and thus help them cope with an underwhelming environment.

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iPodolatry And Crackberries

  1. 1. http://www.flickr.com/photos/vjragvan/2288085722 Being Unnatural: iPodolatry, Crackberries, and the Absent Presence Randy Connolly, Department of Computer Science & Information Systems 1
  2. 2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithwj/923735564 What are the two most important computers on the planet? The iPod and Blackberry are the key (and perhaps first) cultural icons of the 21st century 2
  3. 3. They “are the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.” Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957) 3
  4. 4. Just as some people say that a butterfly‟s flight might change the weather ... ... So too these small computing devices may be the cause of large-scale changes in our way of life ... 4 ://www.flickr.com/photos/philidor_2001/216570753
  5. 5. iPods and Blackberries (or any mobile email device) are ostensibly quite different devices. One is clearly a communication tool, generally for business, ... ... while the other is a tool for mainly solo pleasure. Yet the two devices share some common outcomes, which are the focus of this talk. 5
  6. 6. What is a Blackberry? 6
  7. 7. Launched in 1999 by the Canadian firm Research In Motion (RIM), the Blackberry acts as both a phone and personal organizer. 7
  8. 8. It‟s main attraction is that sends and receives emails Received emails are pushed out to the device when it is on. 8
  9. 9. If the device is on, then no time is wasted starting up a computer, logging in, connecting to mail server, waiting for email to download, etc. 9 http://img129.imageshack.us/img129/3857/waitingforwindowstobootjt1.jpg
  10. 10. Not as yet commonly used by students ... 10
  11. 11. ... but a ubiquitous one in the corporate world. 11
  12. 12. Devices like the Blackberry are part of a environment characterized by mobile working, continual communication, and a network of information flows. 12
  13. 13. It is praised by its users as a tool of efficiency. 13
  14. 14. It provides control over a user‟s communication needs. 14
  15. 15. It enables responsiveness and accessibility at any time or place. 15
  16. 16. One of the main benefits claimed by its users in two recent studies is that they allow its users to be productive in “dead time.” 16
  17. 17. In one study by JoAnn Yates of MIT Sloan School of Business, perhaps the most common example of this benefit stated by the 30 managers using the device in her study, was that they could respond to email at their children‟s soccer games. 17
  18. 18. Users also see Blackberries has being unobtrusive compared to a cell phone ... 18 http://www.flickr.com/photos/ahaglund/237089726
  19. 19. In the popular press, there has been a certain backlash, with the trope of Crackberry being perhaps the most common. 19
  20. 20. In Yates‟s study, 90% of the respondents reported some degree of compulsion ... ... characterized by a difficulty in refraining from checking the device at regular intervals. In her study, the average time in between “checks” on the device was 7 minutes. 20
  21. 21. The popular press is filled with anecdotes of users being unable to separate themselves from the devices... 21
  22. 22. ... or tales of businesses that have banned the “Blackberry prayer” in meetings 22
  23. 23. 23
  24. 24. ... or talk of aggrieved spouses who resent the intrusiveness of the devices 24
  25. 25. 25
  26. 26. Yates found that her subjects praised how the device provided the opportunity to control the form of information delivery and response. Unlike a cell phone, the user is in control of when he or she responds. While users may interrupt what they were doing to check an incoming message, the interruption is experienced as choice. “As email knits deeper into life, individuals experience interruption as individually negotiated rather than coercive.” 26
  27. 27. Yates‟s subjects also praised the device‟s ability to maintain life-work balance by time-slicing (using multiple, very small amounts of time to do work) Catherine Middleton in her study of Canadian Blackberry users found that the always-on nature of the device was not seen by its users as an infringement of personal time, but as a way to make work better fit one‟s personal needs. 27
  28. 28. Yet when pressed, Yates‟s subjects also recognized that more work activities had been downloaded into personal time. “one of things that I‟ve noticed more and more is that people will Blackberry me in the evening, you know, after 8:30 in the evening. I‟m pretty much settled in and people know that it sits next to me, my cup of tea is there, my knitting is in my lap, something‟s on television and I just take care of business. „Linda, do you think you can order this and this for me?‟ Fine. Sure.” JoAnn Yates, “CrackBerrys: Exploring the Social Implications of Ubiquitous Wireless Email Devices” 28
  29. 29. These devices thus enable: • work intensification (do more things in the same time) • work extension (work longer) 29
  30. 30. Study subjects have commonly noted that since a Blackberry allows people to be available at all times and places, it soon becomes expected that they are available at all times ... ... and all places. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bitrot/2050189753/ 30
  31. 31. The devices do seem to perpetuate and extend the work cultures that the users are trying to control with these same devices. “Actions that appear as reasonable attempts to control a demanding job can encourage further engagement, resulting in increased, rather than decreased, workload” Catherine A. Middleton 31
  32. 32. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bondidwhat/478252978/ S.L. Jarvena study of users‟ attitudes towards mobile computing devices found that they were encapsulated by a series of contradictory beliefs: Work and leisure Empower and enslave Engage and disengage Connect to others and Distance oneself from others 32
  33. 33. It is the idea of engaging with remote others while at the same time disengaging with those nearby that is of particular interest to me ... 33
  34. 34. My research over the past decade has focused on the progressive privatization of life through technologies that appear to increase the domain of social connection but yet in reality perhaps do the opposite. 34
  35. 35. In these Blackberry studies, there were numerous observations from its participants about the frustration of being in meetings or discussions with individuals who frequently disengaged from the conversation to instead engage with their Blackberries. 35
  36. 36. Kenneth J. Gergen, professor of Psychology at Swarthmore College, uses the term absent presence to characterize the withdrawal from co-present interactions to engage in technologically-mediated communication . “One is physically present, but is absorbed by a technologically-mediated world of elsewhere. ... Increasingly, these domains of alterior meaning insinuate themselves into the world of full presence ... The present is virtually eradicated by a dominating absence.” 36
  37. 37. The iPod 37
  38. 38. MP3 player launched by Apple in 2001 Slow sales until 2004 Over 140 M sold to date 38
  39. 39. What is the iPod‟s main appeal? Is it listening to music on the go? 39
  40. 40. Is it the quantity and the choice? “I used to have to plan ahead and think of the several CD‟s I‟d want to listen to on a given day. Now there‟s none of that...if I‟m irritable, bored, and fed up then I might choose an album rather than shuffle through all my library. Otherwise I might choose my 25 most played, or recently played playlists ...” Michael Bull, “Investigating the Culture of Mobile Listening: From Walkman to iPod” 40
  41. 41. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mariagusa/2193187341/ MP3 technology has produced a massive change in consumer‟s expectations of what mobile sound technologies can do. Users are now able to “fine-tune the relationship between mood, volition, music and the environment in ways that previous generations of mobile sound technologies were unable to do.” 41
  42. 42. “Well, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that overall I feel pretty out of control in my life. Stores play music to get me to buy more. Work tells me what to do and when. Traffic decides how quickly I get from here to there. Even being in public place forces me to endure other people and their habits. ... I didn‟t realize how much I yearn for control ... The iPod has given me some control back.” Michael Bull, “Iconic Designs: The Apple iPod” 42
  43. 43. http://www.flickr.com/photos/zenzenok/5411050/ Is it the shuffle mode? The random nature of shuffle-mode playing allows users to re-discover their music by juxtaposing it in novel places or circumstances. Author Steven Levy calls it “spooky just-rightness” “It makes me wonder if the random function on the machine is just an unbiased algorithm or if my iPod is somehow cosmically connected to me.” 43
  44. 44. http://www.flickr.com/photos/24162233@N04/2294614578 Is it the design? “The design is just flawless. It feels good, to hold it in your hand, to rub your thumb over the navigation wheel and to touch the smooth white surface.” Michael Bull, “Iconic Designs: The Apple iPod” 44
  45. 45. Is it all four? The iPod appears to provide a feeling of control and security via personal listening that has an “ethos of infinite choice, incomparable mobility, and ideal design.” Kathleen Ferguson, “The Anti-pod” 45
  46. 46. Where is it used? Anywhere, of course, ... 46
  47. 47. Perhaps the most common, and for me the most important, way that iPods are used is as a way of inhabiting the spaces that people move between. 47
  48. 48. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ninety6dpi/453519546/ Michael Bull, Sussex University: “the solitary movement of people through the city each day represents a significant yet under researched aspect of contemporary urban experience.” 48
  49. 49. Theodor Adorno recognized that people in modern societies spend more and more of their time in “the realm of the ever-same.” http://www.theorycards.org.uk/card07.gif 49
  50. 50. Henri Lefebvre in the spirit of Adorno added that “we wish to have the illusion of escape [from the realm of the ever-same] as near to hand as possible.” 50
  51. 51. French anthropologist Marc Auge makes a distinction between places and non-places (spaces without meaning formed in relation to certain ends such as transport and commerce). Non-places are increasingly characteristic of space in contemporary societies. As a result. “the individual consciousness is subjected to entirely new experiences and ordeals of solitude, directly linked with the appearance and proliferation of non-places.” 51
  52. 52. In an era where there is more and more routine, always-the-same time spent in non-places (such as when commuting), the iPod provides a way of deroutinizing time. Users can control and manage their thoughts and feelings via auditory stimulus as they manage space and time. iPods provide a way of aestheticizing the spaces their users move through and thus help them cope with an underwhelming environment. 52
  53. 53. “iPod use creates a form of accompanied solitude for its users in which they feel empowered, in control and self-sufficient as they travel through the spaces of the city.” Michael Bull 53 http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycarthur/398394913
  54. 54. http://www.flickr.com/photos/amundn/566209527/ The sociologist Richard Sennett in his 1994 book The Body and the City in Western Civilization argued that the Churches within a city once structured the urban space and thereby created a zone of immunity in which the citizen could feel secure. 54
  55. 55. The iPod creates a mobile zone of security within the user‟s ears as they move between the spaces of the city that lacks Places such as churches and contains more and more Non-Places. 55
  56. 56. So what is not to like, then, about the iPod? 56
  57. 57. The iPod, by dint of the power of private sound, mediates the experience of any space the user is in. This means that for iPod users, any space can be subjectively experienced as a non-place. 57
  58. 58. The iPod (and to a lesser extent, the Blackberry as well) increases both the ability to achieve (and the desire of its users for) accompanied solitude. 58
  59. 59. http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsgeorge/327826652/ Richard Sennett on the loss of social capital during the 20th century transportation revolution: “individual bodies moving through urban space gradually became detached from the space in which they moved, and from the people the space contained. As space becomes devalued through motion, individuals gradually lost a sense of sharing fate with others.” 59
  60. 60. My worry is that the iPod and the Blackberry will continue this process of detachment from the public places that connect us to others and to our common histories. Michael Bull: “Users tend to negate public spaces through their prioritization of their own technologically mediated private realm.” The history of modern communication and transportation technologies is that of a gradual retreat away from public places to that of the private consumption of goods. 60
  61. 61. As users become immersed in their own sound and communicative bubbles, the significant spaces they habitually pass through and inhabit may increasingly lose significance for them and progressively turn into the non-places of daily life. 61
  62. 62. Randy Connolly, Department of Computer Science & Information Systems Mount Royal College, Calgary 62