Mobile technology, so what?

I have been thinking about physical spaces, community interactions, and software development. Recently I got a look at Ile Sans Fil’s user logs, which indicate that the most “mobile” users of Ile Sans Fil’s service are in fact the core members of the group. So what does the log tell us? The mobility is most interesting to people who are interested in mobility . . . .I am quite interested to get to know what else users are doing with ISF; there are 10,000 of them right now and for the most part they are not showing up on the stats. There needs to be some way of studying the interest in mobility; who is interested in being mobile and why, and for who, and so on. Is it purely self-selecting? What kind of value is provided by this “point-to-point” mobility, and who takes advantage of it? Because, in a sense it is not really mobility but the facilitation of work in different contexts.

I was thinking about this as well during my time studying in the BNQ (or, as we always call it, sometimes ironically, “the National Library” – of whose nation, I wonder?). Every day, many of the same people appear at the library. It is a study group, an office of nomads. But who are the nomads? From my experience, they are mostly men, and they are there frequently; I saw the same people day after day. I suspect this is not the kind of fluidly mobile movement through the city imagined by mobile phone designers, either. It is a kind of differently located work; my fellow library rats and I might visit several locations in a day, but we are located at each one, not mobile. Does this have something to do, I wonder, with the exigencies of work as opposed to leisure?

This brings me back to the difference between mobile computing and mobile telephony (at least at the level of use). As a brand-new mobile phone user I am amazed at my capability to move and talk at the same time. But what surprises me most is how little I actually do this. I don’t answer the phone while on my bike, and I leave it behind or turn it off if I am traveling with someone. And text messages, which have the same asynchronous quality as e-mail, have proven to be about the most interesting function of my mobile phone. That and acting as a portable address book . . .

And another thing,

What is this about social software?? Can we argue that either making it or using it contributes to the public good? Certainly it is programmed in a different way. But I am not sure, I am never sure if what people end up doing with social software is really social. Anne Galloway claims that decisions about what constitutes social software are made in boardrooms. What I see in working with community groups is that although decisions are made in more chaotic ways, they are still made based on the interests of the people in the room, as opposed to the people who end up using the services or systems. Does anyone really care? Do people really want to log every moment of their lives? Maya and I were talking about the creation of location portals. She thinks that they are primarily interesting as marketing strategies, since they mostly change the way information is sorted and presented. Anne Galloway (again, I read back a long way in her blog today) was talking about the notion of networked computing being “virtually everywhere” and “physically somewhere” – she was using the idea of flow to get past the more rigid network frameworks of Castells and Latour (I would appropriate Scheller’s gel instead; I find it a more subtle metaphor) and hoping to connect this to politics and ethics, in hopes of getting out of the blinding insularity which seems to characterize so much academic discourse about both subcultures and technologies. I am wondering how to break out of this insularity myself.