Name: Ziyu Liu
Thursday 6 PM–9 PM
The mobility and locative technologies of smartphones, such as location-based service (LBS) and global positioning system (GPS), have provided smartphone users a convenient approach to not only meet new friends but also acquire information. Hinton and Hjorth (2013, p. 125) claims that smartphone allows users to actively obtain and engage with information regardless of the constraints of time and space. That is to say, smartphone users are able to communicate with others and acquire useful information on a virtual interface. Additionally, smartphone can not only enhance the intimacy among people who are familiar with each other but also create a virtual environment in which strangers are interconnected on the basis of the LBS and GPS technologies. However, although the mobility and locative technologies of smartphone significantly facilitated the process of producing and receiving information, enhanced the intimacy among familiar people, and shortened the distance among strangers, some challenges and limitations still exist. Smartphone to some extend blurred the boundary between private and public and created a ‘media bubble’ in which people are unconsciously forced to isolate themselves from others in the real world.
Compared with traditional media, one of the most significant feature of smartphone is mobility, which allows users to obtain useful information and communicate with others wherever and whenever possible. Additionally, Firth and Kalin (2015, p. 45) highlighted the significance of relationship of mobility and space, and states, ‘mobility plays an significant role in constructing the meaning of place, practiced as an ongoing embodied experience with place’. While creating and running the social media campaign ‘BetheFilter’ this semester, my group considered mobility as one of the most important aspect for us to promote and for audiences to participate. Since Facebook allows users to log in through smartphone, we are able to make new polls, share new contents and communicate with our members whenever and wherever possible without a PC. Additionally, our members and followers can conveniently obtain information without delay and interact with others on their mobile devices (smartphones, iPads, etc) regardless of the constraints of time and space. They can read the articles, watch the videos, make comments and have a conversation while in the washroom or going back home on the public transports. From this perspective, mobility of smartphone creates a fastest approach for us to promote campaign by producing information and built a democratic platform for audiences to get engaged by receiving information whenever and wherever possible. In addition, as one of the most popular social app in China, WeChat can be considered as a multifunctional assemblage that allows users to not only interact with others but also complete personal consumptions. On the one hand, with the assistance of the ‘wallet’ function in WeChat, users can purchase film tickets and food, order taxi and call home services on their mobile devices at home rather than going out in person (see Figure 1); on the other hand, the third-party operators can conveniently extend potential customers through WeChat.
(Figure 1 Screenshot of the function ‘wallet’ in WeChat)
Smartphone has made great contributions in enhancing the intimacy among people who are familiar with each other. Laser and Casado (2012, p. 551) stated, ‘smartphone can be regarded as the most accessible way of redefining intimacy and is frequently used by couple who are forced to spend time apart to simulate the situation of co-located.’ With the advent of the age of web 2.0, smartphone remediated the conventional approaches of maintaining social relationship by allowing users to communicate and express feelings to their familiar people (lovers, families, friends, etc) through smartphone instantaneously rather than posting a letter. For instance, WeChat allows me to have a video chat with my parents who are thousands miles away whenever and wherever possible.
Apart from enhancing the intimacy among familiar people, smartphone to a great extend promoted the interconnection among strangers with the assistance of the locative technologies. Hjorth (2012, p. 237) states that LBS and GPS technologies have been significantly applied for social uses since mobile media has been transformed from mobile communication technology into mobile multimodal technology. Moreover, Farman (2012, p. 62) defined interface as ‘the mediating environment that makes the experience, a critical zone that constitutes a user experience,’ and indicated, ‘the interface extends beyond this model to also include object-to-object interfaces, thus extending beyond the idea of the human-computer interface’. From this perspective, the LBS and GPS technologies in smartphones construct a virtual environment (interface) in which users are able to instantaneously exchange information and communicate with each other. The social app Tinder can be considered as a typical example to illustrate this point. Tinder allows users to search nearby users and acquire other users’ basic information, such as appearance, age, occupation, hobbies, etc. Once the users ‘liked’ each other, a virtual interface where both of them are able to communicate with each other is created on their smartphone (see Figure 2).
(Figure 2 Screenshot of Tinder)
In addition, Humphreys (2012, p. 468) considered inner space and outer space as two dimensions in social public space and claimed, ‘inner place is the degree of social intimacy or social distance between people, is from unknown to intimate. While outer place is the physical distance between people in public space, is from disparate to co-located’. The LBS and GPS technologies not only provide the opportunities for Tinder users to shorten inner place by making new friends and communicating with strangers in a virtual world but also make it possible for Tinder users to shorten outer place by meeting strangers nearby and organizing activities in the real world after getting familiar with each other. For example, our group utilized Tinder as a tool to promote the social media campaign this semester. Once we got matched with strangers nearby, we asked them if they are interested in news filter and sent the URL of our Facebook discussion group to invite them to participate (see Figure 3). In this way, we gained some group members and I also made friend with a guy named Brenden. From this perspective, the locative technologies in smartphone to a great extend not only enhanced the intimacy among familiar people but also shortened both physical and psychological distance among strangers.
(Figure 3 Screenshot of Tinder)
Challenges and limitations:
Although the mobility and the locative technologies of smartphone significantly facilitated the process of information dissemination and shortened the distance among people, some challenges and limitations cannot be ignored. Firstly, location-based app in smartphone can be easily utilized by people to act illegal infringement against public benefits, such as spreading misinformation and erotic advertisement; and stealing personal information. For example, the function of ‘people nearby’ in WeChat is frequently used as a platform act some illegal and immoral activities, such as academic essay business and prostitution (see Figure 4).
(Figure 4. Screenshot of WeChat)
Secondly, according to Smith and Westbrook (2004), location-based mobile media redefined the definition of intimacy and led to the generation of an alternative sentiment — ambiguity. That is to say, location-based app, such as Tinder, constructs a relatively private virtual environment where people do not need to take responsibility for their unethical behaviors and words, therefore, they can say what they want and do what they want regardless of moral restrictions, which to some extend can lead to the increase of divorce rate because of the increase of one night stand. Thirdly, mobile media, especially smartphone, can create private space (‘media bubble’) in public sphere in which people unconsciously isolate themselves from others in real world (Bull, 2014, p. 178). For example, modern people are used to focus on their smartphone while having dinner with friends. They prefer to communicate with others through a virtual interface rather than having a face-to-face conversation. From this perspective, although smartphones indeed offered people a more convenient approach to communicate with others, the quality of the communication is unsatisfied because people’s feelings and emotions cannot be perfectly disseminated through mobile devices. Namely, smartphone has made great contributions in providing people an ‘interconnected’ and ‘overcrowded’ virtual world, however people’s strong dependence on smartphones to some extend unconsciously forced people to disconnect with others in the real world. We are connected but alone.
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Farman, J. (2012). “Chapter 3. Locative interfaces and social media” in Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media. 56-75. New York; Routledge.
Frith, J & Kalin, J. (2015). Here, I Used to Be: Mobile Media and Practices of Place-Based Digital Memory. Space and Culture.
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Social, Locative and Mobile Media Understanding Social Media. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Hjorth, L. (2012). Relocating the mobile: A case study of locative media in Seoul, South Korea. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies.
Humphreys, L. (2012). Connecting, coordinating, cataloguing: Communicative practices on Mobile social networks. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(4), 494-510.
Lasén, A. & Casado, E. “Mobile Telephony and the Remediation of Couple Intimacy,” Feminist Media Studies 12, no. 4 (2012): 550–559.
Smith, V. & Westbrook, N. (2004). ‘Friendship through IM: Examining the Relationship between Instant Messaging and Intimacy’, JCMC 10, Article 6.