Radical media, politics and culture.

Leopoldina Fortunati, "Discussing the Meaning of the Mobile Phone" London April 10

Leopoldina Fortunati

Discussing The Meaning of the Mobile Phone

April 10th, 2006. 3:00-5:00pm

Department of Information Systems in Studio Ciborra, 5th floor, Tower One

Information Systems Department, LSE

ICTs in the Contemporary World: information, management and culture

This decade of research on the mobile phone has been very important in explaining its social co-construction and its subversive and regressive potential at the level of interpersonal, social and business relations. Its identity as an information and communication technology has been widely explored and it has turned out to be particularly ambivalent (attractive/unattractive), but also highly changeable (with rapid shifts from mobile to personal technology, from oral technology to written) and, in part, dissimulative. In fact, the mobile is a device that is only in part communicative, as owing to its costs it allows only rapid exchanges or otherwise written messages, these also very short. Looking at the mobile phone as a technological artefact, its body results largely the fruit of unexpected and innovative behaviour on the part of users.

The limit to this decade of research is that the research has remained so far at the descriptive level. Despite the greater part of empirical studies of this device being focused on its diffusion, use, and consumption in the domestic sphere, they have generally not been connected with any of the theoretical analysis of the domestic sphere which has been carried out in the last decades.

I wish to connect the analysis of the role of the mobile phone to this theoretical analysis, which will enable us to better understand that the mobile phone is a work tool for reproduction, that is, a machine used within the social process governing everyday life. People have certainly used the mobile phone to connect the world of work better with that of the family, by rationalizing organization here and there to their advantage, which means saving time, money and fatigue. But if we see it as a work tool, we will discover that its widespread use has taken on other dimensions. In fact it has had at the same time the effect of making people both in offices and factories and in the domestic sphere more productive, penetrating through the very pores of the working day of men, women, youth and children, sweeping away much rigidity and inertia, and eliminating many of those shadow areas in which people disappeared to “take a breather” as it were, thus avoiding the continuity of command and control by the organization of work or family and, in general, social networks. The widespread use of the mobile phone has had the unexpected effect of depriving workers, and people in general, both of the numerous times and spaces of social disconnection and the thousand defence strategies which counted on this disconnection.

The mobile phone has become part, on one hand, of the great phenomenon of the 20th century that goes under the name of mechanization of daily life, on the other hand it has become a very important part of the development of the artificialisation of the body. In the extended family of electronic media, the mobile phone is distinguished from other media, because it has started to approach and penetrate the human body. But, remaining with the body, it has in its turn entered into the system of languages which insist on the body itself, among which fashion. The mobile has gradually acquired the status of an object of fashion, is now considered an accessory, and is increasingly forming an integral part of an individual’s look, of that absolutely unnatural territory that encloses the material nature of the body and the cultural modernity of fashion. This is why it has also become an important “vehicle” of presentation of the self.

Leopoldina Fortunati teaches Sociology of Communication and Sociology of Cultural Processes at the Faculty of Education of the University of Udine, Italy. She has conducted extensive research in the field of gender studies, cultural processes and communication and information technologies. She is the author of several books, for example, The Arcane of Reproduction (Autonomedia, 1995), I mostri nell’immaginario (Angeli, 1995) and is the editor of Gli Italiani al telefono (Angeli, 1995) and Telecomunicando in Europa (1998), and with J. Katz and R. Riccini Mediating the Human Body. Technology, Communication and Fashion (2003). She has published many articles in journals such as “The Information Society”, “Information, Communication, Society”, “Réseaux”, “Trends in communication”, “Revista de Estudios de Juventud,” “Widerspruche”, “Personal and Ubiquitous computing”, “Gazette. The International Journal for Communication Studies”, “Sociologia dell’informazione”, “Problemi dell'informazione”. She is associate editor of the journal The Information Society, is in the advisory board of the journal New Media and Society, and serves as referee for the journal Communication, Information, Society and Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. She represents Italy in the COST Technical Committee for Social Sciences and Humanities and in the action COST A20 "The Impact of Internet on the Mass Media in Europe". She was part of the European research project SIGIS "Strategies of Inclusion: Gender and the Information Society" and of COST248 "The Future European Telecommunications User" and she was the vice-chairperson of COST269 "User Aspects of ICTs". She is the co-chair of the International Association "The Society for the Social Study of Mobile Communication" (SSSMC) which intends to facilitate the international advancement of cross-disciplinary mobile communication studies. She organised several international workshops and conferences. Her works have been published in nine languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish.

No pre-booking but space is limited so first come, first seated.