Blogtalk Downunder
   May 19-22, Sydney

Blogtalk Downunder

Jenny Weight: “Faster, neater, sharper!”: how different models of communication intersect

Jenny Weight, RMIT

“Faster, neater, sharper!”: how different models of communication intersect

[Read the whole paper (.doc)]


An increasingly significant player in the cross-media environment environment is the (2.5-3G) mobile phone. Mobile phone media, until recently mainly text messages swapped by users with pre-established relationships, now includes making and disseminating video, audio and still images. This media can be disseminated by interfacing the phone with the WWW and publishing to websites such as moblogs and audioblogs. It is also possible maintain a textual blog from a GPRS (Internet-enabled) mobile phone. Media that has been considered necessarily transient and unscaleable can become permanent and public.

From a sample of moblogged media, individual mobile media artefacts derived from quotidian, transitory and insignificant events may appear to deserve only passing interest. However a series of moblogged artefacts connecting transient events to infer temporal progression and personality, contextualised by geography and culture, can create rich if somewhat unfathomable, self-portraits (for example playgirlzzz02). Indeed, some mobloggers lead lives in which the quotidian is extraordinary, for example, US soldiers in Iraq (GunFu). Few mobloggers, however, extend their entries much beyond the image, and with notable exceptions exchanges within the moblogging community are superficial.

George Myerson, adapting Jürgen Habermas’ theory of purposive-rational action (1996, 160), argues that the mobile phone and its marketing rhetoric infers a model of communication in which ideals of discourse and dialogue as a process of mutual engagement and increasing understanding is threatened. Instead, ”mobilisation” is instrumental—it is technical and rule-based, focussed on the efficient satisfaction of user needs by integrating the user into a communications “system”.

I will employ sociotechnical theory to suggest ways in which mobile phone media can become part of a community of discourse. As an asynchronous (and therefore leisurely) practice that transforms private “P2P” mobile-to-mobile use into public publishing, moblogged media can be interpreted, repurposed and republished by others (legality aside). Features of the semantic web may integrate moblogged media into a larger community of discourse in more interesting ways.

The connection between blogging and Habermas’ communicative ideals has been made with regard to democratic ideals (for example by Froomkin); others suggest that blog-based online communities can be usefully employed in education (Farmer). On the other hand, Myerson argues that mobile phone rhetoric is dominated by the marketing hype of telcos and handset manufacturers, working against contemporary ideals in education and democracy. The phone is designed to serve money and power; discourse is not seen to flatter the bottom line.
Does the interconnection of mobile technology with the WWW suggest ways in which “mobile discourse” may surmount “mobilisation”? I will argue that the integration of the mobile phone into systems of money and power is already subverted by informal SMS use. Despite the limitations of the technology, moblogging further expands the range of mobile phone communication. As the phone becomes more greatly theorised as a cultural artefact, it is hoped that mobile and transient communication can be exploited by strange “discourses” that remain beyond the scope of capital and power.

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