Methodology

Finding out about finding out

First a note on what I’m doing here. This blog is a space to play with ideas in a loose, informal way – a way of recording my trains of thought outside of the constraints of formal academic writing. So forgive me for trains that go nowhere.

I’ve been ‘finding out about finding out’; exploring methodologies that have been used by researchers to concerned with people’s use of their mobile phones and smartphones. I’ve been keen to go outside the boundaries of science and technology studies to see what other disciplines might offer.

This has taken me from feminist critiques of the paradigms of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) studies, studies of social networking in Krygystan to large scale quantitiative studies of Finnish teenagers mobile phone usage habits. Studies using micro-ethnographies and day-long shadowing exercises to explore the material culture of modern motherhood. And reflexive anthropological studies of youth culture and mobile phones in Mozambique.

Ethical concerns and issues of access can take many forms. An HCI study where fieldwork took place in a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence (Dimond, J. P. 2011) showed how feminist action research can help minimise harm and intrusiveness. Researching ubiquitous computing in developing countries, an American team in Central Asia (Kolko, B.,2011) needed to state their opposition on the Presidency of George W Bush to gain the confidence of respondents.

Taking a broad disciplinary view has yielded great results. Shadowing techniques used in organizational studies (McDonald, 2005) seemed to throw up some great data on people’s sense of themselves and their roles, so it was a delight to see it used for a very different purpose – ‘micro-ethnographies’ of modern motherhood – by a research team at the Open University.

I’m also in the process of theoretically framing my work: aligning with or positioning against other theorists. Looking at where my work might fit in in the broader theoretical picture. Finding out how others have captured phenomena I’ve long observed in my professional life; such as Saskia Sassen’s descriptions of the complex ‘imbrications’ or layering of digital and material worlds.

These two processes are firing off each other. So, if we take the use of a mobile phones as mediated: what are the best methodologies for exploring that space, the mediated cultures between people and technology? What kinds of immaterial or affective labour are women doing with their phones? How might we find out what the digital divide looks like in the era of ubiquitous computing?

References

(Apologies for references from inaccessible scholarly journals – read a great rant on this topic by Danah Boyd!) 

Dimond, J. P., Fiesler, C. & Bruckman, A. S. 2011. Domestic violence and information communication technologies. Interacting with Computers.

Kolko, B., Putnam, C., Rose, E. & Johnson, E. 2011. Reflection on research methodologies for ubicomp in developing contexts. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 15, 575-583.

Mcdonald, S. 2005. Studying actions in context: A qualitative shadowing method for organizational research. Qualitative Research, 5, 455-473.

Sassen, S. 2002. Towards a sociology of information technology. Current Sociology, 50, 365-388.

Research

Don’t shoot the (BlackBerry) Messenger….

This is a post I wrote in August 2011 reflecting on the role of the BlackBerry Messenger in the riots in the UK.

The causes of the riots which tore apart the UK’s inner cities this week are unclear, yet a technological scapegoat is emerging which I couldn’t let pass by without comment.

My research interest is in the potential role of mobile technologies in overcoming social and digital exclusion in young people not in education, employment or training (or ‘NEET’) and this seemed like an opportune moment to share a snapshot of some unexpected findings from my Masters Research earlier this year.

The messaging service BlackBerry messenger has been blamed for providing a communications channel for rioters, leading to calls from UK MPs to shut down the service and a critical response from those concerned about the implications for UK civil liberties of such actions.

My recent research on mobile phones and the digital divide was carried out with young people from the same communities that were being ripped apart during last week’s riots. These committed, hard working and inspiring young men and women were designing and creating mobile apps aimed at tackling social issues in their communities, on an inspiring pilot course run by Apps for Good.

Inspired by Rich Ling‘swriting on the significance of mobile phone brands to young people, I explored technology choices with participants. They all spoke about the ubiquity of the BBM use amongst young people (which resonates with OFCOM research on smartphone use). To quote one of the young people:

“EVERY teenager from the age of eleven, not even twelve, eleven… I see kids younger than that with BlackBerry’s now…

Because of that… thats the appeal for them?

“The appeal is for the messaging.”

Because you can use it internationally as well?

“Yeah….Here and message to the States. And to me thats what every kid do. You go on the bus now and you see a kid thats over twelve you can see him with a BlackBerry typing…. They would be broke and still find money to put on their pin [referring to purchasing more credit for their BB messaging account]”

One participant in my study spoke about the need to buy a BlackBerry to exploit weak ties – in this case connections to colleagues in the music business with whom he was loath to share his mobile number but happy to share his messaging ID.

So what does this tell us?

Young people are tied into platforms which are compatible with their peer’s devices. In the case of the BlackBerry – the networks they are using are created by the manufacturers – and are limited to other people using the same device. But does that mean we should shut down the networks if they are abused for criminal purposes? The reductive technological determinism implied by this idea jars with the complex, ‘polymedia‘ world inhabited by young people in inner city communities.

From a research perspective, it’s gratifying to note that ethnographic approaches can reveal unexpected and useful findings about our relationship with technology.

I’d love to discuss these issues further and share more information on my PhD research – if you’re interested please get in touch.

Uncategorized

Don’t shoot the (BlackBerry) Messenger….

The causes of the riots which tore apart the UK’s inner cities this week are unclear, yet a technological scapegoat is emerging which I couldn’t let pass by without comment.

My research interest is in the potential role of mobile technologies in overcoming social and digital exclusion in young people not in education, employment or training (or ‘NEET’) and this seemed like an opportune moment to share a snapshot of some unexpected findings from my Masters Research earlier this year.

The messaging service BlackBerry messenger has been blamed for providing a communications channel for rioters, leading to calls from UK MPs to shut down the service and a critical response from those concerned about the implications for UK civil liberties of such actions.

My recent research on mobile phones and the digital divide was carried out with young people from the same communities that were being ripped apart during last week’s riots. These committed, hard working and inspiring young men and women were designing and creating mobile apps aimed at tackling social issues in their communities, on an inspiring pilot course run by Apps for Good. 

Inspired by Rich Ling’s writing on the significance of mobile phone brands to young people, I explored technology choices with participants. They all spoke about the ubiquity of the BBM use amongst young people (which resonates with OFCOM research on smartphone use). To quote one of the young people:

“EVERY teenager from the age of eleven, not even twelve, eleven… I see kids younger than that with BlackBerry’s now…

Because of that… thats the appeal for them?

“The appeal is for the messaging.”

Because you can use it internationally as well?

“Yeah….Here and message to the States. And to me thats what every kid do. You go on the bus now and you see a kid thats over twelve you can see him with a BlackBerry typing…. They would be broke and still find money to put on their pin [referring to purchasing more credit for their BB messaging account]”

One participant in my study spoke about the need to buy a BlackBerry to exploit weak ties – in this case connections to colleagues in the music business with whom he was loath to share his mobile number but happy to share his messaging ID.

So what does this tell us?

Young people are tied into platforms which are compatible with their peer’s devices. In the case of the BlackBerry – the networks they are using are created by the manufacturers – and are limited to other people using the same device. But does that mean we should shut down the networks if they are abused for criminal purposes? The reductive technological determinism implied by this idea jars with the complex, ‘polymedia’ world inhabited by young people in inner city communities.

From a research perspective, it’s gratifying to note that ethnographic approaches can reveal unexpected and useful findings about our relationship with technology.

I’d love to discuss these issues further and share more information on my proposed research – if you’re interested please get in touch.

Uncategorized

POLYMEDIA

Loving this:

“In recent times, and for many people around the world this means the last year or two, (although we recognise for many other people this is still not yet the case) have finally reached a state where there exists a genuine proliferation of possibilities when it comes to communication between separated persons. Furthermore once the costs of the equipment and payment plan is spoken for, such as a computer, the ISP subscription or an annual phone plan, then the costs of any individual act communication itself becomes largely inconsequential. For almost any reader of this blog, but also for a typical school aged individual of a middle class income in pretty much any town anywhere, there may now exist a choice of mobile phone and internet based platforms such as voice calls, texting, email, instant messaging (IM), blogs, VOIP with or without webcam, photo and video sharing and social networking sites all readily available. New forms such as video messaging are on the horizon. We suggest that in such a situation the primary concern shifts from an emphasis on the constraints and affordances vis a vis a particular medium to an emphasis upon the social and emotional consequences of choosing between a plurality of media. The mere situation of polymedia changes the relationship between communication technology and society.”

POLYMEDIA

Uncategorized

Some great mobile internet data from

Global mobile data traffic grew 2.6-fold in 2010, nearly tripling for the third year in a row. The 2010 mobile data traffic growth rate was higher than anticipated. Last year’s forecast projected that the growth rate would be 149 percent. This year’s estimate is that global mobile data traffic grew 159 percent in 2010. Last year’s mobile data traffic was three times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000. Global mobile data traffic in 2010 (237 petabytes per month) was over three times greater than the total global Internet traffic in 2000 (75 petabytes per month).

http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/white_paper_c11-520862.html


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13% of online adults use Twitter, and half of Twitter users access the service on a cell phone

Non-white internet users continue to have higher rates of Twitter use than their white counterparts; indeed, the Twitter adoption gap between African-Americans and whites has increased over the past six months. In November 2010, there was an eight percentage point difference in Twitter use between African-American and white internet users (13% for blacks vs. 5% for whites). By May 2011, that gap was 16 percentage points—25% of online African Americans now use Twitter, compared with 9% of such whites. African-American and Latino internet users are each significantly more likely than whites to be Twitter adopters. Even more notable: One in ten African-American internet users now visit Twitter on a typical day—that is double the rate for Latinos and nearly four times the rate for whites.

13% of online adults use Twitter, and half of Twitter users access the service on a cell phone

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“Make them eat chips”: the digital divide and Big Tech’s new Reserve Army of Consumption.

“It has seemed to me for a while that much of what passes for academic writing on ICTs is really high-class, generic advertising for “Big Tech”; its main purpose being to sustain stock-market enthusiasm, discipline the skeptics and generally keep the show on the road[1]. What I hadn’t appreciated till reading Wilhelm is how the technoptimist orthodoxy, plus “digital divide” logic, are helping Big Tech to do something quite unprecedented in the history of capitalism: turn the public sector into what might be called (adapting Marx’s phrase[2]) a “reserve army of consumption”: a large, captive market that can be relied upon to buy up surplus production at a nice, steady rate, at nice, steady, high volumes and prices.”

http://www.dustormagic.net/Papers/Make%20them%20eat%20chips.html

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# Jailbrake is a competition to find and support great ideas that could break the cycle of youth offending using simple web and mobile tools.

Each year around a hundred thousand 15-17 year olds get caught up in the criminal justice system. Once they come into contact with this system, many are likely to re-offend; to remain part of it and to go on to become part of the adult criminal justice system.

Simple web and mobile tools are great at connecting people in new ways and on their own terms. They can empower people to take more control of their lives by providing new ways of organising, mobilising and communicating.

Young people are early adopters and this technology provides a way of reaching people who previously were hard to access.

Let’s make the most of it.

http://jailbrake.org/about/