mobile madness

A Japanese primate researcher announced the other day that mobile phones are turning Japanese youth into apes. Or at least that’s the sensational way to put it.

“Parents let their kids go out because they think they’re only a phone call away. And even if the kid doesn’t come home, parents don’t call them because they believe the child’s mobile phone offers them an unbreakable link…”

What does this have to do with apes? These liberated kids are evidently losing a sense of home, and aren’t distinguishing between private and public space. Chimps in the wild also tend to walk around in groups, eat wherever they get hungry, and rest wherever and whenever. I don’t think this phenomena is strictly Japanese. I often see tribes of kids walking around the town in which I live. They hang out at the local cafe, ice cream shop, and sometimes, just sometimes, the library. One thing that so fascinating about their behavior when they’re in the library is that they often tell us what they want out of a library. They come in packs, and they come for a space in which to collaborate. Group work is huge. Use of our resources is secondary. If kids act this way in this area, they very well may act this way in your area. We all have the task of thinking how we can get these people into the library more often.

This article is interesting for what it says, but it is also interesting because it doesn’t even say what these kids are doing with their phones. We know that texting, IM, and ringtones, let alone voice communication, have had a huge impact on people’s behavior, but phones are going to get even more interesting .

Take for instance Sprint/Nextel’s new walkie-talkie picture sending service. It combines the ultra-annoying bleeping and blooping instant talk found on some phones, and picture sharing on phones. It allows users to send cameraphone pics instantly, look at them simultaneously, and discuss them all the while. This real-time interaction and collaboration seems really web-like to me, which is great to see in a portable device. This, however, has the advantage that it can be used anywhere.

Nokia has developed a peer-to-peer network for mobile phones, and they are looking to develop support for the sharing of mp3 files. This is another activity leaving the desktop and coming to the little computers we carry around.

Speaking of mp3s, Japan’s largest cell phone provider, DoCoMo, is buying Tower Records. I wonder how long it will be until we see direct to cell phone downloading from the iTunes Music Store.

A bit closer to home we see Google Local for Mobile which is “downloadable application that lets you view maps and satellite imagery, find local businesses, and get driving directions on your phone.” In English, this means, Google Local for Mobile is “the first step in getting location-based advertising on your phone.” Pondering primate reminds us that they’ve been keeping track of all the text messages sent to GOOGL and are compiling a database to see what people search for on their phones. “Google knows what services were used most and where they were requested.”

Technology like this makes the development of ubiqutous computing easy to imagine.

4 thoughts on “mobile madness”

  1. I’m not sure there’s really anything new about this behavior pattern, or that mobile phones have anything to do with it, at least in the U.S. When I was a teen almost 30 years ago (way before mobile), my friends and I loitered aimlessly, bought snacks at convenience stores, and hung out at fast food places for hours. And worked on group projects at the library (which, incidentally, had a great collection of long-playing sterophonic vinyl record albums).

  2. Great point. Maybe this is something new in Japan. As far as your group work in the library…you must have been ahead of your time! ;) No, I agree, I think the publc library has been a ‘space’ for group for some time, but I think we need to play that up!

  3. In terms of mobile/portable technologies – the UK / Europe and Japan (who are, I believe, the leaders in mobile technologies) are already way ahead of the US in some of these technologies that are just beginning to be seen in the US. I’m not quite sure why this is. I have a mobile phone because I don’t have any need to pay for a landline since my internet access is via cable. I had the same phone for years – the bog standard Nokia that let you make a phone call and send text messages. I finally came into the 21st century and now have a 3G smart phone that allows me to video conference from my mobile, browse the web, download music and applications, watch TV, and take pictures. Oh yeah, it also lets me make phone calls!

    But in terms of people’s behaviours, I’m hoping the day doesn’t come when they actually allow people to use mobile phones on aeroplanes as I just can’t stand that one can never get away from being connected anymore. It’s an endless onslaught of listening to people’s personal conversations and having people behave rudely because they can’t put their call on hold for the two minutes it takes to pay for their coffee or ask a service of you.

    Sorry to ramble on about this… I got a bit carried away!

  4. The public library where I grew up (www.icpl.org) used to have these great group-study rooms. You could pick out a handful of CDs or LPs, take them to the AV Desk, and get the key to a room with a nice big table and comfy chairs. They’d pipe the music into the room, and you and your friends could hang out, listen to music, and, uh, study in peace. Actually, you could also get music piped into headsets at some of the comfy chairs near the periodicals.

    I don’t know if the new library in Iowa City retains these features, but those group study rooms were great. They provided a place for teenagers to be in the library in a way that worked for everyone.

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