Why “mobile nodes”?

In the summer of 2007 I remember me and my friends talking about this new mobile technology, iPhone. ‘Mobile phones with touch screens?’ I asked to myself, which to me at that time seemed to be quite overrated and even unnecessary. I had always been very happy with my relatively “primitive” mobile phone. It was functioning well and doing all the things that one would expect from a mobile phone, placing calls and texting. So ‘why would I need an iPhone?’. For me a phone was a phone, and that was all I needed. Failing to understand the big fuss about it, I was subject to ridicule among my friends. Living in a country where mobile phone adoption and diffusion rates were very high as compared to other technologies at that time, I was not surprised to see people with not only one but two iPhones just after a year of its first launch in Turkey. All of the GSM operators in Turkey started to advertise the next generation iPhone almost a year and a half later. Again, I could not understand what was so important about it. My friends were talking about something called 3G to connect to the internet, but I already had WAP on my old phone to check my emails, which I hardly every used. I had my PC at home and a tiny netbook through which I could do all my online communication, store my photos, and Skype/chat with my friends. It was simple; I did not need one.

A couple of years later I saw “mobile TV” ads. ‘Come on!’ I said, ‘why would anyone want to watch TV on a tiny mobile device!?’. But I was wrong, technology was developing faster than I had ever imagined and all my friends were happily changing the ways they used to communicate with each other and consume media content. At some point after the introduction of 3G, the scene became rather depressing in the same old bar that we used to hang out with my friends. A couple of my friends were watching a football game on their mobile devices in the bar, some of them were busy with “poking” their social network friends, taking photos of their beer glasses, posting them quickly on Facebook and commenting underneath those photos while still sitting at the bar. My perception of that bar started to change slowly. It was still the same old bar that we used to hang out since we were 18, but something did not look or feel right. Blaming a technology for the changes in my life at first could seem overly simplistic. On the other hand it was true that after the launch of the iPhone, a lot of things have changed. Although I was not a smartphone user at that time, the way I interacted with my friends and with the familiar places also started to change for me. Now instead of guessing the song that is playing in the bar, we were using our Shazaam application. Instead of taking photos during special days such as birthdays and making print copies of each photo for each one of us, we were taking photos of all silly and random things, and deleting the ones that we did not like just because it would look uncool on Facebook.

These were my initial thoughts and observations on the iPhone until the summer of 2010, when my parents got one for me. Because it had Google Maps and I was going to move to London, happily I accepted the gift. I would not need an “A to Z”, I would not need to check my laptop before going somewhere for directions, or I would not be dependent on the Transport for London (TFL) website to figure out how to commute in London. I had my new shiny iPhone, and I could share “my moments” with friends and family through WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn… I could take a photo and send it to my sister and say ‘Wish you were here!’. In less than 3 years, my iPhone became the centre of all my daily activities. To avoid unpleasant interactions on the tube during rush hour, I was using it to listen to my favourite music. To find any place in London, I was depending on postcodes and the “blue dot” on my iPhone’s map application. I even downloaded an application to quit smoking (which was developed by a doctoral student in order analyse how smokers respond to positive reinforcement as part of his PhD in Psychology), but there was no application to minimise my use of my smartphone! I then synched my phone with my laptop, started using the cloud technology so that I could “work” and “interact” with people and things from anywhere as long as I had my coffee, smartphone and internet connection on my phone. I had become one of the “mobile nodes”, connected to a network, physically mobile, but attached to places that I had associations with and that I explored.

My Ph.D. research follows the traces left by the mobile nodes, their everyday life narratives that they share through their smartphones,  their social and spatial interactions through their mobile phones, and the interesting ways through which they experience different aspects of the cities they inhabit.

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