Always On: Recent Analyses of Digital Mobility in Life and Learning

15 03 2007

Jan Chipchase, anthropologist and researcher at the Nokia Research Centre, has blogged a superb article about his research into how mobile technology is changing the very fabric of human society, following his conference presentation at TED (an invitation-only gathering of some of the greatest minds on the planet, including Bill Clinton, Edward deBono, Richard Branson, and other luminaries). Jan himself summarises what he does best [emphasis Jan’s]:

Research to understand the consequences of living in a planet that is truly connected – where for the first time most people on the planet have in their hands a tool to allow them to transcend space and time; the immediacy of ideas and information and that the metric for what we consider to be a big idea will in part be judged on our ability to engage the next 3 billion; the immediacy of portable objects and the functionality/services they represent will travel faster and further than anything we’ve seen – largely we’ve underestimated the speed of technology adoption (which broadly correlates to the singularity); that if you’re smart you’ll be observing street innovation and applying this to inform and infuse what and how you design;and lastly that with billions more people connected the conversation got that much larger and that if you wish to remain (or be) relevant you need to learn to listen.

Jan’s post, authored just two days after my own post about Why Handheld Learning Rocks, reflects almost identical thoughts about the adoption, immediacy, ubiquity, convergence, and functionality of handheld devices; and the need to observe how these devices are being used in the street, to inform how we apply them in designing our (learning) strategies. Jan backs up these ideas with his considerable research into the area of human interaction with (and via) mobile technology.

Dr. Paul Trafford, who specialises in e-learning systems and ubiquitous computing at Oxford University, has also posted an informative personal analysis of his own experiences with handheld learning on the Educause site, where he talks about the definition of “mobile” and where it lies between simple “portability” to full ubiquity:

Having handheld devices offers more than just enabling the same activities and thought processes to happen all over the place. In the RAMBLE project we were surprised how the use of mobile devices affected the quality of the blogs. The blogs were unusual in that they went far beyond providing rather dry staccato statements that you might reap in standard feedback questionnaires. They provided in many cases a free-flowing and highly articulate narrative that not only gave the basic feedback that was sought, but went on to draw out deeper connections, to step back and consider the wider picture, to offer critique that was based on a substantial body of evidence, accumulated over weeks of lectures, practicals and tutorials.

I showed a few extracts to a visitor from another University who had some experience running blogs with students and she remarked that the content of her students blogs were nothing like the ones that emerged in our project – she wondered what we had done to yield such richness. I don’t think we would have achieved such quality by merely asking the students to blog on their laptops or desktops. In fact, a few students made it explicit that the mobile setup enabled them to reflect in more interesting ways.

Paul’s insights certainly reflect my own experiences with handheld devices.  For me, as a “mobile native,” mobile phones and PDAs are a completely new way of interfacing with and accessing information and people, and present new opportunities through this very uniqueness.

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