The aim of this essay is to discuss the role mobile technology play in the network society.
Network Society: “The network society concept emphasizes the form and organization of information processing and exchange.” (Van Dijk, 2006: 20).
Mobile technology has changed human history. It allows us to stay connected regardless of our geographical location. The implications of this are huge: not only is it incredibly convenient to be able to make a phone call wherever you are, but it’s also crucial to be able to make a phone call when you need to most; namely, during an emergency situation. Because of this, mobile technology has literally saved lives. Besides these obvious implications, there are also more subtle ways by which mobile technology has helped mankind. Consider that mobile devices are commonly used in the medical industry to enhance and simplify how things are run.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to mobile devices. Through phone calls, SMS messaging, mobile Internet browsing and many more avenues, we’ve been able to stay connected as a society and keep in touch both in times of relaxation and in times of need. Mobile devices have truly touched the lives of millions.
Regardless of their specific form, the last few decades have seen an unparalleled rise in the availability of these technologies among the public. In 1985, for example, there were a total of 340,000 cell phone subscribers in the United States. In 2012, there are now 5.9 billion cell phone subscribers worldwide. This shift in the span of only 27 years has had a dramatic effect on how people relate to one another.
In previous eras, for example, there was a clear line between the “public” and “private” spheres of daily life. Because communication technology could only be transmitted in very specific forms like a television set or radio signal, people interacted with the technology in limited bursts. The news cycle was geared to produce a compendium of relevant stories at specific times, leading to more thoughtful and well-researched presentations. Because the hardware was somewhat costly, people tended to gather in groups to experience presentations together. When the presentation was over, people would turn off the technology and return to their particular social grouping without the expectation of further media interference.
In our present society, mobile technology is never “off” in the same way that it used to be only a few decades before. While people can elect individually to participate with the technology, the public/private boundary has become very hard to differentiate. Cell phones, which allow people to connect to the internet, are designed to remain receptive to messages unless their battery has died. The natural human urge to connect with others is now a constant option, instead of an occasional luxury.
The presence of older communication technology such as radio or television in people’s lives does not have the same significance that it once did, although it still plays a role. Increasingly, communication technology is viewed as a kind of platform. A radio show might be more popular than a television show, or vice-versa. People accord relevance to content, not necessarily the platform on which it is found. This has forced content providers to become increasingly competitive in terms of branding themselves in the market in order to attract attention. Television competes with Twitter competes with radio competes with memes on the internet. There is no center in the communications technology universe, only a constantly revolving door of options. The consumer chooses what content appeals to him, and the benefit to the communication technology provider is therefore second-hand.
This is partially why the rise of wireless technology may ultimately become the distinguishing factor in who influences major communication shifts. Much like electricity, without wireless access many people will be unable to access the content. However, the sheer numbers of people who are actively participating in communications technology by virtue of owning cell phones makes it unlikely that only one provider will be able to capture all wireless communications. Because cell phones and tablet computers have evolved so quickly, it is likely that smaller markets will be able to create sophisticated “off-grid” technologies that use a specialized form of wireless signal to transmit messages to a select group, much as the London rioters of 2011 sent each other private messages over their Blackberrys or iPhones.
It is now a norm to see mobile phones in educational and learning environments such as the school ground. Once an isolated learning environment, now a constant connection to outside distractions and interruptions. A survey of 1,000 young people aged 11–15 years found that 90% had their own mobile phone (Kendall 2001). Of those young people owning a phone; the majority (73 percent) had their mobile phones on during the class and a further 13 percent said that they had received a call or message since the class had begun. This shows the change from a student who should be focusing and learning, that is now distracted and socializing.
The usage of mobile phones may be altering, in a profound way, the structure of leisure time. It has changed the idea of ‘killing’ time when you would read a newspaper, book or magazine. Now, killing time can be more productive by communicating with someone, planning things or even checking emails (Fortunati, 2002).
Regardless of what the future holds, the present is very much an environment influenced by communication technology. It is not an uncommon sight to see someone walking down a crowded street, completely absorbed by the display of their smart phone. The way we choose to connect with people has become largely mediated by communication technology. Most of us, perhaps not surprisingly, have accepted this transition without question.
Van Dijk, JAGM. 2006. The network society: Social Aspects of New Media. 2nd edition. London: Sage Publication.
Fortunatia L. 2002, Information, Communication & Society. 5th edition. Udine: Routledge Publication.
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