Mobile Media and the Change of Everyday Life

by Joachim Höflich (Volume editor) Georg F. Kircher (Volume editor) Christine Linke (Volume editor) Isabel Schlote (Volume editor)
©2010 Edited Collection 232 Pages


This volume is dedicated to the subject of mobile communication and the transition in everyday life. Mobile media have become a part of the media ensemble and lead to specific media communication practices. Researching the integration of mobile media to everyday life allows a further analysis of the process of mediatization. The collected essays of this volume trace back to an international conference «(Mobile) Media and the Change of Everyday Life» at the University of Erfurt. The contributions investigate various aspects of the vibrant field of mobile communication.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Mobile communication and the change of everyday life: a short introduction
  • Theoretical discourses about mobile media
  • A discourse around theories on new media
  • Absence to presence: a vision of the communicating human in computer-mediated communications technology research
  • Mobile communication and the public sphere
  • Moving and lingering: the mobile phone in public space
  • Interaction and individual patterns of mobile communication in public places
  • Social aspects of mobile communication
  • Mobile media and affectivity: some thoughts about the notion of affective bandwidth
  • Living with mobile phones
  • Fashion and the mobile phone: a study of symbolic meanings of mobile phone for college-age young people across cultures
  • Prospective uses and mobile media
  • Communicative mobility and mobile work: the management of everyday life and communication networks in a mediatized world
  • The iPhone and mobile access to the internet
  • About the Authors

Mobile communication and the change of everyday life: a short introduction

Joachim R. Höflich

A young couple with child has boarded the railway carriage. There are still seats left aboard the carriage. Immediately, a group of four seats with table is being occupied, subsequently; the luggage is being stowed away. Simultaneously, various utensils are being unpacked and placed on the table. Among the utensils are a mobile phone, a notebook as well as a children’s book for reading. While the child, equipped with his bottle, walked the aisle up and down, and established contact with fellow-passengers, the young father flipped his notebook open and occupied himself with a shooter video-game. It was clearly recognizable, that he, equipped with his virtual weapon, swept his opponents out of the way. The player wore headphones, so that the game did not take up so much sound space. Meanwhile, the mother occupied herself with the mobile phone and may have sent a few text messages out. Then she briefly reached out for the book. But she was somehow bored – and she must have disliked, that her companion did not seem to want to share her some time. At least, she jolted every now and then the screen of the notebook in order to illustrate: ‘Just stop it, at last!’ Why this example? It shows exemplarily how public space is claimed for private settings – and that media are hereby an integral part of it. It virtually appears like an example of “living-roomisation” (Heine 2006) of public space and at the same time it is an example of how communicative everyday life patterns (here a communication in public space) have changed. Thus, the young couple demonstrated that they are living in a mediatized world and that media are used wherever one pleases (and, of course, wherever one can). That other people are co-involved herein does hardly seem to matter; third parties as onlookers and the handling of them belongs to the new behavioural repertoire of mobile media users. Whether this also affects domestic actions is another question (the young couple may quite oppose to all those who could witness these family happenings on the train and thus relate them to the couple’s domestic situation).

It is generally assumed that new media change the established everyday practices. Euphoric people pin their hope on the fact that new media put people closer together. For sceptics it is quite the opposite – media isolate, estrange, and rob humans of their pivotal emphatic interpersonal competencies. And for both it is the media and more specifically technology that are in the deterministic ← 7 | 8 → sense of the word, causally responsible for this. However, what is actually the new thing, which is now changing the world so dramatically?

This fundamental question is also raised by Leopoldina Fortunati in her contribution “A discourse around theories on new media” in this volume: “Internet and the mobile phone are currently considered new media. But what are the media which are understood as new?” And she resumes: “These two examples show how the classification of new media continues to remain a very difficult problem. The definition of new media is not easier. (…) Here, for convenience, I will keep the mobile phone and the internet as examples of widely recognized new media. This choice however opens two questions: 1) the mobile phone and the internet are still to be considered new media, after more than one decade of their domestication and appropriation? 2) and if yes, to what extent new media are new?” Especially, when looking back when old media were still new (cf. Marvin 1988) a surge of euphoria and scepticism is displayed – and a phase of normalization proceeds, in which the insight arises, that a lot of which is regarded as particular new or even revolutionary, is basically the continuation of the previous with only new (media) means. The e-mail love-letter that turns out to be the revitalization of the bridal letters of the nineteenth century, the text message as the continuation of the telegram (Höflich 2003: 11). Though, with every media the established media practices change. Well, this may be known since Riepl and his, from all camps of communication science, appreciated ‘law’. He writes that “as a ground rule of development in communication” follows that “the easiest means, forms and methods, when once established and found effective will neither be completely and permanently replaced nor put out of use not even by the most accomplished or most developed ones; but they rather preserve themselves alongside these, only that these means, forms and methods are forced to find themselves other applications” (Riepl 1913: 5). Looked at it in that light, an old media will always be re-invented – and not least this signifies, that every new media is new for every generation or respectively is discovered newly. Thus, it is not only the case that new media go alongside with a change in established practices, simultaneously; also the practices change when dealing with established media. And when one assumes that the significance of a media is defined through usage, thus the social significance of an ‘old’ media is time and again evaluated by this usage.

Since this volume dedicates itself to the subject of mobile communication and the transition in everyday life, one must not forget that mobile phones are embedded into a network of media practices respectively they are embedded into other media. The herein collected essays trace back to an international conference called “(Mobile) Media and the Change of Everyday Life” which was held at the German University of Erfurt in October 2008. The emphasis might have been placed on mobile communication, and thus an inventory of the ← 8 | 9 → research in this field should be targeted. However, since the term ‘mobile’ was put into parenthesis, the subject matter was meant to be considered in a holistic context. When picking out certain works hereinafter, which dedicate themselves to mobile communication, then, this does not only have pragmatic reasons1. When it comes to broach the issue of moments of transition, then two ways are mapped out: Either one specifies special transitions and traces them back to the technological or respectively media changes or one picks out a special innovation and pursues their consequences (cf. Lauer 1977: 159). The latter was pursued. However, when it comes to the subject of the context between mobile communication and everyday life, this time, this did not happen from the perspective of a media determinism according to which media are the principle cause of transition and set its direction (see also: Schroeder 2007). In order to overcome an unsophisticated determinism (may it be in the shape a technological, media-economic, social or cultural determinism), one has to presume a ‘shaping of technology’, with which it can be counted on choice and negotiability of technology (Williams / Edge 1996). As a roamer between the (scientific and creative-developing) camps Richard Harper, Professor and Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, shows with specific examples that (again and again) new ideas not necessarily are received like the developers (or should we say ‘creators’?) have planned it. The idea of a ‘shared editor’ as a medium of organizational communication that enables to work on shared documents, was not accepted the way the inventors have planned it. The editor mutated into a game – they became devices for laughter and mischief because the playful character was in the forefront. “As I say, we found fun and utility in them through their playfulness, in supporting not professional engagement but our social selves – we were doing then pretty much what teenagers do now”, says Richard Harper in his article “Absence to presence : a vision of the communicating human in computer-mediated communications technology research”. Well, in one case, he describes, even a romance has evolved out of this. Nowadays, this would certainly not be so outlandish. We know this practice today as Instant Messaging!

In the meantime not only the question of the cause of the transition arises. When it already constitutes a problem to determine what is new with this new media one virtually faces a problem area when dealing with the question: what exactly is transition – and from which point on something is changing. “Maybe the most difficult question on the subject matter of social transition is the question of what transition actually is. This namely regards the often neglected question of what kind and what extent of change is to be regarded as social ← 9 | 10 → transition” (Randall / Strasser 1979: 23). Social change is the preferred field of sociology – however, the dispute is not necessarily a success story. It is even announced that the analysis of the social change is said to be one of the greatest weak spots in the theory formation of sociology (cf. i.e. Tjaden 1972) and not least because of ongoing critical dispute, it is annotated, and that it has disappeared from the agenda (cf. Müller / Schmid 1995: 25). It is surely indisputable that the social aspect of life is always subject to change. However, is every transition already a change? Generally, at least since Talcott Parsons it is distinguished between processes within a system and a transition of the system, whereas both are frequently (and for Parsons contributing to confusion) summed up as “dynamics”. This distinction, however, does not change anything about the fact, that it is difficult to separate a change within the system from a change of the system or respectively to distinguish a switch from quantity into quality (Engels 1955: 53 et seq.). This does not change even when the consideration is done within the context of a concrete media as it is done here: the mobile communication. There is also the additional problem of locating the effect of single media within the context of comprehensive transition processes. Thus, it would be presumptuous to regard mobile phones as a causal force that changes the relation between private and public (a privatization of public space). Well, it contributes to that. However, this would not be possible, if other media, albeit not exclusively, had not yet made way for this transition of private and public. We herein focus especially on the change of the (communicative) everyday life. Everyday life is the unproblematic and taken for granted situation. It is “that realm of reality (…) that every attentive and normal adult with common sense would plainly assume as given” (Schütz / Luckmann 2003: 29; cf. also Gebhardt 2008: 100 et seq.). Change of everyday life would then be the evolving of new self-evidence. If this is the case then it is difficult to recognize since there is no problem cropping up. Thus, such studies are of importance that examine the transition right from the beginning and thus encounter eruptions which would only have overlapped in the process of banalification. Especially mobile communication, and especially the medium of mobile communication the mobile phone, has grown into a natural part of our lives. The studies presented here suggest (selected) fields, where transition has manifested itself starting from acting in public space to self-representation via fashion items.

These works reflect the difficulty of defining change, whereby different areas which changed because of the introduction of mobile phones can be detected. The first area is concerned with mobile phone use in public space. Transition shall hereby be regarded as “the transition of manners which define how actors interact with each other” (Schmid 1982: 105). Interactions are based on shared (expectable) acting situations, or to use Goffman’s terminology: on shared frames of action, which indicate what is happening (cf. Goffman 1974). Each frame is in turn based on rules. Change would thus mean that frames change and ← 10 | 11 → with them the underlying normative basis for actions. This definition of change is certainly along the same line of Parsons’ (1969: 43) definition who states that “the change of the structure of a social system means the change of its normative culture.” Applied to media use, this means that previous frames and rules change and new ones, in the shape of developing media frames, are established. Such a frame-oriented perspective can be found in the contributions of Höflich and Kircher, as well as in Schlote and Linke in this volume. Both works are based on a research project on the topic of “Mobile communication, telematization of everyday life and the transition of media practices” which has been financed by the German Research Foundation (German: DFG Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) up until June 2009 and which summarize important results of said study. The avid reader will hereby notice, that both contributions were allowed a little bit more space than usual. This was in no case unintentional, as the Erfurt conference was at the same time a forum, in which the results of these studies were presented to a (international) professional audience and put forward to discussion. We hereby want to thank the participants of the conference again for their constructive and critical remarks2.

The public space is a social space and a socially regulated space, which again serves as social and normative context during mobile phone use. This is the basis of Joachim R. Höflich’s and Georg F. Kircher’s contribution “Moving and lingering: the mobile phone in public space” which is concerned with mobile phone use as well as moving and lingering in public space. Mobile phones are a nuisance factor. But people actually do not want to attract attention – neither in general nor when they use their mobile phones. It is not uncommon that people perceive the ringing of their mobile phones as embarrassing – or even stress-inducing (cf. Höflich 2009). This shows a “sense of place”, but also a sense of privacy, which is not least reflected in distance behaviour. Thus, a feeling of discomfort is being caused by other people getting to close when one is just having a call on one’s mobile phone. Furthermore, a gender-specific moment can be established. Women feel much earlier uncomfortable than men when other people get to close. Apart from gender, the type of relationship one has with each other is also important. At last, some places make one feel more uncomfortable than others. This again leads to the works of Isabel Schlote and Christine Linke: “Interaction and individual patterns of mobile communication in Public Places”. The type of relationship is relevant, may it be in the case of our mobile correspondents or present third parties. In other words, mobile phone use is only half understood when one does not take into consideration the type of relationship. Another aspect which the authors bring to attention is the supra-situational moments of use, which again are reflected in concrete communication ← 11 | 12 → situations. This means, that mobile phone use is incorporated in people’s activity patterns – “how people allocate their time to different activities and where activities take place” (Chapin 1974: 21). Relationships are already relevant when one is talking about (mutual) anticipation of activity patterns. Mobile phones hereby do not only help with the coordination of activities, but also with their encouragement, synchronization and adjustment. However, it is also shown, that such media interactions are incorporated into a complex web of considering present and non-present parties. Thus, the necessity arises to exceed a basic dyadic communication model and extend it into a model of mediatized mobile communication.

Satomi Sugiyama refers to fashion as a special area in her contribution “Fashion and the mobile phone: a study of symbolic meanings of mobile phone for college-age young people across cultures”. Mobile phones are fashion accessories and vehicles for self-presentation. In the frame of an intercultural comparing study it was shown how important taste and style are, as well as the factor of time which goes along with the feeling of needing something new, “wanting new and improved features” and “wanting the newest phone”. It further shows that not only the device but also its ‘carrier’ are subjected to evaluation. The transition of rules in relation to an appropriate appearance, an “appropriate appearance of the mobile phone at a particular point of time”, seems to be going faster and faster. Thus strictly speaking, not the mobile phone is a cultural icon, but its appearance. There seems to be a trend towards a global generalization of the importance of mobile phones. But this represents only one side of the medal. The other one shows that subtle cultural differences – culture-specific differences – are emerging.

Jane Vincent writes in her article “Living with mobile phones” about British studies which have been conducted at the Digital World Research Centre since 2002. It presents the state of research with special regards towards the emotional moment during mobile phone use in connection with interpersonal relationships. Mobile phones are used not least to maintain social relationships. It thus serves as social and emotional glue. Dependences are shown when one is separated from one’s mobile phone as thus the contact to people close to one’s self seems to be cut which leads to a feeling of socio-emotional isolation. Mobile phones do not only symbolize the peers to which one feels attached to, but also deeper relationships. For example, the story of “Carl” is being told, who has lost a close friend and cannot bring himself to delete his phone number and the last text message he received from him. Thus, the friend’s presence could somehow be ensured even two years after his death.

The relationship between emotions, technologically mediated communication and relationships is the topic of the essay “Mobile media and affectivity: some thoughts about the notion of affective bandwidth” by Amparo Lasén. The study of the term and the underlying definition of emotions shows how manifold ← 12 | 13 → emotions were understood and how isolated they are sometimes from any kind of rational action. The term emotional turn describes the transition from the supposition that emotions are individual and psychological features towards an understanding that they are fundamental aspects of social life. This understanding of emotions allows us to regard them not as private actions, but as an important help for orientation and decision-making in everyday life. From affective bandwidth approach we bridge to the aspect of media transportability of emotions. Hereby, different mobile media and their different applications are studied exemplary. At the same time, the common perception that technologymediated communication has less affective bandwidth as person-to-person communication is being disagreed upon and it is made clear that these are merely different qualities of emotions, which cannot be categorized as being merely good or bad. Media enable new ways of emotional acting which can in certain situations and relationships be perceived as stress-reducing.

Furthermore, the mobile phone is perceived as a medium that overcomes boundaries. Thus, not only private and public, but also private and professional matters are merged. This is the topic of the contribution by Matthias Berg “Communicative mobility and mobile work: the management of everyday life and communication networks in a mediatized world”. He is concerned with communicative practices in situations with job-related mobility against the backdrop of mediatization of everyday life. His work is based upon a concept of communicative mobility, with which a comprehensive mobility perspective is being presented which also exceeds use of mobile devices. A lot of case studies are presented which strongly insist on regarding media as a whole, meaning in a sense of comprehensively understood mobility as well as in a comprehensive media context with devices that serve “getting mobile” and stationary terminals with a “mobility focus”.

The volume concludes with Rich Ling’s and Pål Roe Sundsøy’s article “The iPhone and mobile access to the internet”. This contribution is making the collection round by pointing once more on the ongoing development of media technology and the ongoing change of mobile media practises in everyday life. Apple’s iPhone was already a hit before it was even launched. It was however not only an insignia of status, but also a medium which was much more than just a telephone. This might hold true for mobile phones in general, but the iPhone stands for a new step towards mobile use of the internet. Thus, the authors ask whether or not the iPhone motivates people to go online via a mobile medium. This is, as has been found out, the case now. Going online has increased due to a usage convergence of the iPhone. However, this cannot be assigned to its technical features alone. There are moreover social and cultural factors that are taking effect here. It has shown that the age of users (which are predominantly male), as well as their professional context (with companies paying) are especially important. The study was conducted at a time when the iPhone was ← 13 | 14 → only available in the USA; thus it can be assumed that a pronounced internet affinity was transferred more easily to the new medium. At last, it could also be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Because of the fact that the iPhone was advertised as a mobile internet terminal, it was immediately understood as one by users.

All the articles collected in this volume show that mobile phone use and the transitions associated with it, can only be understood in concrete action contexts and that the transition of these contexts has to be analysed first. The examples show this with regards to public communication, people’s activity patterns, communicative arrangements, fashion and self-presentation, relationships and emotional bonds, shift of borders from professional to private and last but by all means not least to certain technical platforms. Thus, it is again underlined that the mobile phone, like every other medium, shall not be reduced in a media deterministic sense. Only then it might be possible to show that it fits into a new transition that has already begun.


Chapin, F. Stuart (1974): Human Activity Patterns in the City. New York: Wiley & Sons.

Engels, Friedrich (1955): Dialektik der Natur. Berlin: Dietz Verlag.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2012 (June)
mobile communication mediatization mobile phone
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2010. 232 pp., num. fig. and graphs

Biographical notes

Joachim Höflich (Volume editor) Georg F. Kircher (Volume editor) Christine Linke (Volume editor) Isabel Schlote (Volume editor)

The Editors: Joachim R. Höflich is Professor for Communication Science with a focus on media integration at the University of Erfurt. Georg Florian Kircher, Christine Linke and Isabel Schlote are communication and media researchers at the University of Erfurt.


Title: Mobile Media and the Change of Everyday Life
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232 pages