Blame it on the Blackberry

August 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s tempting, when you read about how Blackberry Messenger is to blame for the riots to start thinking that maybe the time has come to slow down, pull ourselves together, take a 180° turn and go back down the road to a better place we used to know. Or tempting, at least, to simply express some anger at how hatefully some people use these amazing new means of bringing human beings together. Not that we minded so much when we heard that new technologies were instrumental in turning over oppression in the middle east. But now Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry Messenger appear to be instrumental in bringing about a whole new level of civil unrest in our own streets, and things are turning nasty.

Certainly, the BBM phenomenon is really striking: it has been practically invisible to all but the young people who have been its main users for a very long time now – something that parents are, for the most part, blissfully unaware of. The iPhone might be big among ageing tech-lovers but teenagers tend to prefer the Blackberry, and BBM. As its own advertising material makes abundantly clear, BBM allows you to send and receive messages, create groups, text non-BBM friends:“Don’t hold back: share your thoughts, stories and rants with unlimited characters and emotions”. It costs hardly anything.

A very little while ago a teacher friend of mine asked his class of 12 year olds, just out of interest, how many of them had ever Facebooked in his lessons. At least half put up their hands, and he was – not surprisingly – quite taken aback. Young people have for some time now, through smartphones, Facebook, and BBM, been living in and managing their own vibrant and alternative social world right in front of adults’ eyes, and for the most parts the adults don’t see: the “busy unheard throng” that Miéville imagined in The City & The City. Towards the end of his novel, the invisible barriers break down for a while, and all hell breaks loose in the spaces they all actually share. Order was eventually restored in his cities, and it will be in ours, but we shouldn’t imagine that the unheard throng will go away. And blaming what happens next on the technologies they use won’t help at all.

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Are we really addicted to smartphones?

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

There has been quite a lot of media interest in the 2011  Ofcom Communications Market Report which provides a really interesting insight into the significant increase in the access to and use of smartphones by the UK population in the past 12 months.  Indeed, almost half (47%) of young people aged 12-15 now have a smartphone.

There was  a significant focus in the report (and in the media reporting) on how addicted people are to their smartphones. This ‘addiction’ (quotes used in the original report – no quotes used in the media coverage) was primarily measured by asking the question, “Choose a number between 1 and 10, where 1 represents ‘I’m not at all addicted to my mobile phone’ and 10 represents ‘I’m completely addicted to my mobile phone’”.  60% of smart phone users aged 12-15 rated their ‘addiction’ as 7 or more.

The report notes that this ‘addiction’ found among smartphone users is confirmed by other survey items such as the amount of time each day an individual had their phone switched on and how much smartphone use encroached on other social activities (p. 64) – but does this really provide sufficient evidence that people are addicted in the true sense of the word?  Saying you are addicted to something in response to a survey question and being addicted to something are quite different things – definitely an issue that needs further research before I would be convinced.

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