Social functions of location in mobile telephony

Arminen, I. (2005): Social Functions of Location in Mobile Telephony. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing. This article addresses a topic close to my PhD research: the importance of location awareness in (mobile) communication. Prior to studying the importance of location-based services (especially when it comes to buddy finder or granny locators), the author put the emphasis on the understanding of this peculiar feature: the discussion about one's location over the phone.

To understand the dynamic nature of location, we have to study the actual communicative practices in which location gains its value. (...) Weilenmann has studied particularly the ways in which location references are used to signal communication difficulties: ‘‘I can’t talk now, I’m in a fitting room’’ (...) Laurier, for his part, has shown how mobile professionals routinely stated their locations on a mobile phone as a part of their mobile usage. Both these studies on actual communicative practices point out how the value of location is embedded in the activity in which the mobile user is engaged. (...) 74 Finnish mobile phone conversations were recorded (...) The material covered both mobile-to-mobile and landline-to-mobile or mobile-to-landline conversations (...) The calls were transcribed and analysed in detail by using conversation analytical (CA) method. (...) The usage of mobile communication device does not technically require the parties to get to know where the other party is. (...) 62 mobile calls out of 74 involved a sequence in which the mobile party stated her or his location to the other party

As for the context of this question, the author found that:

Location telling during mobile calls takes place in five different activity contexts. In other words, location seems relevant for the parties in mobile interaction during five different types of activities. (...) Location may be an index of interactional availability, a precursor for mutual activity, part of an ongoing activity, or it may bear emergent relevance for the activity or be presented as a social fact. (...) Most location-telling sequences in these data are linked with practical arrangements. People state their location as a precursor for some practical arrangements (...) Location telling is also commonly done as a part of the real-time ongoing activity in which the parties are engaged. (...) Location can also be a mutual real-time co-ordination task, such as seeing each other in the cafeteria to meet there (...) Finally, a kind of location that is also realized during the ongoing activities is a virtual location referring to a web page or other material at hand to be shared with the communicative partner. (...) A not common, but existing, social practice involves location telling due to its social, symbolic qualities [exemple: beach which signify 'having fun']

Now, for the social functions of discussing locations:

Location may be an index of interactional availability, a precursor for mutual activity, part of an ongoing activity, or it may bear emergent relevance for the activity or be presented as a social fact. (...) International availability: audio-physical and social features of proximal location: noise (disco), network availability, (train, remote areas), involvement with proximal interaction, intimacy of situation (toilet, etc.) (...) Praxiological – spatio-temporal availability: readiness to engage in action (Are you doing anything special? Can you come to x?) – spatio-temporal location of a party vis-a`-vis the engaged activity: temporal distance (half an hour [by car, by train, on foot, etc.] – real-time perspicuous location in an ongoing action: visibility (I’m at x where are you), real-time location (I just saw a reindeer by the road, beware—[told to the car driving behind]) – instructable location: spatialized requests (I’m/accident at the crossroads of A and B, etc.) – proximate praxiological location: microco-ordination of activity (I’m feeling his pulse, the wound stretches from elbow to breast, etc.) – virtual location (I’m on the web page x) (...) Socioemotional – socio-emotional significance of location: biographical relevance (I’m at the cottage of x/my friend, I’m driving car with x), cultural significance (I’m visiting x (old church, museum, medieval city, etc.), aesthetic significance (it’s very scenic here)

Why do I blog this? this kind of study is of tremendous relevance to my phd research since I address the effects of location-awareness on collaboration processes: communication, coordination, division of labor, mutual modeling... What the author described here is very interesting, it's one of the seldom resource about this fact (along with Marc Relieu, Laurier (and there too, plus this one by Weilenmann).

However, the results from our field experiment with CatchBob makes me bit skeptical about the authors' conclusion; when it comes to the implications of this study to LBS, he says "Location awareness that would also indicate the user’s estimated temporal distance from the destination would have a wide applicability for a majority of mobile users. A simple and usable technical solution would immediately meet the end users’ needs". The reason why I am skeptical is that automating location-awareness can sometimes leads to putting the emphasis on an information (others' location versus others' availability, intentions...) that might be not relevant for the time being. Another problem is the kind of location that should be automated and made relevant for other parties (place? country? lat/long? ...).