How communication and identity play out through "portable objects"

Read this interesting essay this morming: Ito, M., Okabe, D. and Anderson, K. (2007). Portable Objects in Three Global Cities: The Personalization of Urban Places, In Rich Ling and Scott Campbell Eds., The Mobile Communication Research Annual Volume 1: The Reconstruction of Space & Time through MobileCommunication Practices. Transaction Books. In this paper, the authors acknowledge that most of the research about mobile devices has focused on (1) mobile phones (2) interpersonal communication as the primary mode of usage. They then propose to focus on the whole range of portable objects (media players, books, keys, credit and transit, ID, and member cards) "to understand the diverse ways in which information and communication technologies shape our experience or urban space and time". Their purpose is to understand they ways in which communication and identity play out in public and semi-public places and infrastructures. The methods employed here is ethnographic, based on a mix of diary and interview techniques.

Their results suggest certain "behavioral frames" or "genres of presence" that involve people's use of IT in locations, a process they describe as "placemaking":

"Almost all of our research participants carried around devices and media that were meant to create a cocoon that sheltered them from engagement with the physical location and co-present others (...) functioning as mechanisms for “filling” or “killing” in-between time when people are inhabiting or moving through places that they are not interested in fully engaging with. (...) the process of constructing personal work space “encampments” by bringing portable media to public places of choice. The most common form of encampment involved using cafes and other spaces like libraries or public parks as places to camp out and work. (...) Just as people seek out beautiful campsites to set out there gear and reside for short periods of time, urbanites find attractive public places to temporarily set up camp with the help of their information technologies. The attraction of working in a specific “camping site” can include the personal relationships fostered there, food and drink, infrastructures (tables, electricity, WiFi), and most importantly, diffuse social ambience. (...) The process of maintaining records of customer transactions can be considered a process of “footprinting” or leaving traces in a particular location. (...) The overall trend is towards increasing reliance on information-based, automated, and impersonal systems for managing relationships with urban infrastructures and services."

Why do I blog this? it's a good summary of interesting phenomenons about the usage of portable objects in mobile situations. Although it may seem intuitive for people who have this kind of behavior, it's interesting to read a more thorough academic description of such things, especially as a starting point to describe the peculiarities of situations (the inter-individual or intercultural differences for instance).