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Personifying the Mobile Device

'He gave man speech, and speech created thought  which is the measure of the universe'
-Shelley, Prometheus Unbound
“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
-William Shakespeare

This is a follow-up to a previous post where I picked up on Charlie Schick's notion of mobile devices' foreground and background operation. I mentioned that "the notion of background should be extended to include the automated functions, ie. the work, that you delegate to your laptop or mobile phone while you're off doing something else. For instance, downloading podcasts, downloading torrents, distributed computing, tracking RSS feeds, presence on IM, logging IRC channels, and arguably your blog (virtual self) are some of the "work" that can occur in the background."

Debi, aka "Mobile Jones", makes a great point in her post about Web and Mobile Fragmented as Thought Prisoners of Jargon 

"If language can shape thought, then this may explain why so many web centric services, applications and standards neglect mobility in their development and why mobile operators don't grasp the lessons learned on the web over the past decade.  What some have labeled willful disregard may simply be a function of two different spheres of jargon."

Whether you believe there's a relationship between language and thought -- or not -- professionals in different fields develop a jargon to describe the objects, tastes, textures and activities related to their domain. For instance, enology has its own language for describing winemaking tools and processes and the taste of wine. Similarly, lawyers, doctors, engineers, carpenters, firefighters, the clergy and so on have all developed their own vocabulary around their expertise. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks of the "Gift of expertise" (pg. 176), showing how professional foodtasters precisely describe their reactions to specific foods along six dimensions of appearance, ten dimensions of texture and fourteen dimensions of flavor.

However, expert jargon becomes a "problem" when the language strips meaning from human context and usage. As  Debi further points out (see also Janne Jalkanen):

From the mobile universe, WAP 2.0 (xHTML), J2ME, MIDP, WAP push, SyncML, transcoding and IMS (IP Multimedia   Subsystem) are examples of its jargon. The web universe is focused on AJAX,   Web 2.0, CSS, xHTML, RSS, Atom as examples of its jargon. Sharp eyes will see some commonalities between these technologies regardless of their different terminology.

Indeed. Janne further speculates that "[people will] be wanting things on their computers that work like their mobile phones ... If you're now thinking about your cell phone as an inferior laptop - try looking it another way: maybe your laptop is an inferior, bulky version of your cell phone." (Charlie Schick calls it the "mobile tail wagging the web dog").

Visual representation is one way of moving beyond the confines of language. Another is understanding objects by personifying them (see anthropomorphism). For instance, sociologist and philosopher Bruno Latour describes a self-closing door in human terms :

"On a freezing day this February, posted   on the door of La Halle aux Cuirs at La Villette, in Paris ... could be seen,   a small hand-written notice: "The groom is on strike, for God's sake, keep the   door closed" (groom is Frenglish for an automated door-closer or butler). This   fusion of labor relations, religion, advertisement, and technique in one   single insignificant fact, is exactly the sort of thing I want to describe in order to discover the missing masses of our society."

With the many functions that can be developed for mobile devices, we can personify the mobile phone and list some possible roles for it. Some roles are better done on a laptop than on a mobile, and vice versa, but the experience should be seamless and you should be able to pick up on one where you left off on the other. With the advent and rise of web services, online storage and wi-fi access, we will essentially be able to perform the same functions and access the same information through a mobile device, as through a laptop.

So, here's a quick and incomplete list of the various roles your mobile device can play, in no particular order and perhaps with some overlap.

  1. Butler, your head servant for domestic chores 
  2. Herald, to announce your arrival or actions 
  3. Copilot, to help you navigate by interpreting maps and location 
  4. Shopping assistant: bringing you relevant addresses, recommendations and coupons 
  5. Librarian or research assistant: bringing you the right information 
  6. Opponent or buddy, to challenge you or to help you play 
  7. Matchmaker or host, helping you meet the right people at parties or conferences 
  8. News anchor, keeping you current on what you need to know 
  9. Record keeper or logger, keeping track of your activities 
  10. Lifesaver, helping you in case of emergencies 
  11. DJ or entertainer, playing your music and distracting you 
  12. Usher, streaming your movies 
  13. Personal trainer, helping you work out 
  14. Secretary, reminding you of your appointments 
  15. Photographer, helping you capture special moments 
  16. Postman, delivering your messages 
  17. Operator, helping you call and communicate

Here are some non-human delegated roles:

  1. Dog, your loyal agent that fetches what you need and that keeps you company (and which you take care of and feed, ie.recharge) 
  2. Beacon or marker, to signal or broadcast your presence, location, speed and/or direction 
  3. Wallet, storing your important id numbers and helping you pay for stuff 
  4. Status symbol, signaling others through your phone model and the way you use it

These various roles create an augmented presence for people as they move around, with an invisible delegated flurry of activity going on. This activity may be long range through persistent central searches, agents and presence, for instance, and some of this activity may be proximity-based, affecting your personal area network. For instance, you might set your smartphone to continually search for and connect with Bluetooth devices around you, thus heralding your presence, identity and wish to socialize.

What functions or roles will you delegate to your mobile device? And what will you delegate to your laptop?

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September 13, 2005 in Mobile & Wireless | Permalink


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» Personifying the Mobile Device from This is Mobility
I just read Personifying the Mobile Device (hat tip John Kern). Its a post that pulls together a great set of recent conversations I had caught bits and peices of, and lays them down amazingly. As a sidenote, Ive been calling cell phones... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 8, 2005 1:30:22 PM


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