Mobility is an ambiguous term, one that we often relate to physical movement. In this day and age, movement can be done across more than just physical space, but digitally and virtually as well. It has been only recently that the definition of movement has expanded, but the idea of portable information has been around longer than we realize. While the current phenomenon of cell phones, commercial ones anyways, arose back in 1983 (Farman, 2012, p. 17), it can be argued that the first form of mobile media is the development of writing on papyrus (Farman, p. 11). No longer were information chiseled into walls, but now they were handwritten onto a material that acted as paper. This subtle evolution of moving media transcended into a transmedia platform. The advancements in technology have changed our use of the media presented before us and we must not neglect the content that has simultaneously changed as well. In this paper, I will critically analyze the moving parts of history that came to help us understand a little bit about the functions of mobile media, specifically the portability of reading.
As technology has advanced exponentially over the past century, it would be safe to assume that the context behind it would too. However, that is not exactly the case; let’s be fair here, our ways of using technology have changed, but not in the revolutionary sense that we perceive it. Gerard Goggin and Caroline Hamilton’s “Reading After the Phone” (2012) argues that while the ability to read has been more accessible than ever it is still not as prominent as it was before e-readers and cell phones came into play. The earliest form of a book was “worked inscribed on a long scroll” and was used in a various amount of ways: “the close examination of one or two texts, often read aloud, and in groups, from beginning to end” (Goggin and Hamilton, p. 104). Before the hardware and software of cell phones became common, scrolls were printed with “information of the highest cultural significance” compared to “ephemeral data of only passing value” (Goggin and Hamilton, p. 104) that came with the creation of codex books.
When describing the uses of cell phones, reading is typically not one of our biggest priorities. Goggin and Hamilton believes “books will always remain, in comparison to street signs or shopping lists, the most marginal of our reading and writing acts” (p. 106) and this misplaces the importance of books. E-reading became popular when the iPhone and iPad began promoting it and rationalizing this, e-reading became a trend due to the popularity of Apple (Goggin and Hamilton, p. 114). The idea that books are of only one use, while smartphones and tablets allow the capability of multitasking, is a misconception. We ignore that books, which came from scrolls, are part of the technological timeline of cell phones or “rather, a continuation of this process of technological development” (Goggin and Hamilton, p. 105).
As the media, itself, changed over time, the content adapted along with it. One of the biggest inventions that made phones as essential as they are now was Lee De Forest’s vacuum tubes (Ling and Donner, 2009, p. 35). Prior to 1906, when the tubes were invented, communication was made through using Morse code and since, voice transmission was capable. With technology being tailor made for human voice, it paved the way for a wide array of content. In the 1930’s, states began using police car radio communications (Goggin, 2012, p. 25) and after voice became a common thing, text messaging came alive in 1992 (Goggin and Hamilton, p. 107). The transition from voice to text became prominent when the Japanese mobile Internet created cell phone novels (Goggin and Hamilton, p. 108). We could see the difference in content from early stages of having religious scriptures on scrolls to “epistolary, episodic, serialized, and other fictions” on a phone (Goggin and Hamilton, p. 108).
Goggin and Hamilton make it clear that phones are just glorified scrolls, codex books, and papyrus. They use a number of other scholars that justify their position and critique the scholars that believe books are just stand alone pieces in the history of reading. They are also able to bring about the innovative content that came along with the transition to text, such as the short Japanese novels and text messages, and then stating that phones created new contexts, such as texting and browsing. As they pointed out, books “adapt(s) to suit the requirements of its readers and writers” (p. 105) similarly to phones and while I do not dispute their message, they overlook the evolution of the definition of reading. They argue that reading became prominent due to Apple, but reading is much more than just stories on paper. While users may not be utilizing e-reader to its full potential, who is to say that tweets, or even text messages from friends, are not valuable? Though shorter in length, tweets and texts contain condensed messages and could just be as moving as a long novel would. Phone popularity increased with text messaging and I believe at that point was when reading was acknowledged during the phone era.
The book is the foundation and staple as to what we know as mobile media, but it was not the beginning of reading. Though we see phones and books are on complete different ends of the media spectrum, we cannot ignore they are on the same spectrum regardless. I believe the content that simultaneously changed with the mobile platforms also changed the way we read. Our eyes have evolved to more than just visually analyze texts, but images and videos as well. The meaning of reading has been distorted once more than words were being printed and if we’re going to critically analyze the context, then we should be able to analyze the very definition of context.
deGuzman, Charlene and Crawford, Miles. (2013, August 22). I Forgot My Phone [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OINa46HeWg8
Farman, J. (2012). Historicizing Mobile Media. The Mobile Media Reader, Volume 73, 9-22.
Goggin, Gerard. (2006). Cell Phone Culture: Mobile technology in everyday life. London: Routledge. Chapter 2, 19-40.
Goggin, G. and Hamilton, C. (2012). “Reading After the Phone: E-reader and mobile media,” in N. Arceneaux & A. Kavoori (Eds), The Mobile Media Reader. New York: Peter Lang. p. 102-119.
Ling, Rich and Donner, Jonathan. (2009). Mobile Communication. Malden, MA: Polity Press. Chapter 2, p. 30-48.
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