Mobility and Evolution of a Book

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.

Works Cited

deGuzman, Charlene and Crawford, Miles. (2013, August 22). I Forgot My Phone [Video file]. Retrieved from

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.

Nations, Daniel. 10 Great Uses For Twitter Why Twitter? Retrieved February 9, 2014, from:

The Great Isaiah Scroll from Qumran [Photograph]. Retrieved February 9, 2014, from:


One thought on “Mobility and Evolution of a Book”

  1. Overall I agree with the majority of the ideas you have presented here. It is imperative to recognize that mobile media, particularly cellular devices and smart phones, are later institutions on the mobile media grid.

    Two statements you’ve mentioned one being, ” The idea of portable information has been around longer than we realize,” and the other, “As the media, itself, changed over time, the content adapted along with it, ” make extremely sensible and strong commentary that can be used to check contemporary cultural climates, and to measure how far we’ve come/gone. (All in relation to the use, non-use, or abuse of mobile media, particularly E-readers and cellular phones)

    Seeing the history of mobile media unfold from scrolls to books to electronic devices that incorporate traces of its predecessors, is as important as realizing how society values/utilizes the contemporary version.

    The majority of my response is about the necessity of appreciating the origins/use/exclusivity of written word or mobile word, as well as a detailed response to the video attached in this essay.

    The video attached is truly significant and profound in ways that I’m not sure the producers intended, but were nonetheless unavoidable.
    There is an isolation of the mobile media user(s) and the non mobile media user immediately. They seemed more focused on capturing and disseminating the moments while she SEEMED more interested in “living in the moment.” The larger argument is present that the female lead, who is a non-user of the mobile phone in ways that others are, that she is either more or less in tune with her surroundings as a result of her abstinence. Which we need to be aware of in our assumptions of our own user type, and how we summarize other user type as well.

    Next to consider is how visually stunning the production is. In this day and age, everyone is a critic and nobody is going to respect or try to grasp the concept of a video if it isn’t captivating. The style and editing choices made within converged models require attention as well because it’s highly influential on multiple levels of comprehension as well. (I suppose hieroglyphs made their way from walls to picture and pop-up books, to coded media as well.)

    In addition to recognizing the changes in media and adaptation we must also recognize how it’s changed us socially. There is one particular area of our social interaction that we ought to be aware of, and that’s responsibility. After watching the spectacle of the guy singing in the lunchroom per someone’s mobile recording, we came to a juncture in our commentary on day in class; Mobile media, particularly smart phones, have altered the way that we socialize.

    (Most of the clips we view aren’t from news sources, they are from someone’s phone, who recorded someone else, and posted it for the world to see.) In most cases that is normative, and in some cases it isn’t. People who use mobile media in this regard are assuming a responsibility that was once secured for reporters, writers, and surveillance. I say this to say that there is a new responsibility given to the public that wasn’t around when scribes were sitting for countless hours sketching away into scrolls. (I’ve never been spied on by a scroll a day in my life.) There is less of a privilege associated with reading, writing, and disseminating that has altered our consumption of information as well. Since the methods have change, the

    This essay and line of thinking is comparable to the ABC-Words-Sentence Structure theory. (A theory that I just made up solely for the sake of making an overtly simple comparison. So it’s not really a theory it’s just something I’m going to say. )

    There must be an acknowledgement of each individual letter, to even produce words. These words go on to structure sentences. (See? Simple.) There is a history, an order, and a distinct line of assembly that goes into written/spoken language that we don’t necessarily focus on, or focus on focusing on, when writing or verbalizing. Much like E-readers or cellular devices which are nothing more than modern entities modeled after earlier forms of mobile media mentioned in your essay. (That’s my ABC take on things.)

    Bought to you by the letter M.

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