Mobile Phones and Identity

As time goes on, we as human beings have begun to identify ourselves much more through our mobile devices and applications. No longer are we just identified by our income, race, religious beliefs, or political affiliation. We also identify ourselves now through our clothing styles, mobile phones, and even social media sites. As technology begins to grow and rapidly change the world around us, its also changing the way that many of us define our identity. For good or for bad, mobile technology plays a big part in shaping our identity into how we want it to be perceived by others.

In the article “Mobile phones as fashion statements: evidence from student surveys in the US and Japan,” James E. Katz and Satomi Sugiyama explore how fashion can be related to mobile phone behaviors across diverse cultures (Katz and Sugiyama, 2006). “It is within this fast-changing fashion environment in the modern world that technologies have been adopted as accessories in our presentation of self, and thus incorporated into a repertoire of the ‘personal front'” (Katz and Sugiyama, 2006). It is no secret that many of us choose to purchase our phones based upon the model of the phone and the way it looks. Just as different fashion trends change and become apart of our culture, mobile phone have become apart of our fashion and our culture. iPhones have become a large part of an individuals fashion and how they identify themselves. Many people will choose the iPhone over competing mobile devices such as the Android Galaxy or Blackberry simply because of the way it looks. In the society that we live in, looks and perception can tend to matter more than performance. One could argue that an the Android Galaxy performs just as well or even better than an iPhone, but many iPhone users would rather continue to use the iPhone because it “looks better.” How we are our will be perceived by others plays a large role in the materials we choose to possess. In Katz and Sugiyama’s article they quote another researcher who suggests that “the mobile is an accessory that enriches those who wear it, because it shows just how much they are the object of communicative interest, and thereby desired, on the part of others” (Katz and Sugiyama, 2006).

Just as this article suggests, having the “right” phone is essential to how you will be perceived or identified by your peers. For example, someone who routinely dresses in designer clothing may be perceived as a wealthy person in comparison to someone who dresses in a hoodie and blue jeans everyday. In reality, the clothes that a person chooses to wear in no way identifies that person as being wealthy or poor. Just as someone who may have an iPhone or someone who may have a Cricket flip phone. In Gerard Goggin’s “Cell Phone Culture,” he discusses Nokia and how it “embraced its users” (Goggin, 2006). I believe Goggin’s article about Nokia connects with Katz and Sugiyama’s article very strongly. Goggin suggests that “designers of new technologies have never seen the world for which they are designing.” And “understanding users means understanding how they change as the society around them changes in general, and specifically how they change through interaction with the products that we introduce” (Goggin, 2006). This suggests that designers of these mobile phones design them with the thought in mind that consumers views of their product will change based upon what is trending around them.  They know that we the users change our tastes and opinions on products very frequently because of how they are perceived by the general public. Much of this comes down to the physical appearance of the product and how we are identified by the product.  Is this the sad truth of where we are as a society or culture? Or is this what we have always been about? Haven’t we always identified ourselves through our material possessions?

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Sources:

  1. Goggin, Gerard. (2006). Cell Phone Culture: Mobile technology in everyday life. London: Routledge. Chapter 3, 41-62.
  2. Katz, James E. and Sugiyama, Satomi. (2006). “Mobile phones as fashion statements: evidence from student surveys in the US and Japan.” New Media & Society. 8(2): P. 321-337
  3. Sprint iPhone 5 owners, welcome to Ting [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://cnet4.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/2014/03/12/1b107a40-b0b5-11e3-a24e-d4ae52e62bcc/68c2604bb8ade4eb465c10af9ead7e02/06_archimedes_35438535_620x433.jpg
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One thought on “Mobile Phones and Identity”

  1. I thought you made some good points about the mobile phone being a fashion accessory and how the style is usually thought to be more important than the functionality. I made a comment in class about my gold iPhone and how I walked out of the store because they were sold out of just that color. Sometimes we (myself included) get caught up in the physical aspect of the phone as an accessory because people see you use it every day.

    However, I think there is more to the Katz and Sugiyama quote you used about the mobile being an accessory that enriches the owner. The style of the phone is important, but one must also consider that when a person is using their phone, it usually means that he or she is communicating with someone. And that leads one to assume that the user is worth communicating with, so it becomes a symbol of social standing. Theoretically, you want people to see your phone because it means you have a certain status, and then the user wants the phone itself to be stylishly attractive to correlate with that.

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