Encouraging Reflexivity in Mobile Interactions

Deborah Maxwell, Mel Woods

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


In this fast moving world of mobile technology responsiveness and instantaneity are key. Mobile Internet devices have become an integral part of everyday life, and smartphones now provide ubiquitous information access to help people stay connected to work, home and leisure. The term mobile computing is often used to describe activities performed on these ‘ever present, always on’ devices, and a culture has developed where users and devices utilise and optimise snippets of ‘in-between’ time. Here, information access and digital reading experiences shift towards hyper-current, 24hr, bite size consumption, aided by social media, and mobile software and services have evolved to support this. Critically however, mobile devices are mobile. Advances in display technology and sensors enable richer, more embodied interactions not only with the devices themselves but also with nearby surroundings. However, there is an inherent tension in shifting a user’s focus between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ cognitive states. There is, we argue, an emergent trend towards ‘slowing down’ across all walks of life, which is characterised by the slow movements in cities (e.g. Cittaslow), food production, communities, and trade, in a bid to move away from materialism towards reflection, personal growth and satisfaction. Connected to these movements, the slowing down of mobile and situated digital experiences is a less developed but nevertheless growing undercurrent, relevant to creative practices, and cultural heritage and education sectors, amongst others. How then can mobile technology overcome these challenges and harness positive affordances to encourage a deeper sense of engagement, one that supports human perceptual and cognitive skills in situ? How can meaningful cognitive connections be maintained between digital and physical spaces, without the user experiencing an abrupt disconnect between the two spheres? Bolter & Grusin’s [1999] ‘double logic of remediation’ argues that digital media paradoxically seeks to provide such immersion with the content, that the medium itself (in this case smartphones) ‘disappear[s] from the user’s consciousness’, which may mitigate this disconnect. This paper outlines the issues encountered when bridging the gap between digital and physical spaces by reference to real world examples, and explores the tensions between the need for reflective ‘offline’ thought and user expectations for real-time system responsiveness. Examples of case studies include the Rock Art Mobile Project (Newcastle University), Serendipitor iPhone app, Blast Theory’s ‘A Machine To See With’ and a prototype space for Serendipity, SerenA, which is under development at University of Dundee.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCHArt (Computers and the History of Art) Conference 2012.
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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