The Affective Turn of Mobile Phones

On: September 26, 2011
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About Natalie Dixon
I’m a new media thinker, strategist and writer. My current research focus is on the ‘affective bandwidth’ of mobile-mediated communication. My research interests include affective computing, HCI, biomapping, emotion, the impact of mobile phones on social behaviour, analytical design and information visualization. I graduated from the new media track of the Media and Culture masters programme in 2011.

Website
http://www.nataliedixon.info    

For anyone interested in affect, mobile phones or both, my masters thesis (completed this year) is available for download here. My thesis was influenced by researchers such as Amparo Lasen, Gerard Goggin, Leopoldina Fortunati, Rich Ling and Jane Vincent. If you’re interested in seeing my ongoing field research in this area of mobile behaviour, see my blog.

Abstract:

The line between man and computer is no longer drawn at the ability to think but the capacity to feel. With the focus on emotion in human-computer interaction, research has extended past the cognitive to understand new aspects of human experience. This thesis studies the affective turn of mobile phones using interviews with couples and an online survey. The focus is not limited to the mobile’s role in mediating emotion or as an object of affection due to its contents, but points to it as a stand-alone affective actor. This thesis argues that mobiles are not simply inert objects that only respond to our whims and wants – they too have a presence. They move us in the same way that people can “move” each other – they are energetic participants in our assembly of human and non humans. As a result, users rarely view mobiles as mere technological devices but rather as natural beings, ones that have expressions – derived from the presence they create. This thesis argues that mobiles transfer affect, emit or radiate an aura that generates anxiety, pleasure or calm in people or places. Our relationships with them, often characterised by paradoxes and ambivalence, is shifting away from the realm of mobile culture to become part of human nature.

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