Smartphones: ‘connecting to the rest of the world’

Illustration: technology and imagination

Much is reported of the staggering adoption of mobile technologies worldwide. In particular the smartphone is influencing our behaviours in all manner of ways, and for many university students it has become an essential part of their everyday lives. These personal and portable devices are now inextricably involved in how we experience the world.

As educators, how could we, or should we, view smartphones within an arts and design context? Are they extensions of the studio, a form of prosthetic that alters our body schema, or a distraction that renders actions invisible and disturbs continuity and flow?

As part of a study into the ways in which personal digital technologies are incorporated into arts and design education, a second year cohort of CSM undergraduate students has provided insights about their relationship with smartphones.

a snug and intimate socio-technical tethering, a personal device supporting communications that are a constant, lightweight, and a mundane presence in everyday life.

Mazuko Ito, 2005

Through smartphones we are connected to GPS, wireless networks and the internet; as such, our bodies can be directed through real space when interacting with Google Maps, and are being tracked and recorded continually. The evolving convergence of people and technology impacts upon our sensory experiences, and influences how we act and make meaning in the world.

So, what types of phones do our hyperconnected student group own, and why did they choose them?

90% chose iPhones, with the remainder opting for Blackberry – although Samsung sells the most phones worldwide while Apple has about 15% of market share. The three principle reasons for their selection of iPhones were:

Aesthetic  Sensate properties, subjective taste, passion, experience, emotion, appearance, style, language, sensibility, beauty.

I loved the design when I bought it.

Ease  Syncing to other devices, ease of use, convenience, and the iPhone being perceived as helpful were all put forward as reasons for ownership.

It does everything I need it to, and syncs up with other devices.

Storage  Efficiency of storing information needed on a daily basis was deemed important.

…to keep everything I need in one place with the necessary memory capacity.



Smartphone use on train

The ways in which the students use their phones are rich and varied; creating, collating, communicating, collaborating, storing, recording, browsing, researching, reflecting, sharing, documenting, publishing, planning, interacting, networking, as well as navigating physical locations. These practices are aligned to those employed by arts and design students as part of their studies, and therefore might it be useful to frame the smartphone as a form of extension of the studio and the library? Equally might it be valuable to explore how the creative practices mediated by the smartphone could be mapped onto existing subject pedagogies – and maybe reshape them?


Advertising board: Samsung Galaxy

These socio-cultural objects have become an indispensable part of the ways in which students undertake their studies – inhabiting online and physical worlds simultaneously. We are still learning how to integrate smartphones into our social lives, and how to regulate their use in places and institutions. In order to continue to provide the best education we can for our students, it is important that we remain attentive to the roles that personal smartphones are playing in their learning lives, and how, as one student noted, they are ‘connected to the rest of the world’.

The ways in which students are using their personal technologies is largely hidden, as we see the device but not the activity. Whilst acknowledging the sometimes disruptive and distracting effects of mobile phones, the on-going study at CSM aims to reveal how their relationships with these devices is evolving, and how the technologies are altering the patterns of their learning lives within environments that are constantly shifting and uncertain. The chosen process of enquiry and evaluation aims to be collaborative, creative and expansive.


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