Prof Mizuko Ito, University of Southern California, USA; and Keio University, Japan.

Looking at tracking and observing practices happening at distributed sites and personal settings of engagements. No longer possible to assume a fixed setting as a primary or sole context for knowledge.

Using anthropoligical, ethnographic methods.

Mobile behaviours are low profile, done on the fly. Often pass unnoticed. because mobile phone use generally very private you can’t use traditional observational methods of participant observation.

So relying on a hybrid set of methods involving people self-documenting what they do. This sounds a bit like Vavoula’s diary-based method.

Research objects and groups –

·       Social networks and groups
·       Locations and experience of place
·       Person/device experience

Wants to focus on person/device experience.
How they move through contexts with different devices that they carry on their person.

Found that using diary in combination with passive capture available through mobile phone worked OK. Then you could go into indepth interview to really unpack what was going on in those settings.  Limited temporarily – only about 2 or 3 days – but very rich.

However, focus on a single device. At that time not a big deal as kids only tended to walk around with mobile phone, but less appropriate nowadays.

Next approach was mobile kit study. Trying to expand approach to include all the things that people interact with as they move around the city.

Started with inventory of mobile kit that people carried with themselves
Diary bit
Shadowing phase
In depth interviews

Easy enough to keep a log of what they do with mobile phones, but more difficult if talking about wallets, keys etc. So, in Japan they developed a mobile blogging system. Photo/short video, annotate it and upload to moblog.

Worked well in Japan although people reported that it was difficult documenting things that were immediate. Like passing through a ticket barrier, using equivalent to Oyster card, taking photo of it uploading it etc etc

Used GPS-based moblog system in japan.

In london had to use a physical paper-based system as infrastructure was not in place to support the Japa nese experiencfe.

In USA they used audio but this was least successful because OK in the car but much more awkward in social situations.

More about how people interface with places. The diary-based approach was more difficult. But it was enough to provide a jog for de-briefing interviews.

3rd phase is evolution of the mobile kit study but focussed in Tokio over three years.

Building relationships with participants over time. Identify how media relationships change over time. Identifying learning transitions over many aspects. For this study they added the mobile phone diary back in.

See participant more as research assistants – training them over time to become more self-conscious about these practices. Self-reflection. Getting beyond feeling that they’re catching brief snapshot of their life but getting broader trajectory of how people are using these devices, how their social networks change over time (2 years).

Identified change in urban environmet – transport tickets evolved into a single card like an oyster card so instead of participants ending up with tons of cards with a few yen left, they just have a single card that you can integrate with mobile phone and use for multiple transactions. They have seen fragmented identity people move to these more integrated systems.

In conclusion – Mobile technologies become a focus for documenting other things as well as focus for doing everyday transactions. However it is awkward to get people to do these diary keeping activities.


Challenging, but important to meet to understand social trends.

Question from steve – how do you go about developing special relationship with collaborators

Answer – for one off study it’s difficult. might work, might not.  They regarded this as work and paid their participants.

Jocelyn – Ethical issues – did you inform them about what might do with wallets
Answer – goals of study vary over time so it is difficult to know what to tell.

About Gill

Having worked as a Research Fellow with the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University, I have now semi-retired but retained my association with the OU as an Honorary Associate.
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