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Mobile phones the new 'social robots' for five billion users

Mobile-140-pixelsWho do we turn to first in moments of joy, sorrow, loneliness, crisis, boredom and daily life?

It used to be our spouse, partner, family or best friend. Now, according to the London School of Economics and Political Science, it is our mobile phone.

In the space of 14 years, since the internet was first enabled on mobile phones, these machines originally designed for voice communication have become “personalised social robots” for many of their five billion users, according to LSE Senior Research Fellow Dr Jane Vincent.

Dr Vincent explores the emotional bond that people around the world have with their mobiles.

“The mobile phone has become a remote control for one’s life, providing a bridge from the virtual to the real world and from private moments to shared experiences,” Dr Vincent says.

“What other communications device contains data which is an extension of the user’s personality? Photographs, emails, texts, tweets, Facebook posts, favourite websites, applications and games all reflect a person’s makeup,” she adds.

She argues that mobiles have slowly eroded private behaviour, with people more willing to share everything in their lives – information as well as photographs.

The downside is that mobiles can be a “digital leash,” giving people freedom on the one hand but also creating a strong symbiotic relationship where people can’t function without it.

“People expect to be able to contact you 24 hours a day, and vice versa, so it becomes an emotional and metaphorical tie.”

Dr Vincent describes the mobile as being like a personal social robot, with the device and its contents reflecting intimate and emotional aspects of its owner’s life and enabling instant access to essential data.

“Users constantly turn to it for solace, to share joyous moments, recall special memories and more. The mobile phone has become a personal compendium for the life of the user,” she says.

Notes for Editors

Dr Jane Vincent is a Senior Research Fellow at the LSE Department of Media and Communications, and Visiting Fellow with the Digital World Research Centre, University of Surrey. Jane researches the social practices of information and communication technology (ICT) users. Her studies for industry and international academic organisations on the social shaping of technology, children’s and older peoples’ use of mobile phones, and migrants’ use of ICTs have been widely published. Jane is currently working on the EU-funded NetChildrenGoMobile project www.netchildrengomobile.eu

For media interviews, contact Dr Jane Vincent at J.M.Vincent@lse.ac.uk or Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office 020 7849 4624 or c.gibson@lse.ac.uk.

11 November 2013