Reflections on mobile computing I: where does the urge to “walk with screen” come from?

I broke down and replaced my old iPod, a 20gb Classic which, while it works, cannot be disconnected from an AC power supply without failing. I got the smallest iPod Touch they make, 8gb, refurbished.

Some initial thoughts, then. It was several days before I tried listening to it with headphones because I was so busy trying out the apps on it. How the device has evolved away from a music player! There are so many free apps for it and the ones it comes with are quite useful. Or so it seems. What is interesting is that I find myself playing with the apps first and then looking for a use for them; then, I find myself looking for occasions to integrate that use into my daily flow.

For example, I put the iPod next to my bed thinking I’d be able to check the weather first thing the next morning when I woke up. It’s been predictably warm and sunny here every single day, so this kind of new task is actually an alteration-without-justification in my daily routine. I’m doing it because I can, not because I need to or want to. Feelings of self-recrimination: I'm all yours!

I also noticed that while I’m out and about, I have found myself tempted to keep it in my pocket and then pull it out to…I don’t know…check for wifi access…look at pictures…play a podcast…send a tweet. While walking. Then I reflected on how I typically feel when I see people walking around looking at a phone or iPod (disgusted) and thought,
“Where does this temptation come from? Why is it not beaten back by the sensorium of sights, sounds, smells and interactions that the world provides?”

There is something odd about walking outside in Colorado (where the Front Range mountains are often in plain view) and choosing to look down at a tiny screen that, truth be told, doesn’t do any more than my computer can. Indeed, if I try to project my immediate experience of the world *as if* it was a computer-simulation it is actually the more incredible sensory experience. Hence, a puzzle.

So, my initial and tentative hypothesis explaining why I feel the urge to use an iPod (besides the newness of it) is that it cannot be about the prima facie sensory experience. So, then: what is it the source? Is it the desire to increase control? The desire for entertainment? What?

And I'm not getting into issues about social interaction or the public sphere, yet. I'm just trying to stay focused on the phenomenological question of where the desire in me originates...

No comments: