Mobiles are changing the very way we think – part 1.

Posted on September 19, 2013


We are changing, as a species, as a result of mobiles,  let me explain.

When talking to people about “mobile” and “mobility” the discussion is so often about the devices, and the applications,  with many thinking that what makes mobile different are the devices, their sensors, the ability to discern the context of the user, and that the mobile is so much a part of a users life.

For me the latter is indeed the most impactful part of why mobil eis different.
Mobile is more than simply dealing with a small screen (high res or not), we have tool for this.
It’s more than knowing the location, orientation etc of the device.  This is interesting, but not unique to mobile, and it’s not the main point.
No, it isn’t, honest.
Mobiles (and the Internet) have changed how we behave, how we think, how we learn and remember things.
All in a few short years.
And the changes are on going.
So lets think about what those changes are,  then we can consider some of the implications in the second of these posts.
Memory and Learning:
The changes to learning and memory can be summarised by considering that we are becoming more transactive, but not quite in the way that the term was originally coined.
By transactive I mean that we are learning to use and rely on external help for more and more of our memory.
In the past one would remember phone numbers, addresses, dates, and all sort of other things.  Now we just rely on our ever present phone to store and know these.
Before the advent of Internet search engines, people would become experts in one or two fields, and would know more than most, remembering and thinking about the subject.  Now there is less need to remember everything,  I can “google it” after all and find out that way.
So this leads to a situation where you don’t have to remember everything,  but you need to remember and know how to find it. Phone numbers – on your phone,  directions, on your satnav, facts and figures – google it, mobile or otherwise.
the real skill is often knowing how to search,  and where to look, where to trust and where to avoid.
This ability to depend on external “memories” in your devices, is why I think the transactive memory model applies.  Your reliant on group think,  however your group is you and your devices (in which category I include your PC)
The implication of this is that it is far easier to take up new skills, new areas of knowledge and to become a “bookspert” on almost anything.
At the moment we rely on the experts to write the websites, to provide the entries in wikipedia etc,  however if in 20 years no one is a true expert, and we are all jack of all trades, then will this be to the detriment of the advancement of science ?
Communicating, and organising.
Then there is the way we communicate and organise ourselves.
With the embedding of asynchronous communications* into our every day lives,  we are able to communicate more effectively with many more people,  and talk about subjects that may prove too difficult in face to face conversations.
For example it is far easier to ask where people are meeting tonight over text or BBM (instant messaging) than in person. The fear of rejection is much less.
The upshot is that things are organised much later then they used to be,  because you can simultaneously communicate with lots of people, and because the devices are always with the person,  you can be certain they will receive it.
This then bleeds into all sorts of areas, because we are less “organised in advance” than we used to be,  so getting things done later is becoming more normal.  Look at vacation bookings, used to be around the new year,  now it’s more like post easter.
And as we can have text chat type conversations which you dip in and out of,  then these tend to happen at times and places where this would have been unthinkable before.  In meetings, whilst on the phone, on the bus/train, while watching TV, etc etc,  Meaning we are more closely connected to those around us.
With this double change of organizing later and communicating asynchronously becoming the norm, especially for those that were “born mobile” and therefore are also Digital Natives, it does make you wonder how they will go about managing and running organisations, governments, armies etc.  Time will tell,  I suspect very different types of command and control structures will arise with flatter hierarchies and more fluid responsibilities (see the first part above)
Anyway in the next post well think about how the changes in our learning and communication techniques should be reflected in the way we design apps, because as you know Human centric design is the way to go.
* By Asynchronous communications,  I mean when we use the back and forth of text systems, such as SMS, Instant Messanger (eg Facebook Inbox, BBM, Sametime etc)  rather than voice calls which are synchronous.
Now an odd thing is that often a conversation on Instant Messenger or text could be on going whilst your face to face with someone,  eg you are having a private chat with someone in a larger meeting, perhaps agreeing how to respond to a line of questioning etc.
Posted in: life, mobile