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Tartu "transforming culture" conference presentation

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Indrek Ibrus

on 20 May 2010

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Transcript of Tartu "transforming culture" conference presentation

"It's not rocket science, y'know!" Path dependencies in institutional user construction by the nascent industries of the mobile web Indrek Ibrus The study Conducted in 2006-2008 in several European and Northern American countries Interviews with the representatives of various handset and browser vendors (Nokia, Opera, etc.), operators (T-Mobile) various specific technology and service enablers (Segala, dotMobi, Volantis, W3C, etc.) and content providers (BBC, Buongiorno, Deutsche Welle, Microsoft, ProSieben, etc.)
Research questions What have been the dynamics that have underlied the creation, evolution and conventionalization of new media forms in the open mobile web following the launch of 3G mobile networks? Subquestions: How are the textual dynamics of media evolution constituted by the dialogic interactions among agents involved in designing new media forms, by the inner dynamics of related social subsystems and by the dialogic interactions among these subsystems? Are these dynamics dependent on the legacies and memory of the associated subsystems?

How are these legacies, hierarchies and culture constituted and maintained by their underlying power relations and how are these relations further negotiated in the process of the evolution of these systems? Motivations Closely related to Raymond Williams’ (1974) work on the early evolution of the forms and technologies of television – on the associated contingencies, indeterminacies and the social struggles underpinning these.

In 1974 the situation was contingent for the evolution of the medium of television as a technology and a cultural form. Williams asked his readers to recognise the immediacy of the situation and the significance of decisions taken then to form the television medium.

It is time to ask the same questions about the emerging media including the technologies of the ubiquitous web and its "cultural forms". "These dialogues result in the selection of alternative values that become embedded in the technical systems. When this is acknowledged, we can begin to understand how the accumulation of these choices affects the way social and technical systems interact. The results of research of this kind can help us to imagine alternatives to the guiding principles that are shaping our mediated experience and that otherwise may be regarded as ‘facts’ – that is, unalterable features of the digital technological regime." (Robin Mansell, 2002)
How is technological innovation in the new media field being structured; by whom and for whom is it being negotiated? What are the alternatives? "How can a system develop and yet remain true to itself?"
(Juri Lotman 2009) Mobile Web Telecommunications Media content producers Web-services Browser vendors WAP-services Handset vendors Social Networking Search Engines Dialogues vs. Autopoiesis Reproduction of autonomy
Convergence Autopoiesis/autocommunication rely on systemic memory - on previous selections Geertz (1973): Cultures as webs of meanings in which we get suspended Lotman & Uspenskij (1978): Culture as non-inherited memory of a group of people, preserved and passed on by means of narratives, models and myths. Winkler (2002): All media actualisations become condensed social and material 'deposits' that may determine the subsequent practices. David (2000): Path dependency; historical 'lock in' of techno-economic processes Garrouste & Ioannides (2000): Self-reinforcement of social systems General Empirical Results 'Infrastructure Enablers' Content providers "One Web" "Many Webs" Users User agency recognised and highlighted in the mobile telecommunications industry discourses since the emergence of SMS texting - the 'user triumph' Interesting finding: "If you said to people at the start what do you think you’d use this for, I’m not sure that we’ve got great research on that. Not as in people didn’t necessarily know how they’d use it. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t like the idea." (Interviewee #23, T-Mobile)

"But it's one of those things that until people really see it they probably don’t get it. And if you say to them would you like the internet on the move, they say, mmm, yes probably. But what would you use it for? And they tend to scratch their heads. And where they come back down to is things like you know, is email. So the things that there currently is on the internet are the things that they would want to use it for. But that doesn’t really… I don’t think it’s driven by… it’s not as pure as a group of customers sitting down and saying, well, what we’d like more than anything else is XHTML browser on the mobile phone." (Interviewee #22, T-Mobile) T-Mobile as an operator and innovator observed its customers as significant others but did not take them as dialogue partners in their norm development for the design of the new service in that early phase. I suggest: Interviewee #7 from Deutsche Welle: Expressed his disappointment over the modest uptake of their mobile web services, concluded that the mobile “hasn’t really grabbed people’s imagination”. Interviewee #18 from ProSieben: Expressed his disillusion by proposing that users are not even aware that they have browsers in their phones. Hence his company saw itself as educating the user. Interviewee #22 (T-Mobile) summarising the changes in user behaviour in the first year of Web’n’Walk: "The frequency has increased, the frequency of usage has increased, the number of sessions has increased. Erm, but where people go I don’t think that’s, that hasn’t changed. It’s still the same, it's still email. People are really simple. It’s not, you know, it’s not rocket science." 'Infrastructure enablers' or the "One Web Camp" used the suggested users' 'horizons of expectations' (Jauss) as the argument for justifying their own preferred design of the new web. Also content providers recognised the need to meet the users' interpretative 'horizons of expectations' - seen to be path dependent from the desktop web.

However, they also emphasised the need to adjust these expectations to mobile specifics. Hence, their in their rhetoric they stressed how the 'infrastructure enablers' did not understand design and true user needs. ‘User experience’ emerges as an important rhetoric device in the associated discursive struggles
‘Infrastructure enablers’ used the assumed preferences of users as an argument for converging the two content domains.

Content and service providers used the users’ assumed need for quality experience to justify their own strategy.

It could be suggested, the ‘user’ was both an argumentative device as well as an addressee in the discursive struggle that covered the real power struggle over who can control the design of the media and its forms To conclude: Their discursive struggles around defining the user and its needs is indicative of the industry power struggles taking place at the time. Thank You! i.ibrus@lse.ac.uk At that early era the user was not established as a subject, as the speaker, in the industry discourses, but as only an object to be spoken for and about.
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