This paper is a critique of the article “Social functions of location in mobile telephony” by Ilkka Arminen. The paper deals with the issue of how location affects the conversation when a person is talking on the mobile as well as the social uses for the same. When the writer means social functions, what she essentially is saying is that the mobile subscriber uses the exact location he or she is in at that particular moment for various purposes ranging from asking the other person to come over to that location to excusing themselves from further conversation by pointing out the inconvenience of talking because of the setting.
The study points out that mobile users rank location as the second most important point of context. The very use of a mobile is to be “on-call” or available no matter where one is at that particular moment. Thus, the study of location is an interesting topic as there is a two-sidedness to the whole issue. As I just said, being “mobile” means location independence when taking calls. But, the other side is location matters a lot in many contexts and can be used to decline the call as well. Then, there is the issue of the social functions of a mobile. From being a fashion accessory to checking the latest news on the stock market, mobiles are everywhere. And a relatively little researched phenomenon is that of the social aspect.
The writer uses a research method that is based on taping the conversations of four Finnish individuals for a week. It was found that telling one’s location at the beginning of the call was prominent in the conversations of the study group and mattered a lot for the participants. There are several utilitarian benefits to “location telling”. Mostly they relate to the fact that one can give directions to a cab driver trying to find the way to pick one up. They can also serve some rather romantic purposes like inviting one’s acquaintance over to a place where one is currently with a distinctly social purpose.
A point that is made by the writer is that location seems to be used in several conversations, not in any geographical context but more from the view of the activities of the people who are conversing. From a simple “I am in so and so place” to an “I am in a meeting. I can’t talk right now”, the location offers excuses as well as preferences.
The fact that many professionals are asked to put their mobiles in silent mode during meetings and the signs in movie theatres and doctor’s clinics asking the clients to do the same point to the fact that mobile phones are viewed as a nuisance in some locations. The other side is the life-saving distress calls that can be made with a mobile and the same becomes a boon.
Ever since mobile phones became popular with users, there has been a revolution in the way in which we communicate. Compared to landline usage, mobile phone usage has grown exponentially over the last few years. This has several implications for the way in which we interact with mobiles. We use them as toys to amuse ourselves as well as perform some serious work on the same. What emerges is a pattern of usage that is highly individual-specific and context-specific. Added to the location-specific usage that the study has shown, the individual context and the larger social context becomes apparent.
In conclusion, the interplay of all these different facets at work is an interesting study. What emerges from this article is that location in purely geographical terms is irrelevant in many cases and is used in a wider social and spatial context.