Welcome to the Preconference!

A letter from the co-chairs:

Welcome to the 2014 International Communication Association Mobile Preconference, subtitled “Mobile Research for Building a Better World.” This preconference, now in its 11th year, accepted 46 proposals (out of 76 submissions), and the program looks great! We are very excited to share it with you.
As this year’s co-chairs, and relative locals, we, Katy (University of Washington) and Brett (Washington State University / University of Hawaii), want to welcome you to Seattle. Seattle is a great city, full of culture, good food, music, and a lot of interesting technology. We hope that you get to spend some time enjoying the city while you’re here.

We want to first thank the rest of the organizing committee, Veronika Karnowski, Rich Ling, and especially Andrew Schrock for all of the hard work involved. Andrew also served as a co-chair with us, overseeing the paper submissions, reviews, and working on the schedule. We also want to thank our undergraduate and graduate assistants, Meara Faw, Matthew Adeiza, Lucas Wiseman, Joshua Wagner, and Anny Lee, plus the numerous administrative assistants, for the many hours of labor that they’ve put into this event as well.

We would like to take a moment next to acknowledge our amazing sponsors: The University of Washington, Washington State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Hawaii, the Annenberg Innovation Lab, and Caribou Digital. They have been extremely generous and supportive, and without them, we could not have pulled off this event.

Mobile Communication is at a crossroads. Today there are more mobile devices connected to the Internet than stationary ones. People all over the world are using mobile communication for work, play, family, and more. As a scholarly pursuit, last year saw the beginning of the Mobile Media and Communication journal, published by Sage. What a way to show that mobile communication is an important topic! But also, just as we’ve seen with the Internet and social media, mobile communication has now grown beyond its humble beginnings here. In fact, in the main ICA conference, we see dozens of papers with mobile in the title or abstract and three Communication and Technology Division panels on mobile communication. We are becoming mainstream!

Given this, it is important that this preconference continues to be the place where cutting edge scholarship on mobile communication is written, shared, commented upon, and published. We all live and breathe mobile, and we want this preconference community to support the next generation of high quality work on this topic.

Again, welcome to Seattle. We hope that you enjoy your time here, and please don’t hesitate to ask us for anything.

Also, thinking ahead, next year ICA is in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and we would love to speak with you if you’re interested in joining the organizing committee and potentially chairing the preconference next year.

Presenter Spotlight: Andrew Schrock

asAndrew Schrock (twitter) is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and co-organizer of this year’s ICA Mobile Preconference. He will be presenting a paper titled, Beyond anywhere, anytime: Mobile and locative practices on social network platforms. This paper explores how mobile technology intersects with social cohesion and social capital.

We caught up with Andrew to discuss the research he will be presenting at the Mobile Preconference as well as his thoughts on the future of mobile research and well as its greater impact.

Can you summarize what your research is about and specifically what you’ll be presenting at the ICA Mobile Preconference?

My central research questions relate to the role of mobile media in society and focus specifically on social cohesion. Theoretically I draw on theories of social capital and social affordances to conceptualize “social capital affordances” – how people perceive affordances of mobile social media that provide ways to accrue or draw on social capital. My focal point is what I term mobile social network platforms (MSNPs), which in a basic sense are the result of a convergence of social network “sites” (SNSs) and mobile media. Examples include Facebook’s various mobile incarnations, which are used by many “mobile first” users.

What initially drew you to this research topic? Are there certain theories or concepts that have influenced your own work?

 I was drawn to this topic area by recognizing a large-scale shift in everyday practices and seeing a way I could contribute to emerging theoretical developments. My work draws from a rich lineage of mobile communication, and computer-mediated communication (CMC) research on social capital. To briefly note some influences, Lee Humphreys was instrumental in recognizing the importance of this convergence early on and promoting research of individual practices with mobile social media beyond simply “location” (see her important article in the first issue of Mobile Media & Communication). More from CMC, Nicole Ellison at MSU and Jessica Vitak (now at the University of Maryland’s iSchool) have been steadily moving towards practices with social network sites, rather than frequency or intensity, are a fruitful way to research social capital effects. It’s also important to note that cultural salience, as much as technical “features,” distinguish emergent practices. For example, Roderick Crooks proposes that the particular combination of visibility and conviviality on Grindr has a resonance with previous practices in communities of gay men and other men-seeking-men. This work together put me on a path to think about social capital affordances that signal ways to draw on or accrue social media that are culturally-aligned, relate to networks, and mobile but not necessarily reliant on “location.”

 What do you think the future of your own research will be? What about mobile communication research in general? In your opinion, why is mobile research important?

Looking toward the future, I see several underserved topic areas in mobile media that are very important for us to address. Gerard Goggin pointed out one in Global Mobile Media that deserved further scrutiny: the political economy of mobile media. I explored this last year with my paper on HTML5 and open mobile development environments, which relates to my interest in “openness” as a central theme in governance and industry. Another developing area is how mobile media relate to production of images and videos. We should be the ones to describe why primarily mobile services such as Netflix and Instagram are important touchstones in society for viewing, curating and producing visual media.

As should be obvious in 2014, mobile media is no longer of niche interest. The major move here in an academic sense is towards increased influence on communication theory at large. Individually we are all bridge-builders, so when combined with the increased recognition of mobile media, it seems like increased influence in the discipline at large is a natural outcome. For this reason, I argue that we should be rigorous in developing theories that speak to perspectives of different disciplines and sub-disciplines. As one example I’ll point to Joe Bayer’s work on what he terms the “mobile middle,” a theoretical synergy of cognitive psychology and micro-sociology that considers aspects of recurrent mobile usage that may be unconscious yet driven by both specific situations and societal expectations. It’s very important work that, like my own, hopes to build bridges and describe both individual mechanisms and large-scale movements.

What is it about the ICA Mobile Preconference that you are most looking forward to?

This pre-conference has a special place for me, as it surely does for others. For over a decade it has been a hub of intellectual activity and a vibrant site of interdisciplinary research on mobile media and communication. As concerns my own intellectual trajectory, I was blown away by the collegiality of this gathering my first year. This community guided my general interest and successive drilling down into a dissertation topic. It’s truly a supportive community of peers.

Presenter Spotlight: Sunny Lee

SL Dr. Sun Kyong (Sunny) Lee (Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Oklahoma) will be presenting part of a larger project at the upcoming ICA Mobile Pre-conference. Her paper, titled Bounded solidarity confirmed? How Korean immigrants’ mobile communication configures their social networks and intercultural development, explores how Korean immigrants’ use of mobile communication is associated with their social network.

We caught up with Sunny to discuss the research she will be presenting at the Mobile Preconference as well as her thoughts on the future of mobile research.

Can you summarize what your research is about and specifically what you’ll be presenting at the ICA Mobile Preconference?

My paper is a part of my doctoral dissertation that examined how social networks and personal communication technologies usage influenced Korean immigrants’ intercultural development. For the mobile pre-conference, I focused on analyzing the relationships between mobile communication (i.e., mobile phone calling and texting) and immigrants’ social network characteristics (i.e., size, diversity, and centrality). From my research, I found that depending who immigrants communicated with (e.g., strong vs. weak ties and coethnic vs. host national ties), the impact of mobile communication on social networks could vary.

What do you think the future of your own work will be? What about mobile communication research in general?

I’d like to publish my paper soon after getting some feedback from the conference, and do more research possibly with other types of samples. In a way, my research findings confirmed Dr. Ling’s notion of “bounded solidarity” about the impact of mobile communication tightening one’s social networks, but only partially because Korean immigrants’ mobile communication with host nationals seemed to be associated with larger and diverse social networks. In other words, my study highlighted the importance of communication partners when considering the impact of mobile communication.

Research on mobile communication grew steadily throughout the past ten years or so both nationally and internationally as the history of mobile pre-conference demonstrated (started from 2002 ICA in Korea I believe; for my first mater’s thesis on generational and lifestyles differences among mobile phone users of Korea, I was reading and citing the pre-conference proceeding!). The sheer diversity of research topics, theoretical approaches and methodologies of mobile communication research is celebratory. As we have entered into our “teenage” period, the search for a coherent identity by various academic explorations will be continued, I expect. It is also amazing that we now have an academic journal (i.e., Mobile Media & Communication by Sage) dedicated to publishing great works in the area. Although it might take another decade or so for us to establish an academic discipline (or for many, that might not even be a goal as we’re inherently multi- and interdisciplinary under the big umbrella of “communication”), I personally believe mobile communication scholars will keep producing quality research that provides insights on various phenomena related to mobile media and human communication.

What is it about the ICA Mobile Preconference that you are most looking forward to?

This will be my third presentation at the mobile pre-conference and I’ve enjoyed greatly participating in the conference every time. I like the open and encouraging atmosphere of the mobile pre-conference and the size of the conference being small enough to get to know people who’re studying similar issues/topics of mine. It’s great to meet those scholars whose work I am reading and citing a lot during this conference and be able to get feedback on my work from them as well. I look forward to meeting them again through this upcoming conference in Seattle, and also catching up with my collaborators who’re based in Germany, but also regular attendees of the pre-conference.

Presenter Spotlight: Meryl Alper

Meryl Alper (twitter) (University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism) is currently working on a larger project focusing on the role of media and technology in the lives of families that include youth with disabilities. She will be presenting part of this research at the upcoming ICA Mobile Pre-conference in a paper titled, Augmentative, alternative, and assistive: Reconsidering mobile communication and disability.

We caught up with Meryl to discuss the research she will be presenting at the Mobile Preconference as well as her thoughts on the future of mobile research.

Can you summarize what your research is about and specifically what you’ll be presenting at the ICA Mobile Preconference?

My dissertation centers specifically on the parents of children ages 3-13 with developmental disabilities (e.g. autism, cerebral palsy) who are unable to or have significant difficulty speaking.  Their children use iPads equipped with a special app called Proloquo2Go to produce speech.  Sometimes these devices are purchased by families directly, and sometimes they are provided through school districts and outside grants.  Interestingly, some (but not all) parents refer to the child’s iPad as the child’s “voice” or “talker.”

Used in this manner, the iPad joins a long history of other personal computers and mobile technologies used to aid in speech production known as high-tech “augmentative and alternative communication” (AAC) devices – or “speech generating devices” (SGDs) and “voice output communication aids” (VOCAs).  Perhaps the most famous user of high-tech AAC is physicist Stephen Hawking.

Overall, my dissertation asks, “How do parents make sense of the iPad, used in this manner by their child, amongst all the other media and technology in families’ lives today?”  Since October 2012, I have been conducting participant observation and qualitative depth interviews with approximately 20 families.  My presentation for the ICA mobile pre-conference centers on one of my dissertation chapters: on how high-tech AAC is intertwined with the history of mobile communication and computing, and in turn, how the study of iPads as AAC devices can help us better theorize about mobiles more generally.

What drew you to this topic, exploring technology use in families that have children with disabilities?

The seed for my dissertation was planted as an undergraduate at Northwestern University.  The School of Communication at NU includes both the Communication Studies and the Communication Sciences departments (along with Theater, Radio/TV/Film, Dance, and Performance Studies.)  Back then, I didn’t understand how Communication Sciences fit in amongst those other majors (then again, I never got around to taking any CS classes either with my double History major).  In some way, this dissertation is a way for me to better reconcile a personally unresolved question.  Also, starting my Ph.D. in 2010 right after the iPad came out and as someone working in the kids, media, and technology space, I had a feeling that the iPad would grow in significance among US families over the course of my doctoral studies.

 What do you think the future of your own work will be? What about mobile communication research in general?

There’s so much more captured in my fieldwork than can fit into a single dissertation or book, so my future research beyond 2015 will still involve working with my data and conducting follow-up research.  I do hope to get my findings out as quick as possible though because I think they have a number of significant, real world applications. Whenever asked a question about the future of anything, my gut instinct is to always take a good hard look at the past.  So much of communication technology’s past is unexplored and unexamined, yet influences the present in subtle and little understood ways.  I hope the future of mobile research embraces the non-linearity of the technological imagination.

 What is it about the ICA Mobile Preconference that you are most looking forward to?

I’m very keen to learn from researchers across divisions – a unique opportunity that a pre-conference allows.  Glancing at the program, I’m heartened to see a mix of good friends and research collaborators, as well as names that are new to me.  I’m looking forward to spending a generous amount of time with this group concentrating on issues in mobile communication, while also learning more about how the study of “mobile” spreads across diverse conceptual frameworks, theoretical approaches, and methodologies.