Mobile Communication and Social Policy: An International Conference

This weekend, the Center for Mobile Communication Studies hosts an international conference where researchers and academics will gather in New Brunswick to examine the impact of mobile communication on politics, business, family, and other social institutions.

Scholars from Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia to Discuss Implications of Mobile Phones and Technologies

October 5, 2009

RutgersCommInfo on TwitterFollow and report from the conference on Twitter using hashtag #MCSP

PhoneThis weekend, the Center for Mobile Communication Studies hosts an international conference where researchers and academics will gather in New Brunswick to examine the impact of mobile communication on politics, business, family, and other social institutions.

"Mobile Communication and Social Policy," spearheaded and organized by Professor James E. Katz and supported by the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, is attracting to New Brunswick researchers from across the United States, France, South Africa, Singapore, Holland, India, Israel, Sri Lanka, Italy, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Portugal, Phillippines, China, Korea, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Kuwait, and Lithuania.

They will focus on mobile devices and social programs; how mobile technology is used in political campaigns; the role of phones during times of war, peace, and emergency; and how these devices shape individual and collective identities.

Katz (pictured below) is also chair of the Department of Communication at the School of Communication and Information. He is director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies, and has been conducting studies of mobile communication since the early 1990s. In 2009, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received a Fulbright Distinguished Chair award in communication history.

Katz recently discussed the importance of studying fast-changing communication technologies and their role in human interaction.

James E. KatzHow has the meaning of term “mobile communication” changed in the past 10 years?

Over the past decade, the ability for someone to communicate real-time with distant others has moved from something that was exotic and attention grabbing to quite ordinary; having that ability is nearly equivalent to breathing. In other words, with a bit of hyperbole, one could say it is something that is taken for granted even though it is vital to the conduct of our lives and even our social survival.

Our mobile devices have become like Swiss army knives – we’re able to use them as a tool to accomplish just about any of our communication needs.


Give us a clearer picture of the meaning of “social policy” as it relates to the conference you are organizing?

We know that computers have dramatically changed the way organizations operate; they are affecting governments, hospitals, and every other form of our existence. What we are trying to do with this event is to understand how and to what extent the mobile phone has similar transformative possibilities. We want to examine the potential of mobiles not only as a personal communication device but also as a technology that could be at the core of the way institutions function and vital to the way political and governmental bodies, for example, understand and work with their constituents.

Given this mission, the conference fits not only with the interests of the Rutgers Center for Mobile Communication Studies, with its focus on studying social relationships, but also complements the School of Communication and Information faculty’s wide and growing interest in public policy.

This issue affects everyone. What role do academics play in how we use mobile technology?

While we appreciate the mobile phone as a vital part of our lives, it is surprising that relatively little scholarly attention has been given attention to the way the technology affects our lives. Researchers need to direct our attention so we can understand questions such as how the pace of work life has changed or how family structure is becoming re-configured now that mobile technology is such a vital part of our daily existence. For example, the phenomenon of so-called “failed adults” – is that something that is affected by the mobile phone?

What are some of the specific topics that conference papers and presenters will explore?

The presenters will be engaging a wide array of issues.  These include how first responders to emergencies use mobiles to communicate all the way to how political campaigns are fought using mobiles for organizing and viral marketing.  For instance, there is an analysis of South Africa’s elections earlier this spring and the way mobile phones were used to mobilize groups, propagate malicious gossip, and counter smears. Ultimately, through research such as is being presented at the conference, we are hoping that new policies can be developed that will allow the mobile phone to better help people control over their lives and extend their knowledge networks and increase their personal freedom.

And yet, like any other technology, the mobile phone has the potential to misinform and mislead people, lead to obsessive use, or facilitate crime and political oppression. Despite the potential down-side, there has never been a more popular communication technology: more than 4 billion people worldwide are now users of mobile phones. Our goal in this conference is to distill the best knowledge from researchers to encourage the positive uses of mobile communication to help people meet their goals and promote society’s well-being.