When we first learn how to use writing and communication technologies, we are often confused. As a result, we spend a lot of time paying attention to how we interact with them. Eventually the technologies become natural extensions of our everyday activities. Smartphones are a prime example of this phenomenon. The iPhone was introduced in 2007 and in just 8 years smartphones have become for many an extension of the self. Always nearby and connected to our most interactive spaces many with smartphones don’t even realize how often they use the phones over the course of a day—or every hour. In short, we are often unaware how often we use writing and communication technologies to afford the ability to read and write.
This assignment is designed to help you become more aware of how often you use your smartphones and what you are using them for. The goal is for you to gain some insight into the intimate relationship you as a human have with a writing technology. The point is not for you to say you use the phone too little or too often; that is, of course, personal preference. Rather, the goal is to better understand the complex relationships we have with our technologies and to think about the implications of those relationship.
Assignment Specifics — Logging Interactivities
Nancy Baym (2010) describes the degrees of interactivity we have with communication technologies, noting social interactivity, technical interactivity, and textual interactivity (p. 7). In this assignment you will be tracking and then blogging about your social interactivity and textual interactivity with your smartphone.
Each student will be given a Field Notes brand notebook and one Pilot G-2 pen: Over one 48 hour period between Thursday 2/19 and Thursday 2/26, I would like you to record in the Field Notes notebook with the Pilot G-2 pen each time you pick up your phone for the purposes of social interactivity and/or textual interactivity, as the terms are defined by Baym (p. 7). The interactivity can be momentary, like checking a text message that just came in, or extended, like talking on the phone. It includes interacting with social networking apps, writing apps, photography apps, gaming apps, and so on. In other words, just about anything you are doing with your phone, I would like you to pause, recognize you are using it, and record what you have done.
I’d like you to record the following in your notebooks:
- The number of the activity, starting at 1
- The date of the activity
- The time of the activity
- Approximately how long the activity lasted
- Whether it was social interactivity, textual interactivity, or both
- What the activity was (playing games, SnapChatting, etc.)
- What activity, if any, was happening when you used your phone
The easiest way to do this is to create columns in your notebook that spread across two pages:
The 48-hour period must include part of at least 1 week day (for example, noon Sunday to noon Tuesday). The 48-hour period cannot be one where you are at your place of employment for more than 6 hours each day.
You may obfuscate activities you don’t wish to be written down (for example, if you were out at night doing what college students do, you might write “hanging out with friends”). If you fill up one whole notebook (using every line for a new activity) before the 48 hour period is over, you may stop. If a teacher asks you why you keep jotting in a notebook, I suggest you don’t say, “Because I was just looking at my phone.” If you lose the pen or the notebook, let me know as I have a few extras.
Take the notebook and pen everywhere you go and try to have fun with it.
Bring your notebook to class on Thursday, 2/26 so we can discuss them.
Assignment Specifics — The Blog Post (updated 2/26/15)
For your blog post I’d like you to start with a brief introduction to the assignment and then complete and present the following quantitative information:
- how many times you used the phone
- the total hours and minutes you spent on the phone (remember, when adding seconds, 60 = 1 minute; I always make that mistake and go up to 100)
- the total textual, social, or both interactivities
- list and quantify the activities completed on the phone under the associated interactivity, such as (Both: texting: 43; twitter: 27; Social: phone call: 32)
- list and quantify the activities that were happening when you used your phone
After listing the quantitative results, I’d like you to present 2 or 3 images of your notebook pages. Please only post images you feel comfortable posting. You may block out anything you’d like to keep private. If you made any fun artwork on your notebook, you might add that, too, to really personalize the post.
Then, I’d like you to discuss the implications of your 48 hour interactivity, covering the following in any order you’d like:
- What it was like being forced to use writing technologies (the notebook and pen) while using another communication technology (the phone)?
- consider the idea that the activity was a reversal of what might you normally do—that is, use your phone while in the course of using pencil and paper—but here you were being dictated to use certain technologies; try to connect this part of your discussion to Baym’s ideas on technological determinism
- if you changed your use of your phone activity during the course of the assignment, as many of you said you did, you might consider how you were, perhaps, reacting against the external pressure to use technology and how your technology use might fit within ideas on social construction of technology use or social shaping of technology use.
- What have you learned about yourself as a user of communication technologies?
- please don’t just say you use your phone too often or too little
- rather, consider the kinds of spaces you used (do they exemplify participatory culture, as discussed by Jenkins?) and what that says about you as a digitally literate (as discussed by Jenkins) writer and communicator
- What have you learned about your relationship with your phone? What does it afford you that other communication technologies might not? How and why has it become so domesticated (Baym) into your life (if you think it has)? Did you use the spaces for self promotion or selfies (Rettberg)?
- Anything else you think important to mention about the activity that is grounded in the theories and ideas we have read about and discussed in class.
In your discussions be sure to point to your quantitative results and the spaces and/or apps you used on your phones.
You post should be at least 500 words long (not including the quantitative results).
Due date: Tuesday 3/3 by 11:00pm on your blog