Ito, Mizuko. “Mobile Phones, Japanese Youth, and the Re-placement of Social Contact.” In Ling, Rich and Pederson, Per, Eds. Mobile Communications: Re-negotiation of the Social Sphere. London: Springer – Verlag, 2005, 131-148

 

I enjoyed this reading, as I found it refreshing to have a writer explain and explore the diminishing face-to-face contact between young people rather than simply bemoan it. Mizuko Ito states that mobile phone use does not necessarily “erode the integrity of existing places or social identities” (p. 131). He explains that mobile phones offer a way to work around the boundaries that limited physical space place upon Japanese youth, rather than breaking down embedded cultural and social traditions.

 

Ito explains that “young people also use [mobile phones] to push back at their own disenfranchised position within adult-controlled institutions and spaces of activity.” (p. 133) This seems to me one huge benefit of mobile media technologies – that new space, a valuable commodity as populations grow, can be created anywhere and anytime with the click of a button.  Ito uses his research to demonstrate how these technologies have been appropriated by young people in Japan for just this purpose where students are asked if they visit each other’s homes: “Occasionally. Maybe once a year” (p. 136) is the response. Instead, teens use texting and emails to create a sense of “co-presence” (p.137), and to “coordinate their motion through an urban space.” (p. 142)

 

However, Ito emphasises that while mobile phones and the rituals that accompany them have permeated youth culture they are still subject to the demands of older conventions, where “mobile phones become a tool for circumventing the normative structures of the home with minimal disruption to its institutional logic.” (p. 139) Mobile phones are still put away for meal times. Similarly, at school students use their phones to communicate but hide it from the teachers, demonstrating how mobile technology practices must give way to older practices. Buses and train even “display ‘no mobile phone’ signs.” (p. 141)


Another aspect of this text that I found interesting were the differences I found when I compared mobile technology uses amongst Japanese youth and my friends and I, and also how these technologies are viewed by the wider public. For example, it is considered perfectly normal, though not ideal, to conduct voice calls on public transport. Furthermore, I am comfortable in calling the landline of a male friend.  Also, the amount and frequency that Japanese teenagers use their mobile phones differs greatly to my personal use. Many of these differences are probably due to cultural variances but I think it’s fascinating how media and mobile technologies can reflect these. 

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