April 29, 2013: Living Inside Mobile Social Information

About the Experts’ Workshop

About the Public Panel Discussion

Small Wonder: An exploration of knowing something about anything

Interested to learn about future workshops and our MA and PhD programs in Emerging Media Studies? Join our list.

What will social life be like when each of us has instant personal information about those around us? It is easy to conjure utopian and dystopian visions of this future. By contrast, the purpose of this workshop is to draw upon empirical evidence we already have to construct frameworks for rigorous understandings of these likely changes. Emerging technologies are increasingly offering mobile people convenient heads-up displays of situationally relevant data on an individualized basis. Such data could be based on cues such as eye-tracking or physical location in an environment. Data streams could include co-location of friends, commercial offers, tourist information, news and sports updates, and even running scans of personal characteristics of passers-by on the street. When chatting with friends, voice stress analysis and other psychological state indications could be detected and displayed to users. A host of issues will arise as people begin interacting with these technologies which will likely engage a gamut of utopian and dystopian possibilities. Google offers a point-of-view video characterizing what life might be like.

Having readily accessible information concerning the ambient environment is for many an exciting prospect though for others it is a source of concern and distress. Yet despite strong reactions to these developments, commentary on how such technologies may affect social relations and individuals’ internal states has too often remained the province of casual commentators.

By contrast, drawing on research – including on topics such as ubiquitous and immersive computing, media and locational badges, and distributed context-aware applications – insights may be available concerning interactions that future users may face. Historical analogies should also prove illuminating. The purpose of this workshop therefore is to move past casual speculation and instead draw on systematic social-science based analyses of relevant issues regarding interaction under mobile conditions when information, especially socially relevant information, is widely available.


James E. Katz, Ph.D., is the Feld Professor of Emerging Media at Boston University’s College of Communication. In addition, he directs its Division of Emerging Media Studies. The Division addresses the process of how new media technologies are created and introduced to users, the effects they have on users, and how technologies and the content they produce are molded, co-constructed and re-constructed by users.