Fantastic Journey, Emotional Journey: Mobile Media as Emotive Performance

Curator's Note

Mobile phones have long been the focus of discussions concerning their role in identity construction. Handsets are carefully chosen (are you an iPhone person or a Blackberry person?); wallpapers display loved ones or favourite celebrities; time and money is spent selecting the right ringtone. Our taste is visibly or audibly displayed via the small box carried around in our pocket. A similar identity display occurs when engaging with audio-visual content on a portable device. In the ‘Fantastic Journey’ Virgin mobile media advert on the left, a man’s multimedia mobile phone transforms the space around him into the space on screen. In reality, this leaking of screen text into physical space becomes a display of our cultural taste. Unlike with music, where headphones separate the individual’s engagement from those around them, when watching or playing visual media our taste in gaming, film or television is displayed to anyone in sight of the smartphone, iPod or laptop screen (even if the sound isn’t).

But engaging with narrative media is distinct from ringtones and wallpapers as it is not just our taste in audio-visual media that is displayed, it is also our emotional reactions to that media; we act out an ‘emotive performance’ whilst watching them. At one point, the advert’s protagonist reacts to the imagined woman sharing his carriage touching him, only for the advert to cut to his hand reaching towards the stranger who is actually sitting in front of him. It is not just his tastes that are displayed but his emotional reaction (his desire for the woman he is seeing on the screen) to them. Traditionally, audio visual fictional content has been watched at home or in the contained space of the cinema where engagement is shared with those around us. As such any unhappiness at a favourite character’s death, or laughter at a particularly funny sitcom, or outburst over the frustration of losing a level of a game, is either confined to the private spaces of the home or part of a communal experience where others are likely to be laughing or crying along with us. Portable, personal media devices take that emotional engagement out into a public space where we are the only ones involved in that engagement. Our emotive performances of audio-visual media engagement then become subject to the observation and judgement of others, something that is potentially discomforting. The question then becomes how these performances play out and how our relationship to both media and shared space may be changing because of them.



Thanks for bringing up the notion of emotional performance.  What a great way to end the mobile media week by moving from performance of the city to performance of identity/community/the self to the performance of emotion.  I often have to check myself and my reactions to music when listening to my iPod in public, and you raise an interesting question about whether monitoring our reactions to visual content is more difficult.  Also, as you point out, visual media use on handsets is more easily monitored by bystanders. 

Being a Virgin ad, I can't help but note the way that gender and heterosexuality are put on display in this ad, and the way that these gendered and heterosexualized fantasies of mobility are part of the Virgin empire.  

This is a really cool post to end the week.  Thanks for sharing.

Mobile media users create their personal spaces and show their emotional reactions toward to the mobile media contents in public with/without self-perceptions.  Your post reminded me one of the PEW findings.  In 2006, “82% of all Americans and 86% of cell users report being irritated at least occasionally by loud and annoying cell users who conduct their calls in public places.”  On the other hand, only 8% of the participants admit “they themselves have drawn criticism or irritated stares from others when they are using their cell phones in public.”

I often enjoy observing how mobile phone users’ emotional reactions toward to their mobile phone calls/ SMS/ and ringtones.  I sometime observe mobile music users’ non-verbal behavior in public.  Sometime, they have a very big smile before they make or receive their mobile phone calls/ SMS (before the conversation).  Sometime, they are pacing around in frustration.  I don’t have chances to observe how people watch their mobile TV on the move yet.  Thanks again for sharing.

Elizabeth, a great final addition to the mobile media week! Since Ben's post at the beginning of the week, I've been thinking about some of the promises made in mobile media ads in order to sell their product/service, especially in relation to the shared space of the city.

I think this Virgin ad is a good reminder that in most cases for mobile media to "work" or function properly, they're expected to be immersive -- which is represented through ones relationship with urban space in some way. Through the use of mobile media in this ad and others, the shared space of the city seems to transform into some sort of augmented reality playground, simulated space, or a preferred space that emotional/affective reactions to songs or games illicit.

Slightly in conjunction with Ben's question, I wonder if the representation of emotion as immersive in mobile media ads is gendered. For example, I've noticed in other ads that immersion in mobile media is represented as distraction from city space for women, and as entering into a parallel or personalized, vibrant, simulated space for men.

In any case, this is a very interesting addition to the questions we've been asking this week about public/private; shared/personalized categories, activities, and spaces.

Hi everyone and thanks for the responses. It's been a really interesting week and some parallels between the different columns are really coming out.

The issue of gender does seem to be something that is particularly significant in terms of how comfortable people are with using media in public space. In other research I've done with mobile television audiences, the female participants expressed far more concern over being seen by other people than the men did. Although the sample was small there was the suggestion of some gender bias there, with male participants being more concerned with technical aspects such as the small screen. How these gender relations play out is something that I think more research could be done on.

The issue of immersion also comes into play here - it's far more difficult to become immersed in something if you feel uncomfortable and an increased awareness of being on display could easily lead to such discomfort. What really comes across is how complex the relationship between engagement with audio-visual media and space is. The space of such engagement used to be quite stable, but is becoming increasingly diverse. The question of how we deal with that diversity is both unanswered and highly interesting

This is an intriguing conversation. The discussion reinforces how intertwined our interactions have become in this digital age. The fusion of our private/personal space with the wider world has become almost unavoidable with the immediacy of mobile  communications. Like it or not, our emotions are often "exposed." Questions that come to mind are: How do we behave in that "open-faced" reality? Do we want to be there? What are the benefits? What are the risks?

I do believe a person's cell ringtones can tell you something about them. It's almost an expression of your creativity a bit of yourself that you are sharing with the rest of the world. It's really great that there are so many awesome ringtones available at our fingertips. Practically anything can be a ringtone these days, and thus it really provides an outlet for creativity.

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