Trendwatching: Smartphones overtake 'dumb' phones worldwide

The Associated Press, 4/26/13

Research firm IDC said more smartphones than "dumb" phones are being made this year, a milestone in a shift that's putting computing power and Internet access in millions of hands worldwide. IDC said smartphones made up 51.6% of the 419 million mobile phones shipped.  In the U.S., smartphones overtook regular cellphones in 2011. IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said the shift to a global majority of smartphones is now being driven by consumers in developing countries such as China, India and Indonesia. The shift from phones primarily designed for calls, and perhaps texting, to ones with advanced operating systems and touch screens has roiled the cellphone industry.


Commentary: Are smartphones ruining art?

Sarah Howell, New Statesman magazine, 5/1/13

Using mobiles and tablets to document a live event is not only annoying to those around them -- it's also detrimental to the production itself. When you see an iPhone or iPad set to camera-mode during an event, it's rarely so the owner can enjoy the show over and over again at home: it's for sharing on social networks. And for artistic productions, this kind of exposure is damaging. Posting self-shot videos and photos of gigs, productions, performances and art exhibitions undermines the integrity of the original. Production teams work hard to create an image for their show, often selecting specific moments during the production to be shown to the press, while reserving others as surprises. Inevitably, if someone documents what they deem to be the best moments of a production and strew them over Twitter, you would be less inclined to bother spending money on going to see the show live. Arguably, footage posted on social media could be deemed as publicity, providing the show with free exposure. Social networks are now well-known for their ability to generate 'hype' about a certain product or event. But there's a reason why institutions like The Southbank Centre have a no filming policy: the joy of seeing a play or visiting an art installation is in the physical live experience. I'm not averse to technology fusing with the arts when it is complimentary. We may not be far away from a time where remote viewing becomes the norm and viewers can "visit" exhibitions using robots with iPad conectivity. It may not be the same as physically attending a gallery, but as least you will create an interpretation of the art based on your own experience of it. However, until the majority of performances and installations are created with smartphone technology in mind, pictures and videos published on social media networks are merely dumbed-down replicas of the original cultural product. Unrepresentative and misleading, they devalue the original production.


Commentary: Smartphones (and other tech) don't have to conflict with the arts

Anna Prushinskaya,, 4/11/13

How can technology enhance arts organizations' existing competitive edge of providing transformative, live arts experiences?  In Douglas Rushkoff's book Program or Be Programmed, he reminds us that often, technologies can seem to create distance between us and the present moment (for example, continuously checking your Twitter feed at a party to learn about what else is going on, instead of just hanging out at the party). These distancing technology-based experiences seem to conflict with the special experience of "presence" offered by the arts (that "competitive edge"). But technology and live performing arts don't have to conflict. Rushkoff argues that in order to effectively manage our digital world (and its possible conflict with "present" art experiences) we need the right digital skills. Would we, as arts leaders, tackle this pressing adaptive challenge more effectively with the "right" set of skills -- perhaps a background in media criticism and theory or better technology skills -- so that we can understand more fully the implications of our programs? I asked this question of activist, non-profit communicator, and media theorist Cayden Mak in a recent interview.

Anna Prushinskaya: You're an academic, but you're also a social media "wizard", and you often collaborate with people with "mixed" backgrounds when you work on events. How does working across various realms inform your thinking about innovation through technology?

Cayden Mak: A major thing that I've come to through various kinds of work is that people see technology in different ways. As a result, collaboration and sharing is incredibly important: the way I as a strategist, developer, and activist think about technology might be quite different from the way a musician, engineer, or entrepreneur does. And neither of those thought processes are inherently right or wrong. Sometimes the most innovative work is figuring out how to use an "old" technology in a new way, or through doing something "incorrectly." A lot of this has to do with understanding a technology tool's affordances and hacking them.

AP: What do you mean by "affordances"?

CM: A technology's affordances are the uses suggested to us by its design. What are the uses suggested by the design of your smartphone? Whose interests do those uses serve?

AP: You've also mentioned that the power of online campaigns isn't in getting someone to buy what you're selling, but in getting someone to buy your story. Do you think we need to have a theoretical background or better technology skills to do this more effectively?

CM: Early adopters, like young people, see right through a lot of coercive methods of attracting eyeballs through online campaigns. However, these users are also deeply moved by methods of engagement that hit them close to home and make them feel empowered and fired-up about something. When we roll out a campaign that gets people not just talking about and sharing our content, but adding their own, that's the biggest win we can get. It means we're tapping into something that's already there but needs to be articulated in a way that's accessible and meaningful. I don't think specialized knowledge is required to see and understand this "win" when it happens, but I do think that my background in media criticism and theory has helped me make this distinction between coercive and empowering technologies.

AP: Do you think there's any difference in an approach to the arts as opposed to an approach to a more "issue-based" non-profit or activist work?

CM: To a certain extent, I think that it's less about "industry" than it is about goals. If your goal, like ours, is to build a base of users who really care about something, whether that's arts programming or immigration reform, I think these lessons apply. So much of what works online is about getting critical masses of well-connected super-users to care about and share your work, but also getting users who have average levels of engagement to feel like their voice matters.

I think the shift in the way that small businesses, arts organizations, and activist-oriented internet "brands" are using the internet is indicative of problems with late capitalism, but it also points to a better future. Ultimately, the biggest mistake any of us can make is uncritically buying into narratives that either condemn media-based work as evidence of a broken culture or praise technology and media as our last great hope for a free and equal society.

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