Tracks and Traces: How the Mobile Phone ‘Fixed’ Driving

By Jenny Weight.

Published by Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

How we understand and use of personal technologies is flavoured by historical, cultural and geographical factors. A case in point is the nexus formed by the private car, the mobile phone and one of the arenas in which these devices are used, our urban streets.
Our experience of urban streets seems to be simultaneously familiar but anonymous, boring but dangerous, local but networked to national and international communications and transportation grids. Designed for vehicles, pedestrians seem reduced to trespassers when they venture between the curbs. Meanwhile, drivers experience urban streets as if they were a metaphorical desert.
The interior of contemporary car, enriched with communications and media devices including radio and CD player, assuages the experience of driving through urban streets. More recently, the mobile phone has found its niche on the ‘passenger seat’ by our side. Other networked, data-rich devices are also finding their place on our consoles. Driver experience has become ameliorated—and even mediated—by personal media and communication technology.
The mobile phone has become central to the suite of media and communications technologies in car interiors. Cars and phones are seen as personal technologies; unlike public telecommunications and transportation systems such as the telegraph, we psychologize their significance, and withdraw, through their use, from collective engagement.
The psychologization of private car and mobile phone has the effect of separating us from the public, urban street and ‘immunizing’ us from its threats. In particular, the mobile phone distracts us from the materiality and territoriality of urban streets, sometimes with unfortunate results. Alternative ways of conceptualizing these personal technologies, reflected in new designs, reconciles communication and transportation and decreases the dangers that currently characterize their combination.

Keywords: Driving, Automobility, Mobile Phone, Cell Phone, Urban, Telecommunication, Crash

Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.73-84. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 927.137KB).

Dr. Jenny Weight

Lecturer, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Jenny Weight is a researcher and lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. She completed her PhD in the field of networked media in 2007. Since then she has been interested in exploring how humans and technologies are combined to create systems of technosocial behaviour. Many of these projects have engaged with the problematic of space; how it is coopted by humans and their technologies to produce new solutions and tensions within our increasingly complex urban environments.