Mobile hybridity: supporting personal and romantic relationships with mobile phones in digitally emergent spaces
Mobile phones are a global phenomenon and can be readily found in places as technologically disparate as Japan and sub-Saharan Africa. Their sociological impact in these diverse cultural and technological contexts is rich because, on top of serving practical functions related to communication, information exchange, and entertainment, the device holds complex symbolic meanings.This dissertation examines how mobile phones support intimate personal and romantic relationships in digitally emergent places, i.e., locations that are developing pervasive digital telecommunication and media infrastructure. Two field studies are reported here from post-colonial, digitally emergent settings. The first study in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, is a prelude to the main study in Bangalore, India. The Tashkent study provided a snapshot of mobile phone use that supports personal relationships. This study used interviews of mobile service providers, interviews of users and nonusers, and participant observation to describe the cultural, political, economic, and technological contexts that shape mobile phone use. The study revealed several social uses and symbolic meanings of mobile phones.The main study reported in this dissertation focuses on fieldwork with young people who work in the global 24/7 environment of Bangalore. This study used surveys, interviews, participant observation, and mobile diaries to document attitudes and behaviors surrounding mobile phone communication with family members and romantic partners. The study revealed that besides cultural influences, the participants' unique circumstances as people who have migrated to a new city and often work the graveyard shift affect their use of the mobile.This dissertation constructs a new theory of "mobile hybridity" that is framed by hybridity theory, or the evolution of new behaviors and spaces from the contact and fusion of multiple influences. The culturally shifting and blending landscape occupied by users often fractures their intimate relationships with physical distance or cultural differences. Cyborg, or seamlessly integrated, use of mobile phones helps users negotiate these relationships and the liminal spaces created by the close coupling of modern urban life with conservative social values, the co-existence of the global and the local, and the tension experienced by young people who want to be independent but also connected with loved ones.