chapter  6
13 Pages

Digital inclusion and public space: the effect of mobile phones on intergenerational awareness and connection


This chapter uses the ‘mobilities’ lens to explore generational differences in terms of behaviour and attitudes surrounding mobile phone use in everyday public spaces. The mobile phone is a ready accomplice to all forms of contemporary mobility, from the everyday and mundane activities within a given neighbourhood through to the global travels of the ‘kinetic elite’ (Graham, 2002). As a communication device it provides a source of perpetual contact with significant others that enables the ongoing maintenance of emotional connections whilst on the move, enhancing feelings of physical and virtual proximity. Urry (2007) has suggested that an underlying motive for contemporary mobilities is the deepseated human need for physical proximity with our significant others, within what others have described as an ‘ontology of connection’ (Bissell, 2013). In short, our desire to be close to others drives our need to travel. Understanding the mobile phone’s relationship to intergenerational mobilities provides a view into the underlying dynamics of connection which motivate travel and define the interactional mores of co-presence travelling to and within everyday public spaces. In particular, this chapter focuses on the ways that different generations negotiate and prioritise their physical versus virtual co-presences whilst travelling through public city-centre spaces, examining the effect of mobile phones on experiences of intergenerational awareness and connection in these spaces. The study uses participant observation to draw out patterns of embodied techno-social behaviour in relation to different generations’ use of such technologies and then explores the underlying issues further with interviews, highlighting points of possible conflict and misunderstanding between generations. Implications are drawn in relation to the prioritising of physical versus virtual proximity, ongoing community cohesion, the design of future interactive public spaces and the need for a digitally inclusive approach to such spaces, which will accommodate all generations.