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Locating Mobility: Practices of co-presence and the persistence of the postal metaphor in SMS/ MMS mobile phone customization in Melbourne

Keywords: mobile communications , mobile phones , customization

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One of the marked features of ICT’s (Information and Communication Technologies) mobility (literal and electronic) is the role of customization in location (Castells, 2001; Manovich, 2001). When we think of "customizing" mobile phones we often summon up an image of techno-savvy places such as Tokyo where the outside of the mobile phone (keitai) is adorned with a plethora of cute (kawaii) characters in, for example, the style of Hello Kitty. Indeed, much of the Asia-Pacific region seems characterized by seemingly every form of mobile phone adornment. One could be mistaken, then, for thinking that Melbourne is out of place in the mobile flows of the region. However, Melbourne demonstrates that customization can also occur inside the mobile phone. Customization is not just a matter of wallpapers and ringtones. It is also the case that customizing of applications such as SMS (Short Message Service) speaks of specific processes of subjectivity, cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1984[1979]; McVeigh, 2003) and locality (Massey, 1993). Such internal customization operates as an important mode for users to become active producers in the extension of conventions of the emerging genre.Once just an application used for its simplicity and affordability, SMS has grown to be an enduring mode of mobile phone communication (Goggin, 2004). The resilience and evolution of SMS practices has resulted in it surpassing the role of a "making-do" application; SMS has grown to accommodate particular modes of etiquette and to signify gestures of intimacy. I argue that SMS customization is central to a personalizing and localizing of remediated technologies (Bolter and Grusin, 1999) that is best understood as a persistence of the postal metaphor. As a remediated genre reminiscent of such genres as the 18th century visiting card (Milne, 2004), SMS and its practices of co-presence need to be understood in terms of earlier genres of telepresence and intimacy . In order to discuss some of the contemporary practices of co-presence in the light of the postal, I turn to a sample study of Melbournian mobile phone users.


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