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Following the smartphone: Ethnography of the emergent urban cultures of networked individuals

Following the smartphone:Ethnography of the emergent urban cultures of networked individuals

principal investigator
Mirosław Filiciak
Ph.D. / Associate Professor

Cultural researcher specializing in the relationship between new media and cultural participation

Full bio
project value: PLN 734,833
funding source : National Science Center
discipline: culture and religion studies
research center: Institute of Humanities
location: Warsaw
duration: 2020 2021 2022 2023

According to the Office of Electronic Communication, three out of four Poles use smartphones on daily basis. Although these devices may seem to be just more advanced versions of first mobile phones, their technological capabilities and functionalities place them in a category of microcomputers, which can be customized by dedicated apps that significantly transform user behavior. Thanks to GPS capabilities and transportation services apps, such as Uber, smartphones have changed how people function in urban spaces. They provide new possibilities of telecommuting and consumption of entertainment. Applications such as Facebook or Tinder have reshaped the architecture of social and intimate relationships, by changing interpersonal and social dynamics and extending or intensifying social networks. However, despite the scale and sudden character of these transformations, reflections on the subject remain largely in the journalistic sphere and are often tinted with anecdotal data and didactic narration concerning corrosion of human relations and threats of addiction.

Assumptions

In 2010, Professor Mirosław Filiciak, together with his team, published a report “Młodzi i media” (English version “Youth and Media” was published in 2013). It contained the results of an ethnographic study focused on the use of new technologies by young Poles. It showed how new technologies became intertwined with all aspects of daily lives of young adults, including  activites such as following ones interests, learning, archiving of memories as well as friendships, and romantic relationships. The report became quite popular and it was often cited in academic publications and in mass media.

Ten years later, the project aims to update findings in the context of rapidly changing field of technology, but also to make significant methodological corrections. The last decade in media studies has focused not only on what people do with their devices, but also how devices mine users’ personal data and how they influence users’ lives. The researchers want to document how smartphones reshape both the private and the public spheres.

Methodology

The project explores how individuals representing diverse social groups (e.g. social status, level of education, income, and age) use new personalized, portable technologies, which are carriers of networked individualism. The study focuses on Warsaw, because in a big city a network of relationships built around smartphones is much denser than in smaller municipalities. Furthermore, there is a gap concerning the use of smartphones in Central Europe in the global scholarship, as most studies focus on the most technologically advanced centers, such as California, Japan, and Korea or on peripheral spaces of the Global South. In this context, the post-Soviet, semi-peripheral city of Warsaw, which has been experiencing a rapid growth in wealth and a widening wealth-gap, is a compelling research site. The study follows smartphones and their users representing different social classes, ethnicities, genders, ages as well as education and income levels. Researchers observe local residents of Warsaw, commuters, and migrants. The results of these ethnographic observations and interviews will be juxtaposed with other data sources, including expert interviews, discourse analysis, and quantitative data gathered from smartphones obtained with their users’ consent.

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