People feel similar affection for mobile phones as for other people

The master’s thesis “The Mobile Phone in the Hands of the Nepalese People: A Humanistic Perspective of Technology", defended in the Department of Ethnology of the University of Tartu in January, demonstrates clearly that the phone has become our inseparable companion, cure for loneliness and best friend.

According to the author of the thesis Merilin Piipuu, her aim was to study how people use and make sense of technology. “I was interested in how we relate to something or someone, but from the aspect of the person’s everyday experience rather than the experience of a user. Several philosophers and anthropologists like Martin Heidegger and Michael D. Jackson have argued that people relate to technology like to another living creature – one day we are in control, another time we are controlled,” said Piipuu.

Merilin Piipuu studied how people relate to mobile phones in 2014 in Nepal, which has undergone fast and dramatic technological progress in the last decade. Although the research focused on the experience of the specific people in their specific context, this approach will definitely give inspiration to other similar studies. During ethnographical fieldwork conducted in Nepal, the author assessed people’s experience in using the mobile phone. The study revealed that on the one hand, the Nepalese people regard the mobile phone as an everyday item that allows them to be more mobile and flexible and also to solve critical situations. On the other hand, the mobile phone is described as causing immobility and social detachment. “The mobile phone enables people to communicate and organise their life without virtually leaving home, but at the same time they are not really together with others at home, because while talking on the phone or using the phone, people shut themselves off from the surrounding social space,” explained Piipuu.

All participants in the study admitted that the mobile phone was controlling their life and they felt powerless against technological developments. For example, none of the researched individuals was capable of leaving home without the mobile phone and when they did, they felt a “part of them” was missing. This means that a mobile phone is not just a “part of the individual” but to some extent also has power over the person’s actions and behaviour. “When a person is alone, the phone is their best friend. The phone also plays a significant role in interpersonal communication. This gives the mobile phone an important emotional charge, which in turn means that people feel a similar affection for the phone as for other people. However, if the phone fails to subject to our control, it causes irritation, anger and the feeling of inadequacy,” said the author of the thesis about people’s emotional involvement with the everyday item.

Additional information: Merilin Piipuu, UT graduate (ethnology and folkloristics), piipuu@gmail.com

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