Living Inside Mobile Social Information

April 29-30, 2013 at Boston University

An Experts' Workshop & Public Panel Discussion

Public Panel Discussion

Small Wonder:
An exploration of knowing something about anything

Monday, April 29, 4:30 p.m.
The Castle at Boston University
225 Bay State Road, Boston

The panel discussion is free and open to the public. No registration is required, but seating is limited. We ask that attendees arrive promptly at 4:15 to sign-in.

Featured Presenters

Peppino Ortoleva

Peppino Ortoleva

Scott W. Campbell

Scott W. Campbell

Genevieve Bell of Intel Labs was originally scheduled to present but she regrettably cannot attend. Rich Ling will present with Scott Campbell.

Homo ludicus on the move. The ubiquity of play and the fragmentation of time

Peppino Ortoleva
Università di Torino


The basic concepts. Among the phenomena typical of the contemporary world (from the late 1980s to the present) two are central: (1) the growing role of ludic activities in personal relations and in individual pleasure, and the growing portion of time dedicated by a growing percentage of population in the Western world to various kinds of play; (2) the multiplication of human-machine forms of ludicity. These range from classic video- and computer-games, to more recent casual games, and the web games that are ³social² but also technology-centered, like Slotomania and the multiplication of on line gambling.

To understand the first central aspect I have proposed the concept of homo ludicus, in opposition/complementarity to the classic homo ludens defined in the 1930s by Johan Huizinga: while in the traditional forms of ludicity, starting at least from school age (following the studies of Lev Vygotskij and Jean Piaget) games have to be separated from ordinary life by visible frame in Bateson's terms, we are now witnessing an intermixing of playful and 'serious' activities in many moments of daily life. Homo ludicus is a species that tends to play everywhere and in many different moments of life, and to live experiences and to accumulate knowledge in terms of puzzles to be composed and re-composed along the way. It is a species that conjugates forms of play generally defined as 'adult', from gambling to sport spectatorship (itself a form of pleasure based on the indirect but very intense participation to a form of agon in Caillois' terminology) with the new life of other play forms generally considered more infantile, based on vertigo.

Coming to the second central aspect, playing with machines is one of the ways by which humans adapt to a world where non-human agents are more and more: doing so they use now a deeply rooted resource. Whereas, in Giambattista Vico's terms, ³it is typical of children to handle inanimate things and, while playing, talk to them as if they were alive; [and always according to Vico, they act as poets, for] the most sublime task of poetry is to give meaning and passion to meaningless things², playing with machines is in the age of artificial intelligence an evolutionary behavior, for people and machines. This of course continues well beyond childhood.

Ubiquity, fragmentation and the role of mobile media The ubiquity of play typical of what I call homo ludicus is strictly tied to the fragmentation of time and activities that have accompanied the diffusion of tools for communication (and for information processing) on the move. While Huizinga's 'magic circle' required its own ritualized time and space, that of modern times has been distributed across the leisure time of adolescents and adults. The urbanized and de-institutionalized quality of contemporary life offers many situations, ranging from a few seconds to full hours, that are ready to be filled by play (with our social connections or with machines themselves).

Mobile media, from smart phones to tablets, make us ready to abandon or resume play at any moment as the situation requires. On the other hand, since playing is among the major adaptive resources of the species, it is by playing that we learn to live in an ever-less stable world. Thus, by accepting its paradoxes, they become both the better source of pleasure and a more effective social tool.

The case of the missing phone: Implications of Google Glass for the embeddedness of mobile communication

Scott Campbell & Joseph Bayer
Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan

Rich Ling
IT University of Copenhagen


This “working paper” serves as a narrative to support of our presentation at the “Living inside mobile social information” workshop at Boston University on April 29, 2013. The aim of our talk is two-fold. First, we will introduce a new theoretical framework for understanding the role of mobile communication – as a social practice – in contemporary social life. Actually, the framework advanced here is not entirely new. As we explain, it is an expansion of Ling’s (2012) recent theory building on the “taken-for-grantedness” of mobile communication. Heavily drawing from the tradition of macro-sociology, Ling’s perspective offers a new way of understanding the consequences of mobile communication at the societal level. In our talk, we attempt to expand this perspective to account for recent changes in human orientation toward mobile communication at the cognitive level. In that sense, we are essentially attempting to bridge the gap between sociology and psychology, offering a synthesized model of how heightened expectations for accessibility have not only altered the structure of society, but also worked their way into conscious and unconscious cognitive processes that underlie human behavior. With that framework in place, we will then segue into the second major goal of our presentation, which addresses the implications of Google Glass in a society where mobile communication – again, as a social practice – has become a taken-for-granted social fact. We are particularly interested in highlighting the ways this new, or at least expanded, theoretical framework can provide guidance in developing new lines of inquiry to understand how Google Glass and its novel social affordances may have distinctive implications for the ways people relate to the technology, each other, and society.

Scientific Advisory Board

  • Naomi Baron, American University
  • Nancy Baym, Microsoft Research
  • Genevieve Bell, Intel
  • András Benedek, Budapest University of Technology and Economics
  • Scott Campbell, University of Michigan
  • Andre Caron, University of Montreal
  • Letizia Caronia, University of Bologna
  • Deven Desai, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
  • Jonathan Donner, Microsoft Research
  • Leopoldina Fortunati, University of Udine
  • Gerard Goggin, University of Sydney
  • Joachim Höflich, University of Erfurt
  • Christian Licoppe, Department of Social Science Telecom Paristech
  • Richard S. Ling, IT University of Copenhagen
  • Yu-li Liu, National Chengchi University
  • Vic Nalwa,
  • Kristóf Nyiri, Budapest University of Technology and Economics
  • Elin Rønby Pedersen, Google Research
  • Satomi Sugiyama, Franklin College Switzerland