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We chance upon people staring at their mobile screens just about everywhere, and in places and situations which would have been considered unacceptable at one point in time. For example, in operation theatres at hospitals, courtrooms, office meetings, classrooms, etc. It is believed that technology is so much at our disposal that we no longer look up from our screens to appreciate the surroundings or while moving around busy streets and areas.

It is becoming a game of trying not to bump into each other while walking the streets or into cars when crossing the roads, for an incentive of not going offline. Especially in public spaces, people prefer to isolate themselves in the bubble of individualism, which ironically defeats the purpose of public spaces.


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The issues point towards a change in social behaviors, but at this point, it is important to understand whether the changes are entirely due to technology? People staring in their mobile screens at a bus-stop in New York, Source: Author. Potentials of mobile technology in connecting people. Even though the above concerns are legitimate, there is an underlying layer of positivity to the use of technology. Beyond our beliefs of increasing number of mobile users in public domain, there is a rationale for our changing behaviors in social settings which need not necessarily stem out from the branch of technology.

The ubiquitous nature of mobile connections makes it difficult to establish predictable social rules around its use in public places. Majority of times, users walk away while talking on mobiles due to lack of privacy leaving their companions behind, while the bystanders also experience a sense of insensitiveness due to ignorance of mobile users.

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The development of this individualistic behavior is often perceived as an outcome of technology alone. But, there are studies that suggest that social expectations and dilemmas increase with the introduction of new technologies, irrespective of the change in core usage these technologies demand.

Some people feel socially uncomfortable and obligated to talk to people around them in small gatherings whereas are extremely comfortable in unrestricted urban spaces. Sociologist Erving Goffman portrays people to be actors in the social environment themed drama where each of us plays different roles and depending on the surroundings, we tend to act and react in very different ways in response to other actors. As per a research conducted by Pew Research Center about mobile etiquette, people use their mobile phones in social settings for purposes related to gatherings they might be attending in terms of looking up information about where they are going and people they are planning to see, or to coordinate get-together with others, catch up with family and friends, connecting with new people at there.

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With such extensive use of smartphones and support of social media we have created a world that enables us to stay connected, express views, share information and thoughts, photos, videos, and navigate our way, etc. It has made it possible to organize family events, connect with people around the globe, foster business opportunities and find solutions to majority of problems. By geo-tagging data and documenting places, we are making it possible for researchers and scientists to collect data and get insights about the spatial, temporal and social context of distant places.

There are many positive outcomes of mobile technology which is why we are so fascinated by it. As we increasingly use mobiles in our daily lives to ease our tasks, and document our experiences, we exchange some values with our surroundings thereby changing the use of public spaces in many ways. The introduction of smartphones started real time point-to-point communication, and its convergence with wireless networks and cloud computing has created a world of immersive technology.

It is a common practice these days to use social media in public places for documenting and informing people about events in our lives. The rise of digital information and communication technologies intersects with development of urban form in several key ways. People own mobile phones and as their subscriptions continue to rise, so do greater social challenges.

Designing public spaces to accommodate behavior changes. Public spaces offer an opportunity to connect people in physical as well as their social interface. A combination of these two studies offers a foundation for understanding social uses and effects of mobile phones in public places and specifically, how would the technology change the influence social behavior and how would the traditional use of landline phones change when phones can be used dynamically in urban context. This foundation would be useful in creating models that could initiate cross talks and interactions between people in the public areas in the future.

The sight of people using mobile phones in public places defeats the purpose of such social spaces. Perceived isolation of people using their devices is due to the irrational provision of wireless technology in these spaces as well as the design of the spaces.

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New technologies develop faster than we create new urban spaces. Thus, urban elements of today may not communicate to the technologies of tomorrow. Mindful design interventions in public spaces can enable subtle behavior changes for mobile users and this can be done by accommodating for new technologies but maintaining the social communications intact. Design for behavior change. Easy access to network promotes use of mobiles and divides the attention of users from their surroundings.

A solution in the form of dedicated areas such as smoking zones or Speakers corner in London can be allotted for the use of mobile devices. Like the practice of telephone booths, it might help to give clear indication for using the phone without disrupting expectations of the gathering. Pic 3. Design for response. Mobile phone use in public spaces is more than a gesture of interaction with the person at the other end of the phone, it is also an interaction of the user with their local context at the same time. To respond to multi-layered interactions, a system that can automatically connect the surroundings to our devices and reduce the need for manual attention might help change double interactions between person-to-person and person-to-mobile simultaneously to single interactions between person-to-person.

For example, design of responsive street furniture makes use of mobiles to connect with street furniture and urban elements like traffic signals, street lights, etc.

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Pic 4. Responsive street furniture, Source: www. Design for interactions. Public places are most successful if they offer diverse options of use. It is not a necessary to layer technology on top of the other elements to find solutions. Tangible elements as simple as seatings are as powerful in providing a solution as any other.

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All over the world, various experiments have been done to design seatings in public spaces that would encourage interactions between people. These can be static or even playful in its design which, in turn, sparks more co-ordination within the group. Pic 5. Design for collaborations. Collaboration is the best the way to get people to interact with each other. Designers have a responsibility of providing solutions that can balance the needs of all the stakeholders as well returning the public spaces to the citizens.

As a response to this need, collaborative installation art is becoming a popular choice for people, designers as well as companies. For example, Unnumbered Sparks, an interactive community artwork by Janet Echelman and Aaron Koblin in Vancouver, Canada gives the power to the mobile users to become artists and paint the floating canvas.

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Pic 6. Design for incentives. A common practice is to make use of the existing elements and accentuate these for supporting interactions between people. For example, a common observation about public places is the presence of advertisement boards, billboards, screens, etc. As their numbers keep rising for commercial benefits, average person is left pondering over the overpowering information around, for example; Times square, New York.

Pic 7. Design for play.


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Playful interactions are well received by all age groups and offer a great way to negotiate and collaborate with strangers. The dependent variables comprised of the two categories used in the de -Sola et al. As can be seen in Table 4 , the results revealed that three variables: age, handheld mobile phone use while driving, and education level, were capable of differentiating between Normal Users and Problematic Users. More specifically, it was found that an individual is more likely to be a deemed as a Problematic User if they use a handheld mobile phone while driving and belong to either the 18—24 or 25—59 year old age group.

However, participants currently enrolled in or who completed TAFE education compared to those who are studying or graduated from university are less likely to be classified as Problematic Users. An item-level analysis was conducted comparing scores from the study conducted by Bianchi and Phillips 29 and the current study.

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