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June 28, 2007 |

A few years ago, I was part of a collaborative fieldwork project with colleagues at my lab at Keio and at Intel’s People and Practices group. We did data collection in three global cities — London, Los Angeles and Tokyo — looking at what young professionals carried around with them in locations outside of home and office. We were interested in issues of device convergence and how portable media players and different aspects of financial transactions were moving to the digital space.

Since then, Daisuke Okabe and I have been conducting a longer term follow on in this work, focusing on Tokyo. We’re following a more diverse set of participants over two years, looking at how their “portable kit” changes over time. Other than a short essay, we still have not published the results of this current research, but we’ve just completed a draft of a paper on the initial three-city study. I’ve posted it here.

This work on portable kits is in many ways an extension of our work on text messaging, but it has really challenged us to develop new conceptual frameworks. Unlike the text messaging and camera phone work, the work on portable objects does not center on interpersonal communication and sharing. Instead, the focus is on more impersonal and instrumental kinds of interactions such as financial transactions, and interfacing with infrastructures. We’ve had to delve into literature related to urban space, infrastructures and finances that has taken as far afield from the work on social relations that was central to our earlier mobile phone work.

Our current paper looks specifically at the ways in which people use portable objects to customize their relationships to urban places and infrastructures. We set up three different “genres of presence” in urban space that rely on the use of portable informational objects: cocooning, camping, and footprinting. Please take a look at the paper if you are curious about what these mean :).