This University of Leeds LITE project (2017-2018) was conceived as a response to the ubiquity of the mobile phone and the ambivalence that often underpins its use within daily, educational and artistic settings. As we fumble through our bags and pockets to reach it; as we absentmindedly check it at regular intervals; as we intently look at its screen, over a text message, the photograph of a loved one, or the latest twitter feed, we negotiate complex unspoken and indeterminate behaviours that straddle both virtual and real realities.
Talk about ‘digital wellbeing’ and the condition of ‘nomophobia’ bring up further questions not only around social attitudes but also habits of perception and ways of being in the world. Are we too easily disrupted or should we be more connected? Are we in charge of our modes of attention or at the mercy of perceptual habits that remain below the threshold of awareness? Are we finding new ways to play and be creative or are we slavishly adopting products and gadgets, unwittingly sharing our valuable personal data along the way?
Our concern with these questions - as educators, performance practitioners, researchers, citizens and parents - formed the basis of this project. It seemed to us, from the very beginning, that these questions could be articulated, explored and re-cast through forms of creative inquiry, including but not restricted to ways of performance making. The project evolved into two distinct but interrelated strands, one focused on pedagogy and one focused on performance. Both strands engaged with the following core research questions:
- How might mobile phones contribute to digitally mediated forms of creativity?
- In what ways might learning and creative activities involving mobile phones allow us to advance alternative conceptualisations of attention?
The pedagogy strand consisted of a series of exercises as well as a set of mappings of the use of the mobile phone in the arts and its investigation as a cultural object by media and communication studies. The main focus of this strand was on how creative uses of the mobile phone, either those we had encountered in the practice of others or those we had developed as part of our own practice, could be framed into a set of exercises and prompts that we could use in our teaching. The aim was that this material would in turn enable students to incorporate the mobile phone within their evolving creative practices as well as reflect upon their own daily use.
The performance strand consisted of four public performances, which took place in various venues, and three smaller scale experiments. This strand explored the way the mobile phone can inform performance training as well as performance making. We engaged with notions of intermediality, immersion and site specificity and paid attention to the relation between the live and mediated components of the work, as well as the role of the mobile phone as a key interface within the performance event.Throughout the project we engaged with several aspects of the mobile phone, including basic functionalities, such as texting and voice messages, as well as two bespoke apps, Sonolope and MyTours.
In addition to using the phone in various ways, we assumed that a better understanding of cultures of mobile phone use, specific to the student population we were working with, could potentially inform the pedagogical and artistic aspects of the project as well as future policy. To this end, we held focus groups and we developed, in collaboration with students, a survey on Cultures of Mobile Phone Use as well as a set of follow up questions. Both the survey and the interviews were managed by undergraduate student researchers.
A number of people contributed to the project in a variety of ways. Dr Christina Papagiannouli offered workshops on the use of the mobile phone camera; Dr Chris Birchall invited us to his Mobile Media module and patiently tried to instruct us in using Thunkable; Dr Christine Farion ensured that Sonolope behaved. Pedro Sanchez Cervera and Clara Pop worked untiringly (and in the rain) on the creation of Feel/Hear/See/Do: A Digital Odyssey; Eddie Cohen, Reuben Dracup, and Colin Low developed the survey on cultures of mobile phone use and interviewed fellow students; and a great many students of the BA Theatre and Performance engaged with a series of exercises without complaint (sometimes in the rain, sometimes in the snow).
Special thanks finally go to Dr Rafe Hallett and David Gardner, who supported the project from the very beginning; Amanda Phillips for her support in the Leeds Art Gallery and Lucy Moore and Bobbie Robertson for their support at Temple Newsam House. Finally, a big thanks to Chris Taylor for assisting us in the creation of this website.