The pedagogy strand of the project aimed to explore the potential of different mobile phone functionalities for enabling creative exchanges - between people, people and sites, people and memories; for involving different senses, with an emphasis on the kinaesthetic as a primary means of making sense (meaning); and finally for cultivating modes of engagement that move beyond crude binaries between (focused) attention and (unfocused) disruption.
Through playful and creative experimentation we tried to address a tension that often underlies the presence of the mobile phone in social spaces, including learning contexts. Our own observations as well as our ongoing consultation with students, made us aware that students grapple with a contradiction between a habitual use of the mobile phone as part of their learning process, (e.g.to keep notes, communicate with their peers and accessing online teaching environments), and experiences of disruption, when the phone may become a source of voluntary or involuntary distraction during taught sessions or private study.
This experience is often couched in binary terms, whereby distraction is positioned as the opposite of attention, denoting an unplanned and often difficult to control change of focus. Against this discourse, at the heart of the pedagogical exploration is a search for the means that could foster a state of ‘polyattentiveness’, i.e. an ability to both direct one’s intentionality as well as remain open to one’s human and non-human surrounding within virtual and real spaces.
An additional overarching concern of the pedagogical exploration is how utilising the phone in the creative process may bring with it a series of habits associated with its use. For example, one of the main areas the students struggled with in the exercise 'Composition from Afar' was the communication of instructions. When asked to give instructions to their partners over the phone, the students often engaged in prolonged conversation that lacked clarity or precision and would take them away from the task. So, on one hand, the phone facilitated a way of working that exploits the mobility it affords; on the other hand, it brought with it a set of behaviours that were not conducive to the specific task. The development of the exercises attempted to recognise and negotiate this tension. What we found is that, despite the medium's relative recent popularisation, behaviours associated with the phone are deeply sedimented, and thus can remain below the threshold of awareness. Moreover, their suitability for any given task is highly contingent upon the task itself and the overall aims of the exploration. In other words, because the mobile phone is a multi-modal medium, its use in the creative process raises the question of which aspects of the phone will be incorporated and which may be shunned, on what grounds such decision needs to be made and how can then be implemented, especially if we bear in mind that some of these behaviours are normalised.
Each of the sections below details different ways in which the phone was used. At the same time, a negative space also emerges that includes all these other aspects of the phone that were not used and had to be, literally or figuratively, put on silent.