Revolution Lullabye

January 19, 2009

Swarts, “Mobility and Composition”

Swarts, Jason. “Mobility and Composition: The Architecture of Coherence in Non-places.” Technical Communication Quarterly 16.3 279-309.

This study, which looks at how veternarian students use their PDAs to find information and solve problems in the hospital, asks how mobile technologies like PDAs have challenged traditional notions of genre and interpretation and offers suggestions about how these technologies can be better designed to capitalize on the constraints and possibilites inherent in them. Swarts makes a distinction between places (actual physical locations) and non-places (virtual, transit reality), arguing that genres “point to and belong to places,” making it difficult for mobile technologies, situated in non-places, to translate them easily or usefully. The students using the PDAs in the study used elements of the technology, such as the search function, to find information quickly, but by doing so, they bypassed the content that could have given them a contextual grounding of the information, which would be useful in making their medical decisions. Swarts argues that when people design information for PDAs and mobile technologies, it should be in fundamental information units instead of traditional text (from Barthes), provide some contextual information (like publication, date, and audience), and allow for descriptive connective bookmarks between chunks of information to allow the user (who carries the burden for the interpreatation of the information) to create a “meaningful configuration of information” that can be saved and accessed again (306).

Quotable Quotes

“Place implies agents that are stationary and that are working in a stable environment. Non-place implies movement and action across environments” (281).

“Genres point to and belong to places. They embody routine work practices and habits of mind that are supported by surrounding props…The same genres also regularize activities by reinforcing habits of mind shared by those who inhabit a workplace. This ability to regulate and regularize…” (281).

“Mobile technologies accelerate the production of non-place” (282).

Notable Notes

Two kinds of movement in symbol-analytic work: distribution and coordination. “Distribution implies the movement of information outward, across space and time, and through different representational and technological forms. By contrast, coordination is movement toward consolidation, toward synchronization, toward control. The effort behind coordination is one that we often delegate to technologies that comprise the architecture of our work places” (279) Bahktin?

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