Castells, Manuel, Jack Linchuan Qui, Mireia Fernández-Ardévol, Araba Sey.. Mobile Communications and Society: A Global Perspective. Cambridge Mass., 2006. Pp. xii + 331. $29.95.
“[T]he purpose of this book is to use social research to answer the questions surrounding the transformation of human communication by the rise and diffusion of wireless digital communication technologies.” The first two chapters review statistics describing the diffusion of wireless communication in various regions of the world and among various social groups. Most of the world’s population is using wireless as the entry to electronic communication, probably because of the paucity of fixed line alternatives. Text messaging is widely used in Europe and slightly used in North America. As people move to urban areas from rural places they have a major need for communication, which mobile phones are meeting. As lower income consumers embrace mobile communications, providers are offering lower cost services. From a low-income customer point-of-view, mobility is not of great importance—most of the phones stay in the household, guarded by the mother. Prepaid service, phone cards, are the dominant method of paying for service, and lower income customers spend much of their discretionary cash on such, evidently to the detriment of food, especially snack retailers. Mobile phones influence everyday life in important ways: they keep company staff relentlessly connected; they micro-coordinate families; they transform sociability; they are perceived as improving safety and security. Youth culture has dramatically embraced mobile communications; patterns are described from Europe, the United States, and the Asian Pacific. Mobil communications change the nature of space and time, creating a space that is both local and global, and desequencing activities by compressing time or allowing a random ordering of actions. Text messaging appears to be influencing the writing skills of young people, especially outside the United States. Wireless communication has had significant influence in political affairs. President Estrada lost an election in the Philippines, partly at least because massive demonstrations were organized by cell phone. Similarly, in Korea, when exit polls indicated Roh Moo-Hyun was behind (at 11:00 AM) his supporters created a surge of emails urging young people to vote and Roh was elected. In Spain, in 2004, individual activists used their cell phone address books to send messages that were perceived as true, in contrast to the information presented on government-controlled television; the government lost the ensuing election. Mobile communications appears to have much potential for supporting development in the Third World. Although cost and regulatory issues have been problems, entrepreneurs and users have found solutions. This chapter was evidently written in 2005, and much has been accomplished since then in making cell phones generally available, at least in Africa. The case studies included are based in China, India, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, and Chile. The perspective of most of the book’s content is from the social sciences. Important issues are described and much research, especially outside the United States, is summarized. Wireless networks will certainly have a very important influence on most spheres of society in the future and the direction of change is not quite clear—the book helps clarify the issues.