Observing the Social Life of
Today’s Adolechnic
Tools Used,
Rituals Invented,
Places Visited,
Spaces Created,
Worlds Inhabited
Todd Joseph Miles Holden
Tohoku University
Why this Paper
There was an open slot on the
 We have had a lot of talk about
“Japanese youth” this weekend
• But less focus on Japanese adolescents
I have engaged in grounded theory of
cell phone use before
• Particularly with regard to deai-kei sites
Why this Paper
This time, I wanted an excuse to:
• do some ethnography
• think about mediation
• And “sociation”
as it relates to a social group that is largely ignored
in discussions of this particular technology in Japan
• And how this links to issues of ritual
Well, that was the first open slot I started writing this
paper for
• Then “Space”
Which was the second open slot
And so… here it is
My ethnography found that those I
observed use their keitai…
as an artistic tool
A way of surveilling the environment
A Way of Communicating with
(Don’t you think this
guy is handsome?!)
この人 だいーーーー
(I just love him
sooooooo much!!!!)
Also as a Way of Ritualizing Social
• In the sociological (i.e.
utilitarian) sense
Regularized pattern of
interaction/conducting daily life
• Thereby making community ties
>「 かわいいでしよ。(^_^)
-- mail from a friend (with an
attached photo of the family pet
Through this I discovered
what I will call
“The Adolechnic”
About the User: The Adolechnic
Characteristics of the Adolechnic:
• Young (pre- and early-) teens
• Savvy in the way of machines
Primed in their early years on Role Playing
• Comfortable with the concepts of:
Exploring uncharted, deep, hidden spaces
• And employing their tools and
expeditionary activities to remake, if not
create new worlds
The Adolechnic:
• An inventor of worlds
• Uses Technology positively, without trouble or
quandary as an instrument of creation
• Seeks information (from instruction manuals):
without frustration;
with a patience that exceeds most other tasks in their
with an optimistic demeanor;
with curiosity;
with clear goals in mind;
with concrete results
In Short
Unlike some writings about keitai use and
modern tools of communication
• I found keitai to be highly integrative
Connective to others
• As opposed to studies which have seen them as
privatizing or “interiorizing” (e.g. McVeigh 2003)
• And articulating with… and reproductive of…
the logics and “systems” of society:
• Economic
• Political
• Cultural
In Short
When keitai connects, however, it
does so in non-space
• For the most part keitai does not bring
speakers together physically
• Except in cases where the surrounding situation
is specified, the speakers/writers remain in their
own worlds
• They do not transport themselves into their
partner’s space
• Nor do they meet in any mediate, or remote
“third place”
First Things First:
About the Observation
Who I observed:
• My children
14 year old girl (Maya)
13 year old boy (Alex)
What I observed:
• Their first days using two cell phones we bought
for the family
This included (some) access to their actual messages
• Provided with their approval
• The pictures that they took and shared with friends
How I observed:
• Non-structured, non-scheduled questions and
• Viewing their behavior with the machines in the
flow of their daily lives
About the Observation
Where I observed:
my office
the car
public places (such as restaurants)
When I observed:
• On the way to and from activities such as ballet,
piano lessons, soccer and school
• As the children took unscheduled breaks from
• Before and after dinner
• Prior to their taking baths
• Just before they went to sleep
• During their visits to my workplace
• On family holiday
First Encounters: Preorganized activities
As soon as we bought the phones:
• In the car, on the ride home, the boxes
were open and the kids were already
working the buttons on the phones
Gender Differences?
My son tried to do everything
without a manual
 My daughter was more
interested in going through the
booklet step-by-step
• Or Age Difference?
• Or simple individual differences?
External Guidance
After a short period of uncoordinated
individual activity (with each working with
one phone), they agreed to move
systematically through the steps together
• Those steps they thought they could do without
consulting the book, they did; when they hit a
roadblock, they referred to the manual.
• Eventually (in the week to come), they relied
more and more on the manual as they finetuned and personalized their machines.
Expert Guidance
They also received (limited) assistance
from “credible sources”
• Experts (by virtue of prior experience):
an older cousin or friends who already
possessed keitais
Next Encounters: Organized Behavior
Working to understand the machine
 Personalizing it
 Routinizing it
Step 1: Personalizing the Machine
In the early stages of keitai
possession, a lot of activity is centered
around personalization;
• around making the tool one’s own.
For the Adolechnic, this is not much
different than the pre-adventure
activities involved in setting up a Role
Playing Game (RPG).
Examples of Entry-level
Getting all the sounds/tones squared away
• Sounds for turning on and off the phone
• Sounds for mail arrival and departure
• Sounds for in-coming phone calls
Working through Presets that included:
• Gershwin, Donald Duck quacks, J-Pop and a set
of Outer Spacey pings and plucks
Next Steps
Then accessing sound sites for
• Both paid and free services
• Connecting this aspect of contemporary
social life to both:
The Economic and the Cultural
 As well as the Global and the Local
The Economic and the Cultural
Accessing the pre-set functions on the keitai
(“EZ-Web”), Alex quickly found a category
called “Get Sounds, Pictures”
Within this site there was a large number of
sites for downloading:
Screen shots
Photo albums
Voice Sounds
videos, films, photos
The Economic and the Cultural
(Being stingy)… we clicked into the Free
download sites
The categories included:
Pop Music
 Anime
 Famous/Hit Song Covers
• Including “Classics” and Beatles
Hit Hot Indies
The Local
The local “Classics” that can be
downloaded include:
• Spitz: “Robinson”
• Southern All Stars: “Ai no Kotaba”
• Oda Kazumasa: “Love Story wa Totsuzen
The Global
Among the global “Classics” that can be
downloaded, are:
• Queen: “We Are the Champions”
• Bruce Springsteen: “Born in the USA”
• Gloria Gaynor: “I Will Survive”
Creating an Identity:
The E-mail Name
To work with mail, a handle is necessary
And.. apparently, names are important
• This I discovered when I found myself having
to create a name for the red phone – which
basically was for my wife and daughter.
• Neither being available at the time, it was left
to me to christen the phone.
• I dubbed it “[email protected]”
• My daughter, appalled at the idea that this
would become her handle to all who knew her
for all eternity renamed it:
“[email protected]”
Making an E-mail Name
My son was less particular. He was
fine with the handle
[email protected]
 Although we did debate a bit who
got to be Buggs and who was Daffy
Next Task:
Making A Screen Design
After shooting some
pictures and saving
them, Maya decided
to place one on her
Then Alex
followed suit
Playing with Design
They not only shot
pictures, but enjoyed
using preset
“purikura”-like decals
and stickers along the
• This is one (but not the
only) example of
personalizing of the
device; of rendering it
distinct and their own.
In Sum:
Personalization transforms the keitai into
• It relates to issues of identity, as we will discuss
Step 2: Routinizing the Machine
And then the next step was to actually
begin communicating with others
• For both kids, this begin by declaring
they had a phone:
Carrying the phone to school or ballet
 Letting their friends see (or know) that they
had a keitai
 Then exchanging mail addresses (mainly)
• Since these (Holden) kids were almost the last of
their cohort to have a phone
In the first 2 weeks communications
averaged no more than 3 a day.
Theorizing from Observations
Developing a Relationship with the Technology
Personalizing the Machine
The Question of Interiorization
The Realities of Societal Integration
Economic System reproduction
Cultural reproduction
The Matter of Status
The Question of Place
• The reality of non-space
Theorizing from Observations
Developing a Relationship with the
• Pushing Buttons
Learning how to
• Reading the Manual
Theorizing from Observations
Personalizing the Machine
1. Mastering the Technology
2. Buying Accessories (straps, coins,
In this case during a trip to Disneyland:
• Chip and Dale coin and a Tigger strap (for the red
• Pooh coin and a Mickey/Fantasia strap (for the
silver phone)
The next day buying (Disney) stickers at a
department store to decorate the outside of
the phone
3. Snapping pictures to place on the
window of the camera
Theorizing from Observations
Personalizing the
1. The Result:
A prized stuffed animal for
my daughter
An object located in my
office by my son
Theorizing from Observations
Personalizing the Machine
• Accessories
• Stickers
• Screen Photos
Theorizing from Observations
Of course, the buzz from McVeigh
(2003) was the notion of an inward
turn: of privatization and
Or Externalizing?
•But, like my work on deai revealed,
keitai use seems to suggest high
From one friend to another…
Externalizing: Creating social groups
We can talk about New User’s Behavior
as: “Net-Working”
• An active activity
Intentionally creating a social network
 Pulling others into a relational web
• Technology’s role as a tool for creation
While it may not seem an act of originality
(since all the technology is pre-set) there are
options that can be personalized which:
• Brings a world into existence
• Re-molds that world in accord with one’s own
particular tastes and ways of seeing
Theorizing from Observations
• Beyond the creation of social groups…
• There is the Connection to a (Macro)
Economic System that keitais afford
• Beyond that, consumers are delivered
into the embrace of a larger cultural
As Users, Legitimators, Accepters
Theorizing from Observations
Separating “Worlds”
Ex: my daughter has folders of “Family”,
“School”, “Ballet”
 In some cases (e.g. school and ballet) these
can overlap
 For the most part, though, these are distinct
Theorizing from Observations
Connecting to Others
Collecting mail numbers
Reproducing ties (daily)
“メールちょだいね” (“Send me mail, ok?”)
- From my daughter’s ballet friend
• 4/11/04, 17:32 -- 今、仙台駅のバス停(6番)だよ (Now
I’m at Sendai Station (at position 6)”
• 4/11/04, 17:44 -- 今、帰るとこだよ (”Now I’m going
バスの中だよ (“I’m on the bus.”)
- From my son’s school mate
Theorizing from Observations
Personalizing the Machine
• Accessories
• Stickers
• Screen Photos
Interiorizing? Or Externalizing
• Connecting to a (Macro) Economic System
• Separating “Worlds”
Ex: my daughter has folders of “Family”, “School”,
• Connecting to Others
Collecting mail numbers
Reproducing ties (daily)
Theorizing from Observations
Societal Integration
• Learning about a culture
• Being socializing into the logics and
rhythms of that culture
And (of course) Communication:
The keitai is a communication tool
It enables all sorts of communication,
Extrapersonal (between machines)
Intrapersonal (within oneself)
Interpersonal (between people)
Group (amongst and between many people)
Mass (a large scale group – often an audience
receiving similar messages from a single
communication source)
Extrapersonal Communication:
In the linkage of these cell phones with
networks of other phones or
computers to conduct tasks
For instance, in order to place the photos
used in this presentation into these
PowerPoint pages, they had to be delivered
from keitai to my PC (via e-mail), then
downloaded into the hard drive of my PC,
then uploaded into this presentation, then
“broadcast” through this computer, through
that projector, onto the screen.
And (of course) Communication:
in the downloading of images or songs or
data to feed one’s brain or private world
Intrapersonal Communication:
• in the downloading of
images or songs or
data to feed one’s brain
or private world
My daughter’s
obsession with
Orlando Bloom
who she photographs
(copiously) from a fan
magazine and then
loads into the keitai’s
photo album for
(constant) viewing
As well as
one shot of
her brother
A Girl’s Inner World
The Orlando Bloom
But how Intrapersonal is this?
In addition, this
image is a direct
form of
• It implies:
• interaction
• exchange, and
Linkages to the larger
world of commerce and
(global) popular culture
• is rooted in a
space and time
beyond the image
A Girl’s Outer World
Communicating with a Father
“These are the
Orlando Bloom is sooooo HOT
Well, gtg!
love maya
Interpersonal Communication:
• in the connection between two users
 よう元気 あのさ 携帯の番号教えてちょうだ
 (Hey Genki [friend’s name]: well,
give me your cell phone number.
Until your injured knee
completely recovers, don’t do the
Group Communication:
in the linking of users into chains or
networks of affiliated people
Of course, in serial sets of interactions
• Example:
… PS
[Second year’s Sugawara Kouhei-kun
sends regards (laugh
Mass Communication:
In the transmission of content from
an institutional source to a mass
• as in the case of downloadable songs,
screen images, icons, and various fixed
economic services
• Here the content transmitted is mostly
cultural material:
From popular cultural songs, movies stills,
and news
 Via the culturally reproductive instruments
of language and symbols
Uses and Purposes
Communication theory suggests that
communication has at least 5 ends:
Social ritual
The acquisition of values, roles and
norms through:
1. Upbringing
2. Linguistic mediation of culture
3. Group and Institutional Practices
Socialization: example
When my son’s friend writes:
(Someone from my church is a second year Junior
high student at Tohoku Gakuin [their new
His initials are perhaps “K.S.”, I think.)
We get a sense of:
Status (sempai/kohai),
As well as institutional structures of Church and
Obviously, the communication is not aimed at
socializing, but reflects structures and
employs language that is.
Social Ritual
Defined: Aims at establishing
psychological unity in a group
• Creates affiliation; binds members
Example: (from a friend the second day
of a new school year at a new
(It’s also Sanda—’s second day, so do
your best with spirit/fight)
Social Ritual: “Phatic” Uses
Defined: Ordinary exchanges whose function is as
reinforcement of social contact and social status
Example 1: 今、帰りとこだよ バスの中だよ (Now I’m
heading home I’m on the bus )
Example 2: Maya spends 1 to 2 hours after ballet
“decompressing” with friends
From 10:00 p.m. to Midnight
Constant routing and rerouting of mail messages
which rehash the events of the practice…
Who got in trouble
What the sensei said (how “kibishii” or “hidoi” he might
have been)
The girls’ body condition
What tomorrow’s practice will be like
For example: this exchange of emails with a fellow dancer
ヤッホー(star icon)自習お疲れ様(heart icon)明日も
あのさ…発表会まで頑張って痩せようネ(3 biceps
flexing icon)まぁ、ボンちゃんは痩せてるから…だって40
…☆○◇▽△□∋→㎏だもん3 face icons)
(knife and fork icon)とかどうしてるの?あとさ、脚が
細くなる方法とか知ってる?知ってたら教えてネ(tear drop
icon) では!長くなってゴメンネ・じゃ、バイバ~イ
(shooting star icon)
This mail prompted by the (usual) criticisms by the ballet teacher that
the girls are too fat; that they have to lose weight before the big
Maya praises her friend who not only is a great dancer but thin. And
Maya wonders whether the friend has tips for losing size in her legs.
Social Rituals, Information
Exchange and Friendly Bonds
>メールありがとう(heart icon)40㎏については、あったりする事があるので、やはりマ
ズイです・・・目標は、身長をあと2㎝伸ばして、その時の体重を、40㎏にする(face icon)
>足痩せは、うちも悩んでるよぉ(face icon)本当に足痩せないしぃ(crying face
icon)でも、がんばろー(peace sign icon)お互いに、目標を立てて、それを達成させよ
うね(2 exclamation point icons)
>背伸ばす方法知ってる(exclamation mark and question mark icon)背伸び
ないよぉ(crying face)
After thanking her for the mail (a social ritual) the friend employs the polite form of
refusing a compliment and faulting herself (another ritualistic faction).
•For instance, she says that her weight goes above and below 40kg
•Then she says that given her aim of growing 2 more centimeters then 40 kg would
be a good weight.
•She says “I also worry about my leg thickness. Truly, it doesn’t get thinner…”
• “Doing massage and… physically (given her physical characteristics) the legs are
the last to get thinner. But let’s do our best. Both of us should make a goal to
•”Do you know the way to get taller? I can’t grow taller.”
mark icon) 特に (moon icon) は成長ホルモンがで
るからさ (star icon) 私はまず160㎝を目指して頑張る
けど、165㎝理想なんだよネ(heart mark icon)
あったはずなんだよネ (tear drop icon) 見つけたらコ
ピーする? じゃ、バイバ~イ・
Maya then gives advice about drinking calcium as a strategy for
growing taller. Because the growth hormone comes out at night
(she drinks calcium at night). her aim is 160 centimeters, but
165 is the ideal height.
Maya thought she had an exercise print regarding reducing leg
thickness. “If I find it, do you want a copy?”
For example: this exchange of 2
sets of e-mails (back and forth)
>付録、届かなかったぁ…(cat icon)写真かな?見たかった
よぉ(cat icon)足痩せの雑誌のコピー、是非是非見つかっ
たら下さい(cat icon)うちも、何か見つけたら、お知らせし
まぅす(3 hamster icons)
(If you find that leg writing, by all means, by
all means, please send it)
>(chicken hatching icon)メール、ありがとうでしたぁ
(chicken hatching icon)明日は実力テストなんだ
(cactus icons)最悪だぁ(devil mask icon)では
(hand waving icons)
Thanks for the mail. Ah, tomorrow is our level
check test (at the beginning of school). It’s gonna
be hell…
The aim of communication is to
achieve a particular end
• Framing a message with a
conscious message in mind
Instrumental: Example
Mail from Maya:
“hi,dad. how's your/was
your meating
we are at royal host and
we are ordering
well,we are waiting for
love maya
Defined: representation of personal or
aesthetic feelings
Linked with the idea of creativity
 Emotional, rather than cognitive
“hi,dad.how's your/was your
meating (big blue question
mark) we are at royal host and
we are ordering (fird egg in a
pan) well,we are waiting for you
(cat meowing)
love maya (pink heart)
Example: in the Royal Host mail (above) -- as in all
her mail -- Maya employs icons/emoticons.
“hi,dad. how's your/was your meating
we are at royal host and we are ordering
well,we are waiting for you
love maya
Defined: structures which are used to manipulate
the actions or cognitions of others
Cases: Whether it is because:
 I have such angelic kids, or
 because they are new to the technology, or
 because 13 and 14 year olds don’t engage in
this form of communication (????? – right!)…
there were no examples of this sort of keitai use
in the communication I observed.
(Whew!… a parent breathes a sigh of relief).
On Tools and Pleasure
I used the word “pleasure” earlier and this
has been a theme of (popular) cultural
• Dating back to John Fiske (1989)
• Which recognizes that those who engage in the
consumption of popular culture may be caught
in social/economic/political “spaces” that are
hegemonic and repressive
Viewed negatively, they have been said to be
“grounded in the privatized discourse of commodified
desire” (Goldman 1992:14)
• However, they have also been asserted to be
“cultural producers and cultural respondents to
the social milieu” (Lewis 1992:6).
Keitai and Space
Because we are in the panel on Japan’s
“diverse spaces” I want to say at least a
few words about keitai’s relation to place.
• Because (in fact) there is little of space that I
find here.
Sure, the kids explore in non-physical realms
But the worlds that they deal in have physical
The media they use only work to continue and
reconfirm the worlds that they actually are operating
in daily.
So there is little that moves in the constructed,
artificial or hyperreal.
No Sense of Space?
Meyerowitz (1986) has spoken about
how electronic media change the
“situational geography of social life.”
• He did not mean only that boundaries
are spanned (a la Morley and Robbins,
• He meant that media work to de-place or
dis-place life
• In this sense, not unlike Postman’s claim
that media provide “no sense of place”,
they also create “no sense of space”
Keitai and Space
And in checking with my informants I discovered this version
of space/place…
• Maya, for instance, said: “when I do mail, I just am talking with
that person…”
• Q: “Well are you ‘talking’ with them… I mean do you hear their
• A: “No.”
• Q: When they’re talking to you, where are they? In the studio or
in school – I mean in your mind… when you write to them?”
• A: “No. I don’t see them in those places. They are just … out
• Q: “And you don’t see where they are? Don’t imagine them in a
• A: “Right.”
• Q: “ Do you imagine their face or see the clothes they are
• A: “No. not really. Not at all.”
Keitai and Identity
Morley and Robins (1995:172) suggest
that, in the West, Japanese identity
has become associated with the
technologies of the future: screens,
networks, robotics, artificial
intelligence, simulation.
• They meant this in terms of a rampant
racism that has grown seeing Japanese
as cold, rational, calculating, unfeeling,
Keitai and Identity
But, in fact, technology is a part of all modern
identities in post-industrial societies:
For the two Adolechnics I observed – who happen to
be Japanese – their identity appears (still) to be
well independent of the technology
But it would not be strange to posit that use of and
facility with the technology would redound to
images of self and placement of themselves out in
a larger social world.
The Matter of Status
Question: “How do you feel when you
hold the keitai?”
Maya: “Good.”
Question: “Like it’s kakko-ii?”
Maya: “Yeah. And… I don’t know…
Different. I like how it feels to hold
The Matter of Status
Certainly, Identity in contemporary life is
wrapped up (to some degree) in the
acquisition of things.
• Here dimensions of class, capitalism,
materialism and consumption are implicated
• Shiny, dazzling, relatively expensive (for a
child) tools are a measure of status
They also communicate (of themselves,
naturally, but also by their use) a measure
of skill, of power and freedom out in the
• For an adolescent keitais send messages of
adultness and efficacy
Keitai and Mediated Identity
Which leads me to wonder whether changes in
theorization of mediated identity are necessary…
In other work (2003) I have advanced the concept of
“Mediated Identity”. It is composed of:
• Interactions
• In and through Institutions
• And involving:
Conveyed through representations of sameness and
By media
And brought into relief by
• References to socially-constructed group traits, and
• The depiction of relationship(s) between individuals and/or
Keitai and Mediated Identity
But this is a definition about generally passive
consumers of technology
It is not a definition that speaks of active users
Thus we could speak of mediated identity of
adolechnics as:
• Interactions
• Within and through Media
• And involving:
Conveyed through representations of sameness and
By users
And brought into relief by
• (Their own) references to socially-constructed group traits, and
• Their depiction of relationship(s) between themselves and/or