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How do we incorporate new technology with old habits?

Interview with Alexandra Weilenmann

I like to be out in the field, where I can accompany the people I’m studying in their everyday lives – to dive into reality

In 2009 Alexandra Weilenmann was appointed associate professor (docen) at the Department of Applied IT. She has appeared frequently in media in recent years due to her studies on the use of different kinds of mobile technology. At the moment she is studying hunting teams and their use of modern communication technology; how elderly people deal with their mobile phones; and possibilities of using mobile phones before, during, and after visiting a museum.

'Right now I am involved in a Vinnova project called Mobile services for interaction, communication and learning', says Alexandra Weilenmann. 'The project is financed by VinnMER, which is especially directed to women with a PhD degree. The idea is that you will qualify yourself by being placed in a different research environment. I have started collaborations with the research institute Mobile Life Centre at Stockholm University, where I’m placed a couple of days a week, and with LinCS at the University of Gothenburg. I also connect the two research organisations by arranging seminars with guests from each institute.'

The use of mobile IT

'The area I’m working in is very interdisciplinary with many connections to different areas that are trying to understand the use of IT', says Alexandra. 'My focus is mobile IT usage which is placed within sociology, but I’ve been forced to invent many new methods since I also work with technology. The sociological perspective is the common – I’m studying people’s behaviour – but I need new ways to collect the material since I want to capture human communication when using new technology.'

What are the effects of new technology for a hunting team?

'I have a project where I study how the prerequisites for hunting changes with new technology, says Alexandra. We have been videotaping the hunters’ behaviour and we have seen how the interaction changes in a hunting team when they are using a GPS on their dogs. We have also recorded the radio communication between the hunters. These are examples on occasions when you have to be smart to be able to collect all the material – if you want to capture what is really going on. The hunting study contains many of my specific areas of interest: mobility and mobile conversations, and geographic positioning.'

'It might seem a bit extreme and half-crazy to study hunters, but hunting is an activity pursued by humans for a long time and it is interesting to see how it changes with new conditions. The study of the hunting team using GPS’s was preceded by a study where the hunters didn’t use GPS, and we could see how the GPS changed the organisation of the hunting team, but also how it changed the hunting experience. How do we adopt new technology and how do we incorporate new technology in our old habits? The use of GPS on the dogs should be seen as one more source of information during the hunting activities. It is important that the hunters keep their ability to judge distance by the barking of the dogs etc.'

The use of mobile phones amongst the elderly

'I have also been looking at elderly people and their use of mobile phones', says Alexandra. 'One study is about how elderly people learn how to text and the study incooperates several questions: How do they learn how the system of menus is constructed, how do they understand the text proposal tool, and how do they see where they should put their fingers. It turned out that just finding the right buttons, pressing them in a correct order, rhythm and speed proved too difficult for many elderly. The study can contribute to increasing the knowledge on how a mobile phone should be designed to be user friendly not just for older people but for people who are generally not accustomed to using mobile phones.'

How did you come across the area of mobile communication?

'I have a master’s degree in Linguistics from the University of Gothenburg, but also a master’s degree in Communication from Linköping University', says Alexandra Weilenmann. 'When I was about to do my master’s thesis in communication, I ended up at the Viktoria Institute in Gothenburg. The Viktoria Institute wanted me to evaluate a communication artefact for geographic positioning and I got the idea to try this artefact on skiing instructors. My focus on mobile communication all started with this master thesis project at the Viktoria Institute.'

Mobile conversations and mobile phones at the museum

'My idea is to focus even more on mobile conversation in the future', says Alexandra. 'Nowadays mobile communication is seen as a fairly general area and you need to be more specific in your research.

I am part of the Priority research area Learning at the University of Gothenburg and also the Language Technology area. Together with Ylva Hård af Segerstad I will look further into mobile communication, where we concentrate on communication chains where conversation, texting, facebook postings etc are part of the communication chain. I also work in a project within LinCS (The Linnaeus Centre for Learning, Interaction and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society) together with Universeum concerning mobile IT and learning, how can we make use of mobile phones before, during and after a visit to the museum.'

Fascinating to be in the middle of reality and explore relations

'It is somewhat of a luxury to be able to work like this, to be buried in research material and suddenly find connections and new ways of describing phenomena, Alexandra Weilenmann explains. 'I like to be out in the field, where I can accompany the people I’m studying in their everyday life, to dive into reality.'

 

Interview: Catharina Jerkbrant

 

FACTS:

Alexandra Weilenmann defended her doctoral thesis in informatics, Doing Mobility, in the year 2003 and was appointed associate professor in December 2009. Her trial lecture for appointment as an associate professor, Microstudies of mobile technology-in-use, presented and tied together some of the studies she had performed since her dissertation; the study of mobile conversations, the use of mobile phones while driving and the use of mobile phones amongst the elderly.

 

Contact information:

Alexandra Weillenman
Department of Applied IT
+ 46 (0)70-303 29 53

Alexandra Weilenmann

Alexandra WeilenmannAlexandra Weilenmann, Department of Applied IT, is looking at how we deal with new technology and how we incorporate the technology in our everyday lives.

Page Manager: Catharina Jerkbrant|Last update: 1/3/2011
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