Asia-Europe Conference on Computer Mediated Interactive Communication Technologies (CMICT): The Internet and Mobile Phones

This workshop was made possible by a grant from the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) and the Asia-Alliance as part of the Asia-Europe Workshop Series 2003/2004. We also acknowledge the assistance of the Asia Foundation, Nokia and the Embassy of Finland. We thank all our sponsors for their generous support.

Asia-Europe Conference on Computer Mediated Interactive Communication Technologies (CMICT): The Internet and Mobile Phones Report

Getting to know one another
The results of the workshop far exceeded our expectations. The participants came from a diverse range of countries, backgrounds, disciplines and interests. But all were concerned with the ways in which the new communications technologies are affecting everyday life. The workshop was held in Tagaytay, a mountainside city not far from Manila. We decided to hold it there to get away from all the distractions and inconveniences of a big city. The venue was excellent and allowed us to achieve an informal closeness despite the wide cultural differences in our group. Some of the European participants had met, having regularly attended conferences on the new technology in Europe but none of them had developed close ties with Asian researchers. The Asian participants were relatively new in the field and had yet to establish firm professional networks. Filipinos in particular seldom have the opportunity to work closely with an international group of scholars and researchers. The workshop was ideal from the point of view of all participants – senior European researchers were keen to meet young Asians working in the field, while the latter benefited from the developed networks operating in Europe. The venue of the workshop allowed for informal meetings after the main sessions and included various social activities. More intimate and specific ties were cemented during these informal sessions. By the time the workshop ended, offers of cooperation and assistance had been promised. The details of these networks are provided below.

Papers presented and discussed in the workshop
Our European colleagues provided us with broad theoretical perspectives as well as the latest innovations in these technologies. Dr. Licoppe discussed his comparative studies of the use of mobile games in Japan and France, while Prof. Koskinen presented the creative uses of video-telephony in Finland. Dr. Licoppe mainly worked within French telecom and its practical concerns, while Prof Koskinen teaches the sociology of creative art and technical design to university students. The varied and often unexpected uses of communicative technology in these different situations were convincingly made by their presentations. Dr. Kopomaa and Mr. Taipale discussed the differential needs of mobile phones among distinct Finnish users. Dr. Kopomaa is a leading researcher of cellphones and has extended his work to include their implications for welfare. Mr. Taipale is embarking on a comparative study of cellphone and Internet use among elderly people in Finland and the Philippines. This apparently unlikely comparison highlights the socio-cultural aspects of technological adaptation. It also corrects the over-emphasis on the youth as the focus of this new technology.

Prof. Fortunati informed us about her recent work with Italian telecom and the general state of research on mobile phones in Europe. Prof Fortunati has recently edited a collection examining the relationship between fashion, the body and the new technology. She is a leading researcher of the social consequences of the new communications technology and regularly organizes conferences in this field. Dr. Madianou discussed her research among Greeks and Turks in diaspora and their attempts to create communities across distance. The distinct communicative practices among ethnic groups and the relationship to identity and political agency, has been Dr. Madianou’s main concern. Mr. Barendregt amd Ms. Pertierra presented their work on popular culture and the role of the new communications technologies in Indonesia and Cuba respectively. Their work presented an interesting contrast and provided us with another perspective within which to investigate these phenomena.

Our Asian contributors presented a different point of view. Mr. Nagasaka discussed the use of mobile phones among Filipinos in Japan and Italy, while Mr. Pui Lam Law explained how Chinese workers are using the new technology to keep in touch with their home villages. Both stressed the role of technology in maintaining and deepening diasporic ties, a point earlier raised by Dr. Madianou. The irony is that poor workers often postpone their return home because of the expense of maintaining ties using mobile phones. Japan and China present such diverse opportunities for the new technology. The former is often used as a laboratory for the future use of new technologies while the latter opens up an almost limitless market.

Dr. Busami suggested new ways of using the Internet for philanthropic purposes in Malaysia. Both traditional Islamic practice and Malaysian culture are challenged by the capacity of the new technology to open areas of philanthropic concern. Earlier, Mr. Barendregt pointed out some of the radical cultural consequences of the new media in Malaysia and Indonesia, giving rise to alternative and subaltern modernities. Dr. Busami’s contribution demonstrated how technology both extends and challenges tradition. Mr. Son Bui and Dr. Qui Thang presented their research on Internet use among youth in Hanoi and their consequences for Vietnamese popular culture. Vietnam, China and Cuba present interesting but different uses of the new technology in socialist societies.

Local participants provided several case studies of the effects of the Internet and cellphones in the Philippines. Dr. Ugarte and Prof. Pertierra presented preliminary data on the extent and nature of texting for sexual purposes. This new area of inquiry has revealed new uses of the technology, with important consequences for notions of agency and personhood. Dr. Pingol has been exploring some of these new sexual identities among overseas workers and she has begun to collaborate with Mr. Nagasaka in looking at the effects of cellphones among Ilocanos. Dr. Saloma discussed the results of her doctoral dissertation on the state of ICT in the Philippines and its consequences for gender differentiation and the ‘digital divide’. She also discussed her proposed research in the role of technology in Malaysia.

Ms. Soriano informed us about the work of NGO’s in bringing new technology to remote cultural communities. The appropriateness of certain wireless technologies for isolated communities was suggested by several participants. A major concern of the Philippines is not to widen the gap between the poor and privileged by introducing another form of inequality through differential technological access. Dr. Lallana discussed the possible uses of cellphones to improve structures of governance in the Philippines. He is currently involved in finding more efficient ways of giving access to government services to marginalized sectors. The notion of ‘netizenship’ or the right of citizens to communications technology is seen as an emerging political question. Mr. Alegre assessed the opportunities for the new communications technology for the Philippines and other disadvantaged countries within the new global order. He stressed the need for ensuring that this technology is not used against the interests of the developing world but instead provides it with new resources to improve its competitive advantage.

Comments from the participants

LICOPPE Christian (France) wrote:

"I thought that what was great was a double encounter between
anthropologists doing fieldwork in Asia and integrating ICTs to their perspective (with rich descriptions, and singular cases anchored in local and global contexts) and sociologists working on ICT in Europe (usually more centered on practices associated with the use of these devices rather than on the cultural shaping in particular contexts)"

Timo Kopomaa (Finland)

"First of all, I really enjoyed my visit to your country. Surprisingly it was more a Third World country than I expected it to be. I must also confess that I felt quite relaxed when we visited the new business district area in Manila. It was really nice that we spent some time and nights in different places. It was interesting to meet colleagues from Asia and Europe. People become real personalities when you get to know them a little better which is the case when you are participating in an intensive workshop as we did. For me, the issues of transnational identities and migration were something new in
the context of ICT. I hope that I can work for closer academic ties between Finland and ASEAN universities in the near future."

Leopoldina Fortunati (Italy)

"First of all many, many thanks to Raul for the splendid job he did in organizing this conference. Secondly, many, many thanks to all of you for your contributions which I appreciated a lot. I think that this network is very precious for all the scholars who study ICTs. As I promised, I made the proposal for a conference in Europe, but not for June 2004, because it was impossible to substitute the already planned conference on Eastern Countries with this new proposal. So I proposed to the COST Technical Committee for Social Sciences and Humanities a conference on EUROPE MEETS ASIA for Fall 2004 or March 2005. I'm waiting now a first reaction about my proposal although the definite decision will take place in March, at our next meeting. I agree that it is a good idea to collect all the papers which might be available and then make a decision. But keep in mind that this is the right moment for an Asian book on the mobile phone and the Internet. Richard Ling and James Katz are working in order to make the ICT website ready asap. Here you will find the list of publications and of conferences done till now, among them there will be also this conference organized by Raul."

 

Bart Barendregt (Netherlands)

"Just a quick note to say that I safely arrived back home. Have some really good memories of the Manila workshop, which I realised even more as I was going through Ilpo and Allan's pictures. We had a good time together and a really good and promising workshop that really needs to be continued, thanks again for all the good care you took of us."

Mirca Madianou (U.K.)

"Hope you are well. I've been meaning to write for some time, but this term was absolutely hectic and only now that it's over have I found some time to deal with the backlog of emails I, personally, am very intrigued by the Filipino case as it seems very different from the groups that I have been studying so far in a European context. The most important thing for me was to hear the work of South East Asian scholars which I wouldn't have come across otherwise. The empirical cases presented in the workshop complemented studies that I am familiar with, including my own work. I have since been rethinking themes such as distance, mobility and the transnational inequalities of infrastructure and access and as a result I'm very keen on trying to develop an international comparative research project (like the one with you and Danny). The interdisciplinary dimension of the workshop was also quite useful as was the focus on different media (this is coming from someone who is interested on starting work on mobile phones). Apologies again for the delay in replying, academic life can be quite hectic these days... At least I had the wonderful images of Tagaytay to remember! I am about to leave for Greece for a couple of weeks and am really looking forward to it. Hope you have a wonderful holiday and all best wishes for the New Year."

Ilpo Koskinen (Finland)

"At all points, I share Christian’s two main comments about the importance of S-East Asian research, and the wonderful division in anthropological/socio-technological research cultures in terms of a general focus on communities vs. almost obsessive specificity. To be constructive, I think that a good hypothesis to get forward with the book idea might be like this:

1) Let’s arrange a second conference in Europe. As Bart & Christian noted, it’d be a good idea to make it focused, geared towards a book. For instance, I had a paper (though I didn’t share it with you in the Philippines), but want to rewrite it thoroughly now that I heard/read other papers
2) When it comes to organizing papers, there might be a way forward. What do you think about this:
- most papers focus nicely on ICT in a community/migration/migration worker context. Most papers work well under this theme. Let’s keep that: it is important and informative, given the rapidly growing body of literature on the mobile world. From the Europeans, Bart fits here.
- The thematic organization of the conference works here nicely.
- Another theme might be the “digital divide”: several South-East Asian papers explored this so well: Reevany, Bui, Emmanuel, Cecille, Alan (if he wants to write)…
- the main problem is the European set.
- My paper and Christian’s paper, as well as Raul’s and Eduardo’s papers are in a way easy to integrate into the book: our focus is “proactive” – we explore possible futures, or possible worlds, of ICT, and this gives a nice identity to these 3 papers. Christian and Ilpo are technologists at heart; Raul & Eduardo explore a tremendously important phenomenon of services. We can easily invite more papers in this area, if more are needed.
- Leopoldina’s and Czarina’s papers sort of continue this line, but on a macro level: a world in the making, and how such “making” is a (macro) level social process.
- The main risk to be thought about is the idea that we may easily treat Europe as a sort of advanced place, where future is made, and treat Asia as a sort of laggard. However, a suitable combination of papers would avoid such pitfall (I think).
By the way, my vote for the best paper in conference goes to Patrick. Great stuff, and hugely important, absolutely!

Itaru Nagasaka (Japan)

"This is my brief comment on the conference. The presentations based on the research in various parts of the world made us recognize that technological development of ICTs in recent years made a considerable impact on the lives of ordinary people. They also showed the variety of responses to the introduction of the new technologies. I recognized the need of investigation on how socially situated subjects in the different parts of the world at particular times have appropriated the new technologies. (Of course, we should avoid the pitfall of "technological determinism" that we discussed in the early part of conference.)

The conference was really helpful for me to reformulate my research strategy in this and next year. I am planning to conduct my research in December and sometime in the next year, and focus on the uses of cellular phones of Overseas Contract Workers' families in more detail. I will consider the aspects of technological development of cellular phones that was lacking in my previous interviews and observations, and detailed classifications of the way they use cellular phones following comments which participants made in their presentations.

Regarding the publication, I agree with the idea that we should have another conference to elaborate findings and reformulate the structure of publications. While some participants almost completed their researches, others are in the process of their research (the latest is mine, I think). It would be helpful for some of us to have time to elaborate our ideas and research findings."

Cecille Soriano (Philippines)

"Thank you for inviting me to the workshop. It was indeed an insightful experience for me and i enjoyed it, too! As for my reflections: what I found most interesting was the interface between the academe and the development workers. Both probed into the cultural phenomena brought by technology-mediated communications through their own lenses. The former aims to facilitate understanding of the phenomena with much rigor for a broad audience, while the latter applies the same rigor for varied sets of advocacy for marginalized people's empowerment.

How do our cultural communities negotiate the use of the technology for their personal needs? This was a point for reflection for me. Indeed, aside from the progressive agenda that the computer is being used for in Atok (a Kankanai cultural village), how do we as an NGO assess its personal uses? Members of Atok are using the computer for watching videos and for typing songs for the church but the community are demanding more access to the new technology. Who decides what appropriate uses of this scare technological resource are? Our workshop will help us frame new parameters for answering these questions."

 

Eduardo Ugarte (Philippines)

"The Asia-Europe Conference on Computer-Mediated Interactive Communication Technologies (CMICT), held in Tagaytay on October 20-22, 2003, was a great success. The Philippines is not a center of research into computer information technology. Hence for its Filipino and Philippine-based participants, the conference was a rare opportunity to meet up with European and Asian specialists in the field and to keep abreast of the latest research overseas. By the same token, many of the European and Asian participants had been working in isolation from each other, so they too relished the chance to acquaint themselves with each other’s research and witness at first-hand the Philippine infatuation with the mobile phone.

By the end of the conference, the sheer diversity of the papers presented, as well as the discussions they generated, had given the participants a handy overview of the available scholarship on computer information technology, as well as highlighted paths for further exploration. Importantly, resolutions were made to strengthen our newly established links with each other and lay the groundwork for future collaborative enterprises. These resolutions included, for instance, the establishment of a common website that will supply useful data pertaining to the field of computer information technology (e.g., a related bibliography, reading lists, news of upcoming conferences).

In terms of our own research, Prof. Raul Pertierra and I profited greatly from the responses to our paper, “The Phenomenon of Sex-Texting in the Philippines”. The project from which it derives is very much a work-in-progress, so the conference was an ideal occasion for us to publicize our research and solicit advice on a number of thorny ethical and theoretical issues. The feedback we received was encouraging and will certainly help us negotiate our way through the difficulties relating to our research. In addition, other participants drew our attention to the existence of books that would be of real use to us but of which we had been unaware. These helpful tips and recommendations are small but telling examples of the benefits to be gained from symposia like the Asia-Europe Conference."

Concrete connections and networks
Several collaborative projects have already been established following the workshop. Patrick Law has obtained funds to invite Prof. Leopoldina Fortunati and Prof. Raul Pertierra to join him in Beijing, China to act as consultants for a research project on the use of mobile phones. They are meeting in Beijing on 6-12 April, 2004 and that will hopefully result in future collaboration with Chinese researchers. The rapid success of mobile phones in China promises to transform local communicative practices significantly, with possible implications for other aspects of Chinese society.

As mentioned earlier, Dr. Alicia Pingol and Mr. Itaru Nagasaka are collaborating in their research on the effects of mobile phones on Ilocano notions of self and agency. Following the suggestion of Dr. Christian Licoppe, Alicia and Itaru have been in contact with Prof. Dana Diminescu, who is based at EHESS in Paris and working on Romanian migration in Europe. Prof. Diminiscu has been constructing a network of researchers on migrations and ICTs. Alica and Itaru are joining Prof. Diminescu’s network to share their interests in migration and the use of ICTs.

We also mentioned the interest of Mr. Sakari Taipale in comparing the use of the new communications technology by the elderly in Finland and the Philippines. Sakari spent a week after the workshop to meet local researchers in the area and has now firmer plans to proceed with his research. He hopes to begin his fieldwork in 2004, including some months based in the Philippines. At the workshop Sakari and Ryan Indon, a Filipino postgraduate student also doing similar work agreed to assist one another in their respective researches.

On her return to London, Dr. Mirca Madianou and Prof. Daniel Miller discussed the possibility of initiating a research project on Filipinos in the U.K. and their particular uses of ICT. This extends Dr. Madianou’s earlier concentration on Greeks and Turks and combines a major interest of Prof. Miller in looking at the possibilities of ‘authentic’ relationships achieved through ICT. Both Prof. Miller and Dr. Madianu have also asked Prof. Pertierra to collaborate on this project if funds become available.

Soon after the workshop, I (Prof. Pertierra) joined Mr. Taipale on his return trip to his home university in Jyvaskyla, Finland. I participated in a conference on ICT and its future consequences for European and Asian societies. While in Finland, Dr. Kopomaa, Sakari Taipale and myself met for the day in Tampere to discuss the possibilities of editing a collection (following suggestions raised in Tagaytay) arising from the workshop. We agreed to collect all the papers presented at the workshop to see if a viable publication can result. The final decision has still to be made and it depends on the suitability of the submitted papers. Since the workshop was primarily meant to establish contacts between CMICT researchers in Europe and Asia, we did not require participants to attend with finished papers. Some nevertheless did but many others did not. We now have to balance the advantages and disadvantages of publishing after only having a short workshop. Some participants suggest that we wait until we can organize another workshop whose main purpose is to publish a good collection of papers on CMICT.

The other reason for my trip to Finland was to inform the relevant institutions about our Philippine research on mobile phones. As mentioned, I presented our research at an ICT conference organized by the Agora Center at Jyvaskyla University. In Tampere, Dr. Kopomaa, Mr. Taipale and myself had a meeting with researchers at the VDD, a semi-government body organized to conduct applied ICT research. We informed them about our workshop and we indicated our interest in taking part in future collaborative projects. Dr. Kopomaa has agreed to stay in touch with VDD and explore possible research cooperation.

A less emphasized but as important consequence of the workshop was to establish contact between and among Asian researchers. The hierarchy of research often links Asians to Europe, North America or Australia but rarely does it result in greater collaboration among Asian themselves. This workshop is a first step in remedying this neglect. We hope to develop inter-Asian ties more fully in the future.

Conclusion
As the activities and networks indicated above illustrate, our workshop on Computer Mediated Interactive Communications Technology (CMICT) and their consequences for everyday life, proved to be great success. All our participants are keen to renew the workshop next year with a more specific aim of producing a major publication. Prof. Fortunati has pointed out that a book on mobile phones and the Internet in Asia has yet to be published. We are pursuing the possibilities of holding another workshop in 2004 either in Asia or Europe. Prof Fortunati has already taken the first step by indicating our interests to possible European funding institutions.

We are very grateful to the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) and the Asia Alliance for providing the main funding for this workshop. We also acknowledge the financial assistance of the Finnish Embassy (Manila), Nokia and the Asia Foundation for facilitating the costs of local participation. We hope that the results of the workshop will justify all your support. At least we can say that the Philippines has initiated an important area of research and has established new scholarly networks among Asians and Europeans.

Yours sincerely

Prof. Raul Pertierra
Asian Center
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City
Philippines