Cell Phones, QR Codes, and Tablets (Oh My!): Exploring the Wonderful World of Mobile Devices and Connections for Information Environments

October 27, 2019

“It’s the habits that are harder to break than even getting used to new things”

Boise Public Library staffer

Mobile devices allow for us to stay connected as individuals–and the way that we connect as individuals can carry over to how librarians can connect with the individuals who make up the public that libraries serve. As Director of Development at Guldborgsund-bibliotekerne Jan Holmquist pointed out when describing how libraries should use their facebook pages to engage with community members (beyond just posting announcements about events), technology allows for wonderful ways for us us to connect with one another–but only if we take advantage of the tools and engage with them on their terms.

This week, I wanted to reflect on a few items that I explored because they spoke directly to my technostress-prone perspective in ways that motivated me to overcome some techno-hesitation and be open to what the world of mobile technologies has to offer.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Dorothy and her friends upon first glimpsing the Emerald City. In my overarching metaphor about exploring mobile technologies, I’m choosing to focus on the optimism of the world of color Dorothy discovers that allows her to connect with her loved ones both in the magical world and in the grey one she returns to (and ignore the fact that the Wizard of Oz was a bit of a charlatan…).
(Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/tom-margie/3087835894, where the user Insomnia Cured Here claims that it’s shareable under CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

Ian Bogost’s Atlantic piece “Don’t Hate the Phone Call, Hate the Phone” spoke to me in so many ways. I fall into that group of “more than half of American adults under 35” whose mobile phone is their only phone. And, though I tend to prefer using my phone for its non-phone functions, I do reluctantly use it as a phone pretty regularly. In spite of my typical Millennial distaste for telephony (verging on telephoniphobia), a few of my closest friends (also Millennials) prefer it to texting. Living in the Los Angeles area, my drive home tends to involve sitting in traffic for 40-90 minutes. When I don’t have a podcast I feel like listening to, my go-to way to entertain myself during commutes is to use my phone for old-fashioned telephonic conversation.

Frequently, though, I’m reluctant to even place a call because I’m so deeply aware of how a cell phone call is (as Bogost put it) “synonymous with unreliability.” It’s hard not to be aware of the signal issues Bogost mentioned, but I hadn’t really thought about how the fact that my voice (or the voice of the person I’m calling) doesn’t seem to want to transmit through the flat little smart phone clipped in its mount on my dashboard is related to just that “flat little” compact design.

It’s interesting to think that about the ways that the technology of a “mobile phone” has developed to turn it more into a “mobile device,” which we engage with more for its various apps and internet capabilities than for its (ostensibly) primary telephonic use. When we create library services, we should keep in mind that technologies’ usefulness tends to shift and become daily features in our lives in ways not initially obvious when those technologies kick off.

My interest was also piqued by the various pieces on QR codes, which similarly reflected the way that our engagement with mobile technology has changed over time. I work for a textbook company that has been increasingly placing QR codes within the pages of its books. (A fact that I’ve noticed in part because I’m in charge of reprint corrections for the K-12 educators’ imprint—which has recently had a series of corrections come through where we’ve been asked to replace a perforated page with a survey on it with a QR code and link to a digital version of the survey.)

I understand the push toward a technology that will allow readers to just point their device at the printed page and go to a site with more information (the way they’d be able to click on a hyperlink on a non-printed page), but I’ve been wondering whether this technology really is the most forward-thinking push for our company. The pieces by Cummings and Ochman that spoke to QR codes’ failures in the early 2010s seemed to back up my mistrust of the technology and sense that it was passé and clunky. My own phone doesn’t have a native QR code reader (which makes spot-checking the links we’re adding quite the headache), so I’d assumed that other modern readers would be similarly annoyed by the useless squares in our books. But Penner’s enthusiasm for the QR codes at the Santa Barbara Zoo made me wonder whether the technology might be having a resurgence—perhaps filling the promise for building information sources into our environments that got Penner so excited back in 2010.

Sure enough, some quick Google searches yielded recent articles predicting a resurgence:

These pieces address the issues of clunky software and user unfamiliarity with the technology that were the main drawbacks cited in the early 2010s. The key turning point seems to have come in 2017, when Apple updated its camera app so that it could scan QR codes directly (without additional software or other effort on the user end). Rosie Sullivan’s piece in particular reminded me of the lessons of this course. In her warning, “don’t use a QR just because it’s trendy,” Sullivan speaks directly to the concept of technolust (echoing Holmquist saying that “technology is never a thing to use just because it is new and smart; it must be used in a meaningful way to enhance library services”) and reminds businesses to follow the advice that librarians constantly keep in mind: the goal should be to provide a positive experience and make someone’s life easier.

Finally, I was interested in the “lessons learned” from Matt Enis’s piece on “Tabletarians.” Though I don’t have a tablet of my own, I was drawn to the idea of working with them in a library services setting, if only for what BPL information services librarian Heidi Lewis identified as a key value of “the chance to experience different ways of interacting with customers, coworkers, and the world.” I think much of my wariness toward new technologies (and sense that I’m just “not good with them”) comes from being comfortable in my habits. This course has been full of reminders that it’s important to shake up habits and embrace chaos if you want to grow—both as an individual and (in the case of libraries) as an institution.

References

Bogost, I. (2015). Don’t hate the phone call, hate the phone. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/08/why-people-hate-making-phone-calls/401114/

Cummings, S. X. (2011). Why the QR Code is failing. iMedia. Retrieved from https://www.imediaconnection.com/articles/ported-articles/red-dot-articles/2011/oct/why-the-qr-code-is-failing/

Enis, M. (2015). Meet the tabletarians. Library Journal. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=meet-the-tabletarians-mobile-services

Donkin, C. (2018). Analysts expect global QR code resurgence. Mobile World. Retrieved from https://www.mobileworldlive.com/featured-content/money-home-banner/analysts-expect-global-qr-code-resurgence/

Holmquist, J. (2013). MOOC – Why use Mobile tech. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLJFU8Vb2i7KwdDjZwceGOhRlb6LuuYMQV&v=LK2ntV2CpRk

Holmquist, J. (2013). MOOC – How to use the tools. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpKHIxRv45o&list=PLJFU8Vb2i7KwdDjZwceGOhRlb6LuuYMQV&index=18

Ensygnia. (2019). The resurgence of the QR Code. Retrieved from  https://www.ensygnia.com/blog/2019/5/7/the-resurgence-of-the-qr-code

Ochman, B. L. (2013). QR codes are dead, trampled by easier-to-use apps. AdAge. Retrieved from https://adage.com/article/digitalnext/qr-codes-dead-toppled-easy-apps/240548

Penner, A. (2010). This is brilliant. QR codes at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/penner42/4917397291/

Ratna, S. (2019). Why 2019 is the year of QR codes. Beaconstac. Retrieved from https://blog.beaconstac.com/2019/02/why-2019-is-the-year-of-qr-codes/

Sullivan, R. (2019). The resurgence of QR codes. Dowitcher Designs. Retrieved from http:\www.dowitcherdesigns.com\the-resurgence-of-qr-codes\

One Response to “Cell Phones, QR Codes, and Tablets (Oh My!): Exploring the Wonderful World of Mobile Devices and Connections for Information Environments”

  1. Tori – This was an honest and insightful exploration of your relationship with the various tech covered by the module. I am super interested to follow up on the QR code articles you shared. It may be time to roll them back into the module!

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