The most recent discussion in my current research project, on how a new technological innovation (here mobile technology) begins to take shape in a highly structured and established area of societal activity (here health care), raised one particularly interesting insight. The person I was discussing with, an experienced commercial manager of a software manufacturer for specialist hospital IT, noted that while the tablet computer and the mobile phone both are, for them, referred to as ‘mobile technology’, these two in fact have a significantly different dynamic. The simple, practical observation has been that e.g. patient information on a tablet computer tends to be shared by a care team, i.e. viewed by more than one, whereas information coming to a mobile phone will be viewed only by one person. Difference in size, unsurprisingly, appears to be the factor causing this variation in usage. But this has had implications on software application design, i.e. what kind of information will be put on the device and how it will be displayed, as a result of the different use. Information that a care team can use can be made more prominent for tablets, while information for a single care professional’s use can be tailored more for mobile phones. Furthermore, the larger size of tablets means they are easier for typing in data while mobile phones are less so has had implications in interface design: instead of asking for data input by typing, mobile phone applications for care professional use tend to operate with graphics, i.e. providing options to merely click on a touch screen.
The person I was discussing with saw a phenomenon of some significance here. While tablets represent only a minor change to an earlier use of desktop computers, where information is typed in and it may be viewed by a team of care professionals at a time, mobile phones represent a paradigm shift – graphic icons being the ‘language’ or means of transfer for exchange of information and only personalised use. If we consider personal use of information technology this might not be a radical change, as personal messaging and media consumption has by definition tended to be individual anyway, regardless of the device. But in formal, professional organisations, group use of technological devices has implied corresponding design choices. For now, let the above hospital care unit serve as an example of such a situation.
This sprinkles light on also on the subject of sociomateriality (e.g. Orlikowski, 2010), in that administrative/organisational systems tend to be dependent on both social as well as technical organising – they depend on how do we agree in our social group on how to operate and what is the process of a certain activity, but also what constraints and possibilities the technical devices afford us. This instance of the influence of the two is interesting, as the last few decades in organisational science, since the Berger and Luckman (1966) thesis of the social construction of reality, has focused on the social.
An afterthought: would this also hint at a larger move away from texting in mobile phones – let’s be honest, whether QWERTY keyboard or touch screen, texting with adult’s fingers is not that easy, at least not as easy as clicking icons?
Doctoral research at the University of Oxford (Oxford Internet Institute), with earlier academic background in organisational and management science (Said Business School), as well as political science. My earlier professional background consists of (largely implementation) work relating to novel organisational and societal systems in transportation and regional economy, as well as entrepreneurship. In my current research project I am investigating on a broader level how social change begins to happen, which at a lower level means to study how innovations begin to take shape within a specific area of social activity. The empirical case is the emergence of mobile communication technology in health care, which I am making a comparison in Finland and the UK (- or just England, actually). The theoretical framework I am using is one of the core constructs in sociology, 'institutional theory' and within that 'institutional work'. This work has a home in economic sociology.