Social Media Breakfast Ottawa: Sam Ladner and the mobile work life

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By Alexandra Reid

At Social Media Breakfast Ottawa yesterday, Sam Ladner presented her research on the mobile work life, which seeks to add to our current understanding of the smartphone and its impact on work/life balance, practically, culturally and symbolically.

According to Ladner, smartphones fundamentally transform the way we communicate at work, at home and in between. We are now contacting people as they move through multiple social contexts through an array of channels, including voice, text, email, calendaring and other applications. In her opinion, the complexity of the mobile space has been swept under the rug. Mobile phones are reconfiguring our habitual social interactions, yet we know little about how and in what ways those interactions are changing. Ladner’s presentation brought to light a number of important findings.

First, the work/home conflict is minor in many cases. Ladner found that although many people feel they are expected to be available for communication outside of work hours, this blending of work and home isn’t severe enough to feel unhealthy.

Problems do arise, however, when smartphone use becomes habitual. According to Ladner, many of us have an “attachment paradox,” where we regard our mobile phones as just devices while also admitting that we’d panic if we lost them. This brings to light another concern that smartphones contribute to “panic cultures,” both at work and at home. Panic cultures perpetuate a continuous sense of urgency and prioritize response time above all else; a well thought out solution to a problem is less valuable than an immediate solution to a problem. These types of situations can be hard to handle, and can leads us to neglect important areas of our lives, as work spills into the home and home spills into work.

Another trend is found in our perceptions of smartphone brands. For instance, while the functionality is very similar between the BlackBerry and iPhone, we perceive the Blackberry, both symbolically and culturally, as a work device for work communications, whereas we perceive the iPhone as a more personal, sharable device that we enjoy using in our leisure time. In both cases, however, we view these devices as being part of our own identity. We even give our smartphones “homes” within our homes, assigning special locations (or even several locations) to our smartphones that are symbolic of how we intend to use them. A smartphone that “lives” in the office is not the same device as one that “lives in the bedroom,” for instance.

Ladner explains more of her findings on her website, mobileworklife.ca, and also expands upon them in our video interview below. Our conversation includes helpful information for marketers and how they can take advantage of our newfound attachment to smartphones. Please excuse the video quality. We were forced to retreat into the dimly lit theatre as the rest of the Social Media Breakfast audience chatted away outside.

Social Media Breakfast: Mobile work life from SMBOttawa on Vimeo.

I’d love to hear what you think. Did you attend the event and have additional comments to share? If you didn’t, do you have any questions for Ladner or myself?

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