Media goes mobile

The launch of the first Apple iPhone will stand the test of time as a significant historical event. It marks the transition from the television to the smartphone as the organising device of the media system. During the product launch Apple and Google stage a demonstration of the Google maps app. Jobs searches for the nearest Starbucks and it shows it to him on the map together with the shortest route. This is kind of banal now, a part of everyday life in the city. But in 2007 this was truly staggering, you can see and hear the audiences are amazed.

I worked for a phone company in the early noughties who were trying to build one of these ‘internet phones’. To many in the company it sounded like science fiction. Apple surprised the telecommunication world, but perhaps it isn’t so surprising that it was a computer company rather than a telecommunication company that invented the ‘killer device’. The telecommunications industries had been trying to invent an ‘internet phone’ for a decade, but they somehow always ended up looking too much like phones.

Social media’s popularity depended on the invention of the smartphone, for the social-ness of media to intensify the media infrastructure had to be embedded within our everyday lives and practices. The smartphone was a critical piece of infrastructure in building the 'culture of connectivity' of media platforms. Media platforms signal a dramatic change in the business model of the culture industry. The cultural and media industries are still primarily in the business of producing content and audience attention that they sell to advertisers. But, the flows of attention and associated revenue have shifted dramatically.

For much of the twentieth century ‘rivers of gold’ in the form of advertising revenue flows into media institutions like newspapers and television stations. These rivers of gold funded ‘quality’ content: investigative journalism and local television drama, as just two examples. Those rivers of gold no longer flow through these mass media institutions, instead they flow into media platforms like Google and Facebook. These media platforms do not invest their profits in quality content however, but rather in media engineering projects – augmented and virtual reality technologies, logistical extensions like driverless cars and machine learning. As they do, the role that media plays in the organisation of everyday life extends beyond simply shaping webs of meaning.

Media are no longer just a tool for managing the social process of representation, they also act as infrastructure for organising the logistics of everyday life.