Mobile: The New Human Connection

Recently, several articles have cited findings from an M:Metrics release touting the over 12 million active mobile social networkers in the U.S. and Europe. With a background in media research, numbers like this usually get my attention. This time, however, something different clicked in my head. I quickly made a mental list of words one could use to describe the world in which we live today: “connected,” “voyeuristic,” “digital,” “vast,” “famous,” “global,” and “decentralized” aptly describe various elements of any emerging media.

We marketers already know today’s media and marketing worlds are vastly different from yesterday’s. But there’s something to this idea of old and new. The dichotomy of the words “analogue” and “digital” is a theme that connects each word on the above list. The sum of these two opposing words is a hybrid world, a reality that exists for marketers and consumers alike.

Now, I’m not talking about spending more time online with your Second Life wife than with your real one. I’m talking about this fiercely personal and personally relevant mobile device some 240 million U.S. consumers carry every day.

Mobile devices are a perfect example of a technology founded in analogue that’s now moving into digital. The voice capabilities of yesterday’s basic mobile phones were the catalyst for the initial wave of consumer adoption (and something marketers largely under-utilize, but more on that in a later column).

Once the voice market became saturated and could no longer create the ARPU (define) carriers needed to remain profitable, the push to devise advanced mobile networks became paramount. Those advanced networks led to the manufacturing and rollout of mass-marketed 3G (define) handsets. While not every consumer takes advantage of the full feature set today’s mobile phones provide, many integrate the digital elements consumers are accustomed to from other technologies into their mobile experiences.

Continued growth of mobile social networkers is but one example of how consumers are embracing this hybrid world. When I was in college, the whiteboards that hung from our dorm doors ruled. They were the epicenter of all social updates. If we weren’t on campus or were just too lazy to walk across the quad to leave a handwritten note, a lengthy voicemail message sufficed. Once we were out for the night, face-to-face updates became the best way to spread the word about who was where, and which party to crash and when (although such updates became less reliable as the night went on).

Today, cell phones have replaced contracting a standard dorm telephone service and supplying an answering machine to supplement it. Sending and receiving text messages have replaced writing on a whiteboard. Face-to-face conversations have been augmented by technology services such as Twitter. And as M:Metrics reported, 12.3 million mobile social networkers in the U.S. and Europe, the bulk of whom wouldn’t be classified as college students, access mobile versions or mobile features from the two most popular social networking sites today: Facebook and MySpace.

Creating human connections or social networks is no longer just about interpersonal relationships. The most tangible connections are born from relationships made by people and enhanced by mobile technology. The decentralized global network is, in fact, linked. Given how quickly technology morphs, I’ll return to the word-list exercise from time to time to capture where we are at any given moment. After all, tomorrow will always be different from today.

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