Mobility, Social Interaction, Privacy, and Accessibility While Developing an App

The app I am developing will help decrease the number of stray cats and dogs in urban areas. The app’s features include a microchip scanner and GPS map of where the nearest shelter is. These will help pets that are already lost find their way home. The app will also have a social network for those who no longer want their animals communicate with those looking for pets. These features connect with the ideas of mobility and social interaction, as well as raise concerns about privacy and accessibility.

The concept of mobility is discussed by Masao Kakihara and Carsten Sørensen in “Expanding the ‘Mobility’ Concept”. Mobility is constantly transforming our social lives. “Being mobile is not just a matter of people traveling, but far more importantly, related to the way in which they interact with each other in their social lives” (Kakihara and Sørensen 2001, p.33). The first type of mobility discussed in this article is spatial mobility. Spatial mobility deals with the mobility of objects, symbols, and space (Kakihara and Sørensen 2001, p.34). The app I’m creating is for download on a smartphone. Smartphones are objects that are extremely mobile, as users carry them virtually everywhere they go. “It’s virtually an extension of the skin. It is fitted, molded to the body itself. It is designed for movement- for mobility, for people who are always out and about, for traveling light” (Kakihara and Sørensen 2001, p.34). Although they are discussing the Sony Walkman here, I believe the same concept can be applied to smartphones. My app is taking advantage of the mobility of this object. For example, when someone is out for a walk and sees a lost cat or dog, they’re more likely to have their phone on them then not. Using my app, they’ll be able to immediately to connect with a shelter or possibly find the pet’s owner.

One of the main functions of my app is a type of social network that connects pet owners and animal lovers across a region. “The internet has become a place where an immense amount of information, sound and images travel beyond national borders” (Kakihara and Sørensen 2001, p.34). Such a large geographical range will not be necessary with my app, however, as it’s meant to be used by people in the same city or town. This is because typically when a cat or dog goes missing, they only stray a few miles away from their home. Users of the app will be able to make a post about a cat or dog that they no longer want, or a stray cat or dog they’ve found, and tag a certain area. Other users in that area can view these posts if they would like to adopt someone’s cat or dog, or to see if their lost pet has been found. This is an example of the mobility of symbols. Kakihara and Sørensen also discuss the mobility space. They say that, “such a loosely connected network of computers brings forth a virtual spatiality- a ‘virtual community’ or ‘cyber community’” (Kakihara and Sørensen 2001, p. 34). My app is connecting the community of pet owners and animal lovers.

The second type of mobility discussed in this article that relates to my app is temporal mobility. Smartphones and their apps have made life a lot easier, giving us the ability to perform tasks at a much faster rate. “Efforts to invent new technologies and introduce them into existing work settings are motivated to a large extent by the desire to accelerate the pace of work and to save time” (Kakihara and Sørensen 2001, p.34). When it comes to my app, users would be saving time by not having to make a trip to the shelter. Someone who is looking for a new cat or dog tends to go to a pet store or shelter as his or her first option. A lot of people lean towards shelters because they are saving an animal that would otherwise not have a chance a life. However, with the social media aspect of my app, a prospective pet owner can skip the shelter all together, while still rescuing an animal that is no longer wanted or able to be cared for by their current owner. Those who lose their pets can also save time with this app by instantly posting about their lost cat and dog for others to see. In the past, they would’ve had to take the time to make, print, and hang up flyers about the animal. This app gives them the ability to do that in a matter of seconds, as well as reaching a much larger audience. Kakihara and Sørensen state, “such ‘instantaneity’ of time in the contemporary society in general and in cyberspace in particular further increases polychronicity of human activities” (Kakihara and Sørensen 2001, p. 35). I believe people will be more inclined to help animals with more advanced and fast technology to do so.

The final type of mobility discussed by Kakihara and Sørensen is contextual mobility, which deals with the context in which human actions take place. The authors quote Lucy Schuman who says, “the coherence of situated action is tied in essential ways not to individual predispositions or conventional rules but to local interactions contingent on the actor’s particular circumstances” (Kakihara and Sørensen 2001, p.35). People are going to download my app because they feel that helping animals is the right thing they do. It’s designed for animal lovers. It’s designed for people who want to find a good home for a stray cat or dog, or to save them from going to the shelter and prevent them from being stray in the first place. Not everyone feels this way, but those that do will be given the ability to connect with each other. “Computer mediated communication not only enables people to asynchronously connect with others in distant areas, it also transforms the contextual constraints amongst those interacting” (Kakihara and Sørensen 2001, p. 35). My app is going to connect pet owners and animal lovers within a region to each other who would otherwise not know about each other. For example, someone who can no longer care for their cat can immediately connect with someone on the opposite side of their city who is looking for a cat with the use of this technology. This makes a trip to the shelter completely unnecessary and the transition between homes for the cat that much easier. My app takes full advantage of the world of expanded mobility that we’re living in.

My app also connects with the idea of social interaction. This concept is discussed in Lee Humphrey’s article, “Connection, Coordinating, Cataloguing: Communicative Practices on Mobile Social Networks”. My app is for use on a mobile device, and includes a social media network; therefore Humphrey’s ideas are extremely relevant. “Mobile interactions with social networks are those social interactions centered on connection or communicating with people through mobile media” (Humphreys 2012, p.495). As I discussed in the previous section, this app is designed to connect animal lovers and prospective pet owners. In order for a lost pet to be returned to it’s owner, or a current pet owner to transfer their pet to someone else, social interaction needs to take place. These interactions will happen first over the app, but then later in person when the animal is actually exchanged.

The app connects people who are close in both inner and outer space, but may not know it. Inner space refers to how close people are socially and emotionally, while outer space refers the physical distance between people (Humphreys 2012). The people who download this app all have something in common; they care for the wellbeing of animals, therefore, they are close in inner space. As I said when I was discussing mobility, this app will connect users within the same region, because stray animals do not travel far, and prospective owners typically don’t want to travel far to adopt a pet. This shows how users are also close in outer space. “Social media networks are designed to facilitate interaction among members of intimate social groups (intimate inner space) who are physically distant (disparate outer space), while others attempt to connect unknown others (unknown inner space) in close physical proximity (co-located outer space)” (Humphreys 2012, p. 497). In the case of my app, the latter applies. An example of this would be when a prospective owner connects with someone in their region who needs to give up their pet. These two people did not previously know each other, but were still able connect among a common ground because they both live in the same area. This app will help facilitate the social interaction between animal lovers, both online and in person.

While my app takes advantage of mobility to encourage social interaction, it raises some privacy and accessibility concerns. The app uses GPS technology for users to tag their location, as well as a social network where users share personal details. Both of these technologies can be abused and result in cyber-stalking. Alice E. Marwick discusses these concerns in her article, “The Public Domain: Social Surveillance in Everyday Life”. She claims, “Individuals strategically reveal, disclose and conceal personal information to create connections with others and tend social boundaries (Marwick 2012, p.378). Users of my app are disclosing information about where they live and the status of their pet ownership. People who meet up to exchange a pet must do so with an air of caution, as they are meeting a complete stranger. They must also be wary about how much personal information they disclose about themselves on their online profile, because you never know who is watching.

The social network on my app does not allow users to disclose as much information about themselves as sites like Facebook and Twitter do, as it’s sole purpose is for posting about animals. However, their profiles will still include a name and location, which could potentially be accessed by dangerous people. “Digital information is replicable, persistent, searchable, and scalable; it can be easily disseminated, copied, and accessed (boyd 2010 as cited in Marwick 2012, p.381). A user of this app may not disclose that much information about themselves on the app itself, but a potential predator could use what they do post to find them on other social media platforms and proceed to cyber-stalk them from there.

The purpose of the social network portion encourages real life and face-to-face interaction, as it is meant to connect current and prospective pet owners. Therefore, users should not appear to be someone they’re not within the app. If you’re connecting with someone who you’re later going to meet up with about an animal, you should appear online exactly how you’re going to appear in person. “Social media users engage in self-conscious identity construction to manage impressions, taking the real and potential audience into account” (Ellison, Heino, and Gibbs 2006; Hodkinson and Lincoln 2008; Lui 2007; Papacharissi 2002 as cited in Marwick 2012, p.381). In the case of my app, the potential audience is the real audience. It’s important for users to be truthful about who they are and what they have to offer, because this app was designed to be a legitimate way for animals to be exchanged between people. When it comes to privacy concerns within this app, users must be truthful about what they post about themselves, but still cautious about how much information they disclose.

In addition to privacy concerns, the development of my app also raises accessibility concerns. It is only available for download on mobile smartphones, which restricts the number of people who can use it. Since smartphones are expensive, the average user of this app will be middle to upper class. The app will be free to download so it will be completely accessible to anyone who does have a smartphone. People with poor vision often have a hard time reading smartphone screens. “Many people with low vision find it difficult to find a mobile phone with a large enough, brightly lit screen that they can comfortably read. So if they cannot read the screen, people with low vision face the same denial of access to the features of their mobile phones as do people who are blind” (Goggin 2006, p.99). Most smartphones already have features that address this problem, such as the ability to make the screen brighter and zoom in on a particular area of the screen to make it easier to read. My app will be fully compatible with these features.

As mobile technologies keep advancing, many activities and tasks become a lot easier. My app will help stray animals find a home much faster than they would without technology. Increased mobility through the use of smartphones will allow people to connect with others about strays and pets that are up for adoption at a very quick rate. This feature will save people time and a trip to the shelter. Social interaction will happen not only on the app itself, but also in person because of connections made within the app. Although some privacy and accessibility concerns are raised, overall the app is a great tool for anyone who wants to help animals.

References

Goggin, Gerard. (2012). “Reading (with) the iPhone.” In In Snickars, P. and Vonderau, P. (Eds). Moving Data: The iPhone and the future of media. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 195-210.

Humphreys, Lee. (2012). “Connecting, Coordinating, Cataloguing: Communicative Practices on Mobile Social Networks,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56:4, 494-510

Kakihara, Masao & Sorensen, Carsten. (2001). Expanding the ‘Mobility’ Concept. SIGGROUP Bulletin, 22(3), 33-37.

Marwick, Alice. (2012). “Public Domain: Surveillance in everyday life.” Surveillance & Society. 9(4): 378-393.

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