Saturday, 16 April 2016

Weapons of the Weak: Mobile Media


     Have you ever noticed the following behaviour in public spaces? In a crowded restaurant, while waiting for the food to be served, in the midst of all the noise, there is one person who is completely ignorant of his or her surroundings and is captivated by the content on their mobile devices. Indeed, with the development of mobile phones and the Internet, mobile media has taken over our lives and changed the way we interact with one another.  in 1977, cellular network was first introduced to the world and within a short period of time, it has changed people's lives forever. From less than 1 billion mobile cellular subscriptions in 2000, just last year in 2015, there are more than 7 billion mobile cellular users worldwide (Wei, 2013).

But here you might question, what exactly is mobile media?

     According to Wei (2013), mobile media is being defined as “a personal, interactive, internet-enabled and user-controlled portable platform that provides for the exchange of and sharing of personal and non-personal information among users who are inter-connected” (p. 52). Thus, mobile media includes a variety of mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and e-readers to game consoles.

     With the mobility of technology devices and the internet-abled accessibility, it is more convenient for people to bring it everywhere and remain connected by just clicking social media applications. Let’s be honest, we depend on our mobile phones or tablets almost in our daily tasks. Waking up every morning to our phone alarm, reading news updates from The Star mobile application, connecting with friends and family via social media apps, setting a reminder for an appointment, finding information via google apps, searching location via navigation apps, getting latest updates from work etc. There is no doubt that mobile phones have become embedded in our daily lives because it brings so much convenience to us. For instance, mobile media gives us the ability to spend time with our family members when we are not physically together. Indeed, mobile media allows us to stay connected with our family members and as a means to fulfill our obligations as a family member, however, some people might abuse it by not realizing when is the right time for using mobile phones. Before everyone has a smartphone, people tend to interact more while on the dining table by having conversations; nowadays, you might notice some will occasionally check their phones or being totally absorbed by the images or texts in their smartphones. As such, they may be physically close, but absolutely not mentally connected.

     Besides helping us with our daily tasks, mobile media has become increasingly important in work and employment. However, there is much debate on the usage of mobile media in working place, with the positive explanations on one hand and pessimistic accounts on the other. Recently, many small to medium enterprises (SMEs) adopted a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) scheme, which allows their employees to bring their own personal devices to work. Lowry and Moskos (2005) suggested that the usage of mobile media has blurred the lines between public and private domain. Some workers have failed to negotiate the boundaries between public and private domain, as a result, they felt a sense of identity dissonance and angst. Moreover, work intensification has also increased due to being on call 24/7 for work-related phone calls or updates via mobile phones.

     In light of positive accounts, workers are able to contact work colleagues when needed, solving problems ‘on the spot’ as well as exchanging business transactions via mobile media. Uber taxi is one of the best examples of doing business by harnessing new technologies such as smartphones, online payment system, GPS, identification and feedback system. Uber taxi adopted the concept of turning unused or under-used personal assets into resourceful assets. Thus, it allows people to earn extra income by providing ride-sharing services. According to Wallsten (2015), traditional taxi services have received many complaints from customers encompassing a range of poor services such as broken air-conditioning, impoliteness, broken credit card machines and talking on the phone while driving. However, due to monopolization of taxi services, customers had no other alternatives to choose other taxi services. That holds true until recently, with the rising of Uber taxi services available around the world, customers decided to switch to better companies instead of complaining. From here, we can see that mobile media plays an important role by giving business opportunities to people.

Mobile media and political event

     Today’s mobile communication has shifted to a new paradigm of human communication by putting users at the center of the interactive social platform. In other words, we have more democracy in choosing the kinds of information that we wish to receive. Besides, mass media was controlled by a few powerful institutions to disseminate information to users whom have no stake in participatory activities (Chaffee & Metzger, 2001). Mobile media is not just solely a communication tool but it also allows for the spreading of ideologies and social movements.

     The uprising in Egypt and Tunisia is a good example of political event that was facilitated by social media. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter has been used broadly in making the demonstration successful. These movements were clearly facilitated by mobile media, especially for foreign audiences, to build extensive networks, create social capital, and organize political action with the speed and scale that has never been seen before (United States Institute of Peace, 2012). Without mobile media, it is likely that fewer people would have shown up in that event. Thus, the role of mobile media is of utmost importance in spreading the uprising. Besides, mobile media acts as a platform for marginalized people to express their angst and injustice to the world by sharing graphic images and words on social media.

Can you think of any event that is facilitated by social media in Malaysia?

     In Malaysia, where mainstream media is tightly filtered and controlled by the government, a 38 year-old activist, Fahmi Reza has adopted a ‘visual disobedience’ method to raise awareness about political issues in Malaysia. Recently, Reza decided to draw Malaysia Prime minister as an ‘evil clown’ to indicate the scandals over state investment firms, 1MDB and the 2.6 billion donation transferred into the Prime Minister’s bank account. These images were shared virally to his 7,500 twitter followers and 43,500 Facebook followers with a hashtag of #kitasemuapenghasut, making him a target of the authorities. In just 30 days, 80 posters of Najib's clown face have appeared on public walls across 30 cities in Malaysia, which were removed instantly by the authorities. From here, we can see that Reza has utilized the power of social media to create awareness among Malaysians to stand up against injustice and corruption.

     In conclusion, we should reconceptualize the definition of mobile media as it is not merely a communication tool anymore in 21st century. The power of social media in implicating a political event should not be undermined and underestimated because users are gaining more autonomy in producing and distributing contents via social media.


Chaffee, S., & Metzger, M. (2001). The end of mass communication? Mass Communication & Society, 4(4), 365-379.

Lowry, D., & Moskos, M. (2005). Hanging on the mobile phone: Experiencing work and spatial flexibility (Working Paper No. 153).  Retrieved from:

United States Institute of Peace. (2012). New media and conflict after the Arab Spring. Washington, United States Institute of Peace.

Wallsten, S. (2015). The competitive effects of the sharing economy: How is Uber changing taxis? Technology Policy Institute.

Wei, R. (2013). Mobile media: Coming of age with a big splash. Mobile Media & Communication, 1(1), 50-56.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, we appreciate your feedback!

  2. Very insightful on how the application of mobile media have such impact in this age

    1. How do you think the influence of mobile media will continue to affect our society in the future?

  3. In my opinion, mobile media will soon be able to perform more complex task to help us be more efficient.

  4. Yeah! My smartphone is smarter than me already :D