Why we all need a degree in ‘Mobilology’

Reprinted from CNN.com


Editor’s note: Florie Brizel is chief executive of L.A.-based consulting firm Brizel Media and is a member of Dutch think tankFreedomLab: Future Studies. She is a published author and has been studying the mobile industry since 2003.

(CNN) — For the last 10 years, people have blithely commented, “Mobile is really changing our world.” The use of mobile and wireless technologies has thrust people into a permanent technology age with the kind of warp speed that author Alvin Toffler predicted in his groundbreaking book “Future Shock” some 40 years ago.

As a result, we now live in a time of profound social upheaval equivalent to the Industrial Revolution.

It seems we have little choice but to embrace our techno-driven reality. While countless individuals and corporations race to create bigger-better-smaller-faster hardware and software, the rest of the world struggles to keep up.

Author and researcher Florie Brizel
Author and researcher Florie Brizel

This struggle takes many forms: learning new gadgets and systems; successfully integrating into the workplace different competencies with digital technology; and somehow being able financially to keep up.

It also includes asking, “How, exactly, is mobile changing our world, and is it all for good? How can we incorporate more and more technology without losing our humanity?”

Many people understand the need for addressing the “human cost” of digital device mobility.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal dedicated two pages of its Weekend Review section to an article entitled, “The Perils of Texting While Parenting.” The article addressed whether or not the increase in childhood injuries could be directly attributed to mobile device distraction of supervising adults.

Read: How mobile tech affects the family

Fortunately, international thought leaders and scholars have begun to examine mobile and wireless for their effects on a wide variety of areas in our lives. I have coined a single word — Mobilology [mobile + ology] — to describe and give context to the study of mobile and wireless usage specifically as it relates to human behavior; community (formation, building and abandonment); culture; economics; education; entertainment; healthcare; and international relations.

Since 2009, I have lectured around the world advocating for the creation of mobilology as a new and formal social science at university level. Since mobile affects nearly every established academic discipline, acknowledging its importance, independently, as a pivotal change agent in a rapidly evolving world makes good sense educationally, can cost very little to implement, and will prove invaluable.

By establishing mobilology as a bonafide field of study, universities can remain at the cutting edge of education by offering course work with clear relevancy to incoming and interested students.

The first university to do so will get permanent bragging rights. Furthermore, it will foster the development of future scholars and leaders in an ever-expanding field that heretofore has simply lacked a unifying name.

Students will learn about the effects of mobile and wireless use as it relates to human behavior in their psychology classes. They will gain insight to the effects of mobile on community building (e.g. through mobile gaming), community sustenance (Facebook continues to grow at an unprecedented pace), and community abandonment (remember MySpace?) through their sociology courses.

Read: How cultural differences affect mobile use

Similarly, they will learn about the effects of mobile as it relates to culture, economics, education, entertainment, healthcare (which itself is a dynamic growth industry as a direct result of what can be achieved through mobile and wireless devices), and international relations.

Many developing nations are far more innovative and advanced than the U.S. in their uses of mobile. If we are to remain competitive internationally, we must take the lead educationally.

The creation of a distinct mobilology discipline will benefit everyone by identifying those academics and students doing cutting-edge and thought-provoking research that can be applied to almost any industry.

It will allow mobile- and wireless-based enterprise to connect with top minds to share existing information, with the possibility of funding future research that would otherwise not be sustainable.

As for the argument that some companies have in-house R&D and this would cut out independent research companies, I say “no.” Major companies will always need commissioned research. This will increase the pool of experts available to glean the truest, most current information for a client.

Read: A day without a cell phone

Right now, hundreds of academics are involved in research either directly or tangentially related to mobilology. But finding these people is not easy. They identify primarily with the schools or departments in which they normally work.

One reason may be that within today’s university system, no matrix exists to provide the cohesion necessary for examining a growing cache of independent and/or university-acquired metadata that can reveal profound global trends and potential pitfalls.

Without a formalized matrix to provide global context to their work, and encourage connectivity with other like-minded academics, we will continue to have a disarticulated population of individual experts in the effects of mobile and wireless use.

Today we have the means to connect these individuals to each other, as well as to the global mobile industry, for cross-pollination of ideas, funding, research, manufacturing, and responsible forward growth that advances by incorporating the fascinating and sometimes unexpected effects of mobilology.


Avoiding Close Calls

Commentary originally printed 02-13-2012, page 43

© 2012 Los Angeles Business Journal.  Reprinted with permission.

Too casual attitude about using phones to conduct business in public can violate client confidentiality.

I recently rode in first class on the train from Geneva to Zürich, Switzerland.  As the train pulled out of the station, the voices of a man and a woman sitting in front of me rose to accommodate for the noise.  They engaged in separate conversations I could easily hear in three languages on their mobile phones, and they communicated with each other in English whenever their different calls finished.  The scenario reminded me of being home in Los Angeles, with people everywhere talking in a variety of languages on their cell phones and then seamlessly shifting back and forth to English whenever necessary.

These two talked about one particular client, then spoke with him on a mobile conference call, addressing him by first name.  Once disconnected, they quickly coordinated their strategy for successfully dealing with him, as well as achieving his goals.  In a matter of minutes, I deduced these two people were bankers, and I knew exactly who their client was.

For the next three hours, I overheard details about his business, the money at stake, what his bankers thought about him, about their own associates, and more.  Truthfully, I was appalled.

And yet, these two people were no different from Angelenos who carelessly speak about private matters in public spaces.  Some people make mobile calls from trains; others, while in line at Starbucks; still others use phones in restaurants; and, a very special group of people even use their mobile phones while using public restrooms.

Their actions on the train were reflections of something I’m quite familiar with called “mobilology,” which studies the effects of mobile phone and wireless use on human behavior; community building, sustenance and erosion; culture; education; entertainment; economics; and, health care delivery.


Here, the bankers behaved as though they existed in a “bubble.”  Socially, international bankers conduct business 24/7 over a phone, irrespective of place, so these two acted according to their profession’s norms.  Culturally, they assumed their behavior didn’t impact (or, in this case, offend or disturb the tranquility of) anyone else around them, who might consider such public phone use inconsiderate.  Economically, the bankers worked practically non-stop because in their world, wasted time equates to loss of money.

What these supposedly savvy people neglected to take into account was that I could hear through their invisible “bubble.”  They clumsily revealed their client’s identity, and also gave me valuable information to share with anyone, anywhere, for any reason.  How could they know I was going for holiday with their client’s potential competitor?

For the sake of efficiency and by yammering away indiscreetly from Geneva to Zürich, these two executives had sacrificed whatever troth of confidentiality they had pledged to their client and which he had every reason to expect from them.  Did this affect anyone besides the hapless client?  Yes.  Me.  Not only was my peaceful journey spoiled by the selfish indifference of these two, but I also was forced to examine my own morals as a nationally published writer and ghostwriter.

I could easily write a tell-all story and out these two self-important people, but then they would immediately (and deservedly) get sacked, as well as every other innocent person working up and down the line from them.  I already had listened to one banker talking to his young daughter at home, so I didn’t want the responsibility of causing her daddy to lose his job.  This explains why I have written this op-ed without divulging names or details – truly to protect the innocent.

But I did tell these bankers right before we pulled into Zürich station that I was an American writer who had heard their entire conversation.  Then, without notes, I repeated details to prove it.  One banker turned beet red; the other, blanched.  Both panicked.

Enterprises, large and small, should be disturbed by this true tale of mobile myopia.   As younger men and women join the global work force – people raised on a diet of mobile social broadcasting where nothing is sacred and confidentiality is tantamount to nontransparency – business will need to assess the myriad ways mobile can cause the wheels of commerce to derail.

Two bankers talking on a train can bring your business to a grinding halt if your competitor overhears them.  So the next time you send your bankers, your sales force, secretaries, ad agency or graphic designers out into the world to do business on your behalf, tell them you’re willing to lose a little efficiency for the sake of keeping your company’s business your company’s business.  In this global village, you never know whose ears might be listening.  Can you hear me now?

# # #

Florie Brizel is chief executive of L.A.-based consulting firm Brizel Media and is a member of Dutch think tank FreedomLab: Future Studies.  She coined the term “mobilology” and lectures internationally for its establishment as a new social science.

Mobile World Congress – 2012

I attended the 2012 Mobile World Congress and noticed something that worries me: it seems we, as individual human beings, are being more and more regarded as the sum total of our biological genomes and retrievable digital data.  I spoke with several researchers of very high repute who no longer feel the need to conduct qualitative or quantitative market surveys.  Why?  They believe everything about us can be gleaned from our existing digital data, a literal trail we leave behind us like snails on a sidewalk.

By simply mining our phone records and credit card bills (or other digital footprints), interested parties can learn about our credit scores, the goods and services we use, and our approximate annual income, to name just a few things.  They apparently also can extrapolate our mindset when we buy or sell everything from a car to cologne.  Analytics has become the hottest new career (and a trendier name than good old mathematics), and too many people for my comfort seem to believe there is no longer any need for market researchers to actually speak to “the market” any more.

Really?  The last time I checked, analytics can’t supplant the quirks and peculiarities that make us uniquely human and endlessly surprising.  Predictive analysis – forecasting – has been around for quite awhile.  Clearly there is benefit to knowing when and where a hurricane will hit, a stock market will crash, or a population will explode with growth.  But there is a well-known maxim that says, “If past performance is any indicator of future behavior…” and the key word is “if.”  Human beings have a delightful habit of changing our minds at the last minute and stumping the “experts” who believe they know exactly what we will do.  Case in point: the famous 1948 newspaper headline trumpeting the assumed U.S. presidential election results.  In extra large and bold type, it said, “Dewey Beats Truman.”  Yeah.  Sure. 

I may be one of the few people left who loves it when pollsters call my phone number and ask me to answer survey questions because it gives me the chance to be more than an algorithm.  It allows me to be unpredictable.  To give answers outside of a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being ‘least likely’ and 5 being ‘most likely.’  Sometimes, I’m even asked to answer a question with words of my own!

Don’t get me wrong.  I learned a lot at this year’s Congress, and I met many incredible people.  I also learned just how near Future Shock really is.   

Even toddlers know

I read another article about children competing for attention with their parents’ mobile devices.  This one was written from the point of view of the mother.  You can check it out at <http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING.06/14/phone.addicted.parent/index.html?hpt=hp_bn8>  Clifford Nass, a Stanford University professor in communications, is the main academic source cited.  This is nothing new.  Children have been tugging at their parents’ pant legs and skirts  for several years already, trying to get their full attention.  Kids know the difference between perfunctory acknowledgment and full attention.  If we don’t pay attention to what the research is telling us, if we don’t pay attention — full attention to our kids — then we are headed down a slippery slope of unconscious child-rearing and angry little people.

June 7, 2011

I had the ambitious goal of writing every day.  As you can see, that hasn’t happened.  Such is life.  Today the Wall Street Journal reported Pfizer Inc. will conduct the first FDA-approved clinical drug trial in which participants are recruited over the Internet and monitored with the aid of a smartphone mobile application.  A fine example of Mobilology!  Mobile phones are implemented in place of bricks-and-mortar testing sites to provide healthcare delivery at lower costs than traditional clinical trials.  The success (or failure) of this trial — and potential new model — is predicated on the anticipated behavior of the research subjects in relation to their mobile devices.  This is brilliant!  I hope it works.

Another article in today’s WSJ talks about using a virtual nurse named “Louise” — a virtual discharge advocate — as a way to assist patients once they leave the hospital and as a means to prevent them from readmission.  Rising costs of healthcare are forcing everyone in the healthcare delivery chain to re-examine how they’re doing things.  Costs must come down.  The mobile phone will play a crucial role in this…but ultimately, it’s patient behavior and compliance (or non-compliance) that will be the true test of success.  It’s possible that an impersonal device will produce better results in terms of patient compliance.  Time will tell.

Mobilology Today – May 30, 2011



Hello!  This is my first blog post for Mobilology Today, so I thought I’d give a quick description of what Mobilology is, why I’m so interested in it, and what you can expect from this blog.

First a Little Background
About eight years ago, I knew very little about the mobile phone industry except that I had a cell phone.  I was talking with Ralph Simon (www.mobilium.com), acknowledged as the ‘Father of the Ringtone,’ who observed that mobile phones were changing everything from behavior to economics.  I agreed with him.  (In 2004, he was the first to correctly predict the impact of social broadcasting.)  We spoke about writing a book together or teaching a class, and I pursued Ralph for at least a year to do this with me.  Eventually, I figured out he has a million great ideas, he travels far too much to pin him down, and he isn’t interested in following each great idea he has to its logical conclusion.  So I asked if I could take the ball and run with it.  Which is exactly what I’ve done, with his blessing.

I also have to credit Ted Cohen, managing partner of TAG Strategic.  I chatted briefly with him at a CTIA conference, about five years ago, about establishing Mobilology as a bona fide academic field of study.  He literally laughed in my face.  I felt like the skinny kid on the beach with the big muscleman kicking sand on me.  But that’s the moment my “I’ll show you!” spirit kicked in.

So just what is Mobilology?
It’s the study of the effects of mobile phone use on behavior; community; culture; entertainment; economics; education; and health.  In other words, it’s the examination of mobile and wireless technology as drivers of profound social and economic change and innovation.

Mobilology does not deal with technical issues of mobile and wireless devices, such as electronics standards and engineering, speed and data capacity, or network interoperability.  However, hardware design and software functionality would be considered part of Mobilology because consumer behavior and demand drive the ways in which devices are designed to look and to perform.

Mobilology also would encompass scholarship that examines the unprecedented shift in the mobile consumer-manufacturer relationship.  Elsewhere in the consumer electronics sector (such as content players, televisions, or musical equipment), manufacturers traditionally have created new devices (Blu-ray; HDTV; 3D-TV) and then depended on advertising, marketing and sales forces to convince consumers they ‘need’ a better, faster, sexier product.

Yet with mobile phones, that relationship radically and permanently changed.  Consumers began to personalize as well as interact with their mobile devices, and started telling manufacturers what they liked and wanted next.  Those manufacturers that didn’t listen and learn saw their customers jump to their competitors who did.  And once anyone added a feature consumers liked, they then demanded it in everything new from then on.  This, essentially, killed many products in development or already in the pipeline that didn’t yet have those preferred features.

My Original Plan vs. Reality
My original plan was to write a book about Mobilology with Ralph, and we hoped a university would grant us a PhD for our work, provided it was dissertation quality.  We spoke with folks at NYU, USC and even the University of Dundee in Scotland.  Except for NYU, my own alma mater, the people we met all understood the value of our message, but couldn’t figure out how to fit us into their existing system.  Especially without funding.  Such is the plight of anything innovative.  We offered countless suggestions, all to no avail.

So I decided to write a book – not for a PhD – in which I interviewed 25 of the top people in the mobile industry and used their own words to show the value for high-level study of mobile as a social science.  Shortly after I started, I realized the mobile industry was moving at such breakneck speed that any book I wrote would contain outdated or irrelevant information by the time it was published.

In the Meantime…
I read as much as I could – books, newspapers, magazines and online – and attended various conferences, taking notes and collecting business cards.

It soon became evident if I wanted to play in the big league, then I needed to attend the Mobile World Congress (www.gsmworld.com), held annually in Barcelona.  Seeing 50,000 men and women scurrying about in one place to buy, sell, regulate and innovate a plethora of mobile and wireless products, services, bandwidth and, essentially, the future, convinced me I was on the right track and needed to go at this full speed ahead.

I talked up Mobilology to anyone who would listen then, and I’ve continued to do so at every available opportunity ever since.  With each passing year, more and more people understand what I’m proposing and see its relevance.  My keynote address at TheNextWeb Conference (www.thenextweb.com)in 2010 brought increased awareness to a young and influential audience about unconscious daily choices we make regarding mobile use.  My keynote address later that same year to a group of C-level IT executives at MobileWorld 2010 (www.MobileWorld2010.com) in S. Korea spread the message that IT covers only some of the issues related to mobile and wireless communication.

The Big, Big Picture
My goal is to establish Mobilology as a new social science at the university level around the world.  Exposing undergraduates to Mobilology as a field of study will encourage advanced research at the Master’s- and PhD-level.  Once Mobilology achieves traction on a large enough scale, it becomes possible to create a matrix connecting all the people involved in its study.  As global academic players become identified, it becomes possible to gather meta-data for information and implications that only can be imagined now.

With even a nascent framework of academics in place, it becomes possible for the first time to connect global mobilologists with members of the global mobile industry: telcos, handset manufacturers, information architects, software designers, etc.  Linking academics and enterprise provides mutual benefits: industry needs the insight of individual academics; and, to pursue their relevant hypotheses, academics need the funding so often available through enterprise.

My vision is to see increased mobile-centric cross-disciplinary collaboration for the dual goals of greater innovation and responsible industry growth at the same time.  The GSMA has expressed an interest in my work and has begun initiatives to make education a part of its own mission.

What Mobilology Today Will Do
Conveniently, Mobilology currently has seven basic sectors identified, and there are seven days a week.  Each day, I plan to write about one sector.  I may comment on recent news, suggest interesting articles I’ve come across, or pose questions about issues I’m interested in.  Maybe you’ll be interested, too.  After the blog’s been up for awhile, I’ll open it to comments.

I already have a large database of professors, researchers and other people around the world involved either directly or peripherally in Mobilology.  If you are reading this and recognize your work, or that of an associate, as being related to the effects of mobile use on behavior, community, culture, entertainment, economics, education or health, please contact me by email at florie@brizelmedia.com.

Cheers for now!