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Making ships and friendships

Laura Haapio-Kirk12 February 2021

During my fieldwork in Japan, my smartphone was indispensable as a tool for not only documenting my research through photos, video, and audio but also as a way to interact with my participants through social media which is now a large part of daily life for most people I met. It was important that I be on the same platforms that my participants were on – primarily the messaging application LINE. Often the first thing that people wanted to do when meeting for the first time was to add each other as a contact on LINE. I ended up with hundreds of contacts over my 16 months in Japan.

Many of these online connections have continued now that I have left the field, and some have resulted in further collaboration. Even though I returned from fieldwork over a year and a half ago, Miyagawa san, who is now 76 and lives in Kyoto, still sends me photos and videos of his hobby – model boat making. For him, sharing photos and videos of his craft is as much part of his hobby as the practice of boat making itself. I had hoped to return to Japan in 2020 to follow up with several participants and make some short films, but covid put a stop to that. Instead, I collaborated with Miyagawa san via LINE to make the film that you can see above. I sent him questions and he replied with videos. The process was very smooth thanks to his familiarity with video recording and his enthusiasm to share his hobby.

In the film, Miyagawa san explains how what started as a private hobby turned into a way for him to expand his social network online. He created an Instagram account to document his craft through videos and photos that he takes with his smartphone. Now over 150 followers watch the ships come to life as he glues, polishes and paints. He is happy that his hobby now connects him with people all over the world, and he receives many positive comments on his posts. Miyagawa san explains that having a hobby is integral for staying healthy as you get older. If this hobby can also lead to greater social connection in times of potential isolation, all the better. Miyagawa san’s story is highly relevant for these covid times and shows how sharing your enthusiasm for a hobby such as making ships can also make friendships.

How can I live my life without you?

Xin Yuan Wang27 January 2021

Deep in lockdown in London, it is curious to see how people, including myself, somehow see the smartphone as a ‘lifeline’ in various ways, from arranging daily life to keeping in contact socially. The global pandemic has recruited the global population to a forced social experiment of social isolation, and most had no choice but to experience daily life digitally. Having said so, even before COVID, my research participants back in Shanghai had been fully aware of the fact that the smartphone has long been an essential part of their daily life.

The title of this newly released video, ‘How can I live my life without you’, comes from an old popular love song in China. This expression is used by the lady in the video, one of my research participants, to describe the relationship between people and smartphones.

The video below will be included in our upcoming collaborative volume ‘The Global Smartphone: Beyond a youth technology‘, out this May.