How do we manage contextual mobility in the workplace?

Ishii’s article is somewhat dated, as the statistics for mobile telephone conversations have probably increased sine 2006 when the article “Implications of Mobility” was published. However, Ishii’s implications have merit eight years after publication. I was particularly struck with the three types of mobility (spatial, temporal, and contextual) outlined (p. 347).


A recent New Girl episode deals with the spacial mobility of a landline phone. Source:


Contextual mobility, while potentially liberating for users–as they can turn off their phone if they wanted–is a double edged sword. In the workplace, with mobile phones, the expectation is for all employees to be “on” at all times, no matter the hour. I have gotten emails from work at 9:30 at night. This mobility and the implications of so much mobility and accessibility is something that we must be aware of, and intentional about creating boundaries.

I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but after reading Turkle’s Alone Together, I’ve been reading all our assignments through the lens of whether or not we’re allowing the technology to dictate our attention spans and stress levels. Perhaps I should get a landline and an answering machine to cut down on my accessibility. But then again, how could I read that 9:30 pm email from my coworker right when she sent it if I didn’t have my cell phone near me (and synced with my email account)?

Posted on November 16, 2014, in Digital, Workplace and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. My problem with landlines is the incessant ringing and how it’s never a call from someone i actually know. Those people have my cellphone number, so what’s the point of paying for another device I want to avoid? As is, my cellphone is always on silent so “I’m in control.” 🙂

  2. There have been a few moments in my life that I will always remember. Most of them are personal, but a few are professional. One that I will always remember and I wish I could forget is when a promotion required me to download an app that allowed me to read work emails on my phone. It was the day that I sold my soul for the almighty dollar. It was the day that “the man” finally kept me down with my permission. I have never felt so invaded, vulnerable, dirty, disgusting, and cheap. To let work infiltrate my home and affect my family made me sick. I ended up ignoring my phone completely by turning it on silent and leaving it in an inaccessible place plugged into the wall. When questioned at work on why I didn’t answer the 11pm email about some unimportant activity at work, I told them the battery on my phone is terrible and I can’t carry it with me. It did nothing to alleviate all the bad feelings I still carried with me.

    If faced with the same decision again, I would probably make the same decision. I imagine that whoring your time to the highest bidder gets easier with time. I don’t know if having work email on your phone is right or wrong, but it definitely doesn’t sit well with me.

  3. Carolyn,

    I find it interesting that you and I chose the same article for our blog, that you also mentioned the dated aspects of the article, and that you drew a correlation between it and Turkle’s argument.

    I agree that contextual mobility has shifted work dynamics and expectations. Perhaps, however, this is not limited to phones (i.e. only mobile) but the same concept (as outlined by Turkle) of becoming accustomed to what was once deemed strange.

    • That’s an interesting point, Jessa. I can see how we’re just shifting our “normal” to embrace all things technology. This makes me think of literal mobility, the wearable technology. How could wearable technology adversely affect our culture? Would we be that much more aloof, as we’d be the vessel with which technology communicated through? (whoa, have we reached the time of Star Wars?)

      • My husband just got the Microsoft Band, and he likes it. I asked him why he likes it so much and his response was because it “just makes him do things and pay attention to his calories burned, steps taken and text messages from me.” The band also tracks the duration of his workouts and number of calories burned. He can then go his iPhone to see insights on if he met his daily goals. I’m not sure if it’s the time of Star Wars, but it’s pretty cool.

  4. Since reading Turkle’s “Alone Together”, I’ve been tracking whether I hold my breath when reading my emails. I don’t think I do, but I do dread it when I see email notifications pop up from certain people.

  5. natashajmceachin

    You raised fanatic points, it’s as if we are slaves to mobile technology in these work situations. How could we ever go about establishing boundaries for this? I’ve never been in the situation but assuming we are all human, I’m certain bosses and coworkers would maintain their common courtesy when contacting and expecting responses. I don’t think there would be any severe penalty for not responding to an email sent at 1:30am and things of that nature.

  6. If you read testimonials from people that used to work at Uber (Glassdoor is a great site), they are literally married to their jobs. They work something like a 10-12 hour day at their office and then when they go home, they all jump on a conference call for another 3 hours or so. Not to mention they don’t exactly have weekends either since they are expected to be available for conference calls and meetings. I couldn’t imagine having a job like that. I feel like my stress and anxiety levels would be through the roof.

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