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Mobile Conversations in Context

Mobile Conversations in Context (MoCo) is a research project led by Dr Caroline Tagg at The Open University, which aims to develop new understandings of the way in which we move between online and offline interactions in our daily lives.

Most of us, at some time or other, have experienced anxiety or frustration when we do not receive a reply to a text message, or when a WhatsApp conversation comes to an unexpectedly abrupt end, or when the person we are messaging seems disengaged or distracted. These communicative breakdowns can be explained, in part, by the fact that we are not physically present in the same space, and we are not always fully aware of the factors that might shape our conversational partner’s engagement in our conversation. We cannot know – unless they write and tell us – that their bus has just pulled up, that they have just gone into a meeting, or that it is time for them to make their children’s dinner.

MoCo explores how our offline activities shape how we interact online, by shedding light on the physical contexts in which mobile messages are sent and received. It aims to understand how the rhythm of our mobile conversations is shaped by our daily offline activities, and how the quality and depth of our online engagement is affected by what we are doing at the time, and what is happening around us. As well as assuaging people’s anxieties, the research also aims to contribute to a better understanding of how we communicate with others, by recognising the central role that mobile phones now play in our everyday lives and relationships.

This project is funded by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship.