Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Reflections on the Gestation of Polymorphic Innovation: The Exploitation of Emergence in Social Network Development Via Text Messaging

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Reflections on the Gestation of Polymorphic Innovation: The Exploitation of Emergence in Social Network Development Via Text Messaging

Article excerpt

Artefacts Used In Novel Ways

What you are about to read is of a conceptual nature and non-standard in structure. The comments collected during focus groups conducted during and at the conclusion of the pilot of an SMS application are threaded through the discussion of the literature. Evidence of Polymorphic Innovation will be revealed.

"Emergence" is a complex systems process whereby the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts (Johnson, 2001). This can also manifest itself as the ad hoc social phenomenon known as the law of unintended consequences (Merton, 1936). This notion refers to scenarios where actions that are undertaken result in unforseen side-effects and is more folk psychology than actual scientific law. It can be viewed as a variant of the apocryphal Murphy's Law, which can be stated as, "If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong" (Spark, 2006). Fitzgerald (2004) points out that serendipity often plays an important role in the design of useful products with the accidental invention of the Post-it note being a key example. Research with the original intention of developing a temporary adhesive, eventually diverted into the ubiquitous office communication aid produced by Art Fry and Spencer Silver for the 3M Corporation in late 1970s. Incidentally, given the constriction of the medium, the Post-it note can arguably be likened to an analogue precursor to contemporary mobile text messaging systems: The 3M website ( ff.html) lists the "fun fact" that a 1998 workplace survey of over 1,000 U.S. employees, undertaken by the Gallup Organization and the Institute for the Future, revealed that the typical professional obtains around eleven Post-it [R] Note messages on a daily basis.

Accidental outcomes may have either positive or negative benefits but they could also lead to a myriad of minor difficulties that simply hamper the progress of any project. An example of this is the rapid adoption of the word "hello" in the English due to the advent of the telephone in the 19th century (Hawley, 2001). Lerer (2003) notes that American author Mark Twain was one of the first authors in the English language to promote the use of "hello" as a telephone greeting in his 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. This is one example of technology as the driver of a pervasive change in language.

The advent of the Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) network standard in 1991 ushered in another example of emergent pervasiveness in technology: The short messaging service (SMS) was originally intended to be merely a paging mechanism alerting mobile users to incoming voicemail messages but it fast became a parallel communication modality in its own right that is also exercising a linguistic shift in our we converse (Peersman, Cvetkovic, Griffiths, & Spear, 2000; Peersman, Griffiths, Spear, Cvetkovic, & Smythe, 2000). The technology has driven a reduction in the length of messages in order to fit on the typical mobile screen.

Innovations Become Pervasive and Impact on Behaviour

Wams and van Steen (2003) define pervasive messaging as that component of pervasive computing that facilitates interpersonal communication between users of a system. They have developed a taxonomic structure for electronic messaging systems with the goal of providing a comparative template against which differences in existing electronic messaging systems can be determined. The argument that consistency is a hallmark to attain in the construction of pervasive messaging systems is central to their work. There are too many variations according to these authors, so they have introduced a messaging model called the Unified Messaging System that can imitate any of the panoply in current use.

In a naturally succinct cultural history of the device, Agar (2003) describes the mobile phone as an enabling mechanism to facilitate "constant touch" between those connected in what has become a dynamic and ever-present social network. …

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