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How is a smartphone a ‘transportal home’?

Instead of windows, you ‘portal’ from the ‘transportal home’ directly into other people’s smartphones, using webcams for example

Take a look at the short film above, which we created to show how a smartphone can be thought of as what we call the ‘transportal home’.

This film is not suggesting that the smartphone is the same as a bricks-and-mortar home. Obviously, unlike most physical homes, the smartphone is mobile. You can’t sleep and cook inside a smartphone. Instead of windows, you ‘portal’ from the ‘transportal home’ directly into other people’s smartphones, using webcams for example.

Different relationships

The film also suggests that the meaning of the ‘transportal home’ will be different for each population. We can expect a migrant’s relationship to their smartphone will be different from someone who lacks physical mobility or a young person frustrated that they are still living in their parent’s home.

The cartoon below highlights an Egyptian migrant’s relationship to their smartphone based on Shireen Walton’s research in Milan and was scripted by Laura Haapio-Kirk and Georgiana Murariu and illustrated by artist John Cei Douglas.

In this cartoon, we meet Heba, who is living a busy life in Milan raising her two teenage children. She is connected to Egypt, where she was born and grew up, through her smartphone, and through various interactions throughout the day.

While she has a full life in Milan, the smartphone is also a place that she ‘lives’ in while carrying out her daily activities. Listening to Egyptian music and communicating with her family throughout makes her feel like she still has a strong connection to Egypt.

First panel of two panels of a cartoon that is meant to be read vertically, first panel 1, then panel 2 directly below it. In panel 1, we see the title of the cartoon, which is called 'where the heart is' and accompanied by a heart icon. The opening panel is of a street scene in Milan, Italy, showing a street, trees and shops. The protagonist of the cartoon, Heba, who is an Egyptian migrant, wishes a good day to her daughter Fatima, who says 'ciao mamma'. Heba is wearing a long-sleeved blazer and long trousers and is carrying a piece of luggage behind her. She is also wearing a headscarf. People can be seen strolling on the street around them. The daughter is aged about 10-12 and is wearing a long-sleeved shirt and trousers. In the second panel, Heba is shown buying ingredients at a market to make feteer, an Egyptian recipe. She is then shown texting her brother in Egypt and asking him to check on her mother who also lives in Egypt, she asks him to check that she doesn't eat too many sweets as she has diabetes. Her kids are shown in the same room. The next panel shows a text exchange between her and her brother, where he asks her to listen to a song he had sent earlier. She is then seen singing the song whilst cooking in the kitchen.

Second panel of the same comic, shown underneath the first: The children are eating the feteer Heba has made and exclaiming how good it is in Italian (buonissimo), she replies it is nothing like the authentic version their grandmother in Egypt makes. She takes a photo of the feteer and sends it to her mum in a message, and the mum replies that it looks good and she would like some if there is some left. The daughter, Fatima, asks her mother whether they can visit Egypt soon to see her grandmother, and Heba replies they have to wait for the school year to finish. The next morning Heba is shown having her breakfast coffee whilst sat at the table in the kitchen when she suddenly hears her phone buzz and gets a 'good morning' visual message from one of her relatives in Egypt. She feels connected to her home through her smartphone and in the next panel we see her clutching the smartphone to her chest and feeling content. Little hearts are floating around and coming out of the phone.

What does ‘home’ mean?

In addition, the analogy between the smartphone home and the physical home will vary because every region already has a different conception of what ‘home’ itself means.

The key question is this: does the concept of the transportal home help you gain a better perspective on our experience of the smartphone? Or do you find it merely misleading, too forced, and perhaps confusing?

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An Anthropology of Smartphones: Communication, Ageing and Health

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