Mobile technology has developed quickly over the past two decades. With adoption rates growing exponentially and the smartphone as an integral part of day to day life, academic researchers have taken a keen interest in how this transformation affects daily life, from communication behaviors to cultural habits. This research project focuses specifically on how tourists utilize their smartphones, but before turning to the more specific discussion it is crucial to establish what the growing body of research has to say about technology and communication. More specifically, this brief review of literature discusses the relevant literature at three levels. On the first level is software studies, or more specifically how mobile applications (‘apps’) are treated in this discussion, and how software can be treated as text for analysis. Software studies as a whole informs this research project directly, as it deals directly with how technology (such as mobile technology) has a significant role in the contemporary world. On the second level, app studies is a more specific aspect of software studies, and focuses on mobile technology on software, examining how users interact with this software and what use mobile technology has for daily life. On the final level, a subset of the two mentioned above, is the discussion of graphic user interface (GUI), which is a crucial dimension of software studies, since it directly shapes the interaction between mobile technology and the person using the technology. An understanding of what a seamless interact looks like is key to this project’s research into how tourists interact with their smartphones while travelling. While this project also builds on existing research that examines how tourists use mobile technology and smartphones, this literature review is more concerned with an overarching discussion of software studies and how this project plays into the field. This literature review is certainly not exhaustive, but the books and academic articles discussed here provide an important foundation to the methodology, underlying assumptions, and findings of the present research project.
First, it is important to establish what is meant by software studies. As one source describes it, software studies is a “comparatively new field of enquiry that Lev Manovich and others have championed” that “claims to offer a new paradigm for thinking through the increasing significance of software within contemporary society.” The ideas of Manovich will be discussed in more detail below, but the basics of software studies are essentially confined to the idea that software shapes society just as much as society shapes software. As Zeller, Ponte, and O’Neill go on to state, “We are…living in a software-based culture, one which fundamentally shapes the practices of our institutions and is inherent to any number of social, political and economic practices central to our everyday lives.” In other words, the main conception of software studies is that understanding modern forms of communication, representation, interaction, and even decision-making, academics and developers alike should turn to the layer of software. The authors go on to quote Lev Manovich, who essentiall established the field of software studies: “All disciplines which deal with contemporary society and culture – architecture, design, art criticism, sociology, political science, humanities, science and technology studies, and so on – need to account for the role of software and its effects in whatever subjects they investigate.” While the present research project is not as broad as to include societal issues like political science and economy, the applicability of software studies to tourism is clear: if software informs and even shapes those larger areas of life, then it is certain to influence the experience of tourists.
Manovich himself, in Software Takes Command, describes the specific tools under question in software studies, and drives this point home: “Search engines, recommendation systems, mapping applications, blog tools, auction tools, instant messaging clients, and, of course, platforms which allow people to write new software are in the center of the global economy, culture, social life, and, increasingly, politics.” The application of this idea to the study of GPS software applications and their use by tourists is quite apparent: it is not simply a tool that tourists can use, but can actually shape their experience, their decisions, and their overall satisfaction. This is the basic understanding of software studies that the proceeding research project will utilize. However, it is just as important to realize the relevant limiation of software studies: it is “currently preoccupied with software at the level of code and interface and has comparatively little to say about the entanglement of users with software at a variety of levels within the digital ecology.” With this in mind, the literature review turns also to a discussion of app studies, treating software as text (according to Manovich), and what successful user interaction looks like. As a final point for software studies, another academic source states that the field is trans-disciplinary by nature, while simultaneously forwarding software as an independent entity for study: software studies “proposes that software can be seen as an object of study and an area of practice for kinds of thinking and areas of work that have not historically ‘owned’ software, or indeed often had much of use to say about it.” In this way, the rest of this research project treats software not only as an independent variable within tourism, but as an entire subject of study.
In addition to this more generalized overview of software studies as a whole, it is also worthwhile to examine how Lev Manovich treats the subject and new field of study specifically. The key to Manovich’s argument is that software can be treated the same way that text media was treated in previous decades, generations, and centuries. As the scholar states in one study, “While earlier reproduction, technologies such as woodblock printing, moveable type printing, lithography, and photography represented media in ways accessible to bare senses, the media technologies of the late 19th century abandoned these formats in favor of an electrical signal.” In other words, software can be considered fundamentally the same as any other form of media. This is not to say that someone can look to all the ones and zeros behind a particular piece of software for analysis; instead, Manovich argues that the software applications themselves (as well as the interaction between users and software) can be treated the same as other forms of media. As the scholar concludes in another academic study, “Software has emerged as the main new media form of our time…[it] has replaced a diverse array of physical, mechanical, and electronic technologies used before the 21st century to create, store, distribute, and access cultural artifacts, and to communicate with other people.” In this way, Manovich’s description of software is that smartphones and other forms of mobile technology are not only a ubiquitous part of the modern world, but completely redefine the way in which academics can understand media consumption. With this in mind, the present research study shows that mobile transportation and navigation software is a primary form of media for tourists.
One final topic relevant to this research project is the more specific field of app studies, which is concerned with the way in which users interact with mobile technology – including graphic user interface (GUI). Within app studies, many are concerned with GUI, even though it is not an exact science. As one source states, “Design rules often describe goals rather than actions. They are purposefully very general to make them broadly applicable, but that means that their exact meaning and applicability to specific design situations is open to interpretation.” In other words, certain GUIs are useful for certain kinds of interactions – the goals mentioned above. Another key aspect to GUI is user feedback; as another source states, feedback gives information that is “useful for app developers, such as user requirements, ideas for improvements, user sentiments about specific features, and descriptions of experiences with these features.” The discussion of GUI and feedback that forms the design is relevant to the present research project since it the design itself dictates the ‘media’ of the software and how users interact with it – including tourists using navigational or transportation software.
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