Is the Mobile Phone a Personalized Social Robot?

Jane Vincent, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of Surrey Digital World Research Centre

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This paper explores how some people use their mobile phone to manage their emotions and presentation of self to such an extent that they develop a strong bond with it, turning to it first in times of emotional need. It examines how some social robots, designed by experts to provide bespoke emotional support, can address only particular emotional problems. This is further examined by contrasting the electronic emotions managed via the mobile phone with the uses for three social robots: Amazing Ally, KASPAR and Paro. Unlike these robots, that are effective only when responding to certain pre-programmed emotions, the mobile phone appears to be a constant companion dealing with every eventuality. Imbued with the user’s feelings and emotions that surround the continuous and always on presence of the device, the user constantly turns to it for solace, to share joyous moments, recall special memories and more. The resulting close emotional and physical association with a device that is filled with the personal biography of its user is that the mobile phone becomes like a personal social robot; a co-construction of functional machine and intimate emotional experiences known only to the user.