Melding with the Self, Melding with Relational Partners, and Turning into a Quasi-social Robot: A Japanese Case Study of People’s Experiences of Emotion and Mobile Devices

Satomi Sugiyama, Franklin University Switzerland

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Past research suggests that the mobile device can be experienced as a relational artefact, and also, as a technology for cyborgization, questioning the boundary between the mobile device and humans. This paper examines the question in the context of Japanese young people. More specifically, the present study seeks to identify various patterns of the way people make sense of their mobile device in Japan, suggesting some possible future research questions where the notion of social robots, mobile device, and emotions intersect. Based on the results of focus group interviews conducted in 2010, the paper explicates how humans start blurring the distinction between their relational partners and the mobile device that affords the sense of perpetual contact. This is indicative of how a mobile device has gone through the process of anthropomorphization, turning into a quasi-social robot. Furthermore, the paper discusses how some experience their own mobile device as a part of their body. This suggests how a mobile device is perceptually incorporated into the body, turning humans into quasi-social robots. Connecting the results to the notion of electronic emotions, the paper conceptualizes the idea of quasi-social robot as a metaphor that conveys the extent to which humans are now equipped with advanced technologies, making us more powerful but also simultaneously more vulnerable. It concludes that the heightened complexity in the relational dynamics, and the emotions that are triggered and exchanged deserve further investigation to see how their emotional experiences are changing. Such future research promises to foster our understanding of the transcending boundary between humans and the mobile communication device, informing the question of social robots and emotion.