A new age for Celtic studies

March 5, 1999

Interdisciplinary research centres are springing up across the country. Olga Wojtas reports on the Irish and Scottish studies institute in Aberdeen, while Julia Hinde looks at the digital world

Keeping in touch with the office when you are on holiday will become child's play in the 21stcentury thanks to advances in mobile phone communications, Julia Hinde reports.

The imminent third generation of mobile telephones should usher in the era of the 24-hour "anyway, anywhere" office - where a phone allows you access to email and the internet, television and telephone, as well as lettingyou shop and pay your bills.

But is that what society wants, orare the new technologies likely to have more negative than positive effects? Such questions are being tackled by a new multidisciplinary research unit atSurrey University.

The Digital World Research Centre, set up nine months ago with Pounds 500,000 from the university, this week announ-ced its first major research collaboration.

Its Pounds 500,000programme looking at the societal and technical futureof mobile phones is funded by a consortium of the four mobile phone giants and the Department of Trade andIndustry.

In addition tocomputer engineers investigating what technologies will become possible, the university's sociologists, psychologists and human computer interaction experts will look at what is actually wanted.

According to centre director, Dr Richard Harper, the project will start by assessing how operators see their consumers then investigating how correct their profile really is.

"They want usto spend time on trains, understanding how and whenpeople use their phones and how others react to this," Harper says.

"The budget includes 70 return trips to Manchester on the train just to watch how people use mobiles."

Harper sees the research unit as a middle man between the university and industry.

"There is arecognition now with these technologies that so much is possible," Harper says. "But what do people want? Do they really want a mobile office, or is the future beingdriven by technology rather than real needs and desires?"

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