configuration for the mobile era

To explore this notion of configuration as a salient term for understanding behaviour, understanding and affect in mobile digital media and games, I will drawn on an essay that has proved influential in Science and Technology Studies related disciplines. Steve Woolgar’s study of the the design and manufacture of a home computer in the 1980s is, Woolgar asserts, an ‘ethnography of computers’ rather than (just) an ethnography of computer producers and designers.

Woolgar’s ‘ethnography’ documents the social construction of the anticipated user of these home computers through the pre-scription of competences in the choice of components, interfaces and openness of the devices. He calls this ‘the configuration of the user’. As he puts it, the

design and production of a new entity [is] a process of configuring its user, where ‘configuring’ includes defining the identity of putative users, and setting constraints upon their likely future actions (Woolgar 1991: 59).

From this perspective, the design process not only encodes symbolic meanings or addresses existing cultural tastes or possible identity positions ; rather it also entails an attempt ‘to define and delimit the user’s possible actions’, ‘setting parameters for the user’s actions’ (Woolgar 1991: 61). Thus the user is configured as much as assumed or constructed.