"[P]acked full of useful and thoughtful social perspectives [...] Altogether a jolly riveting read." (Simon Forge)

Thumb Culture book cover

Peter Glotz, Stefan Bertschi, Chris Locke (eds.), Thumb Culture: The Meaning of Mobile Phones for Society, Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2005, 296 pp., pb., 27,80 €, ISBN 3-89942-403-4.


Mobile communication has an increasing impact on people's lives and society. Ubiquitous media influence the way users relate to their surroundings, and data services like text and pictures lead to a culture shaped by thumbs.

Representing several years of research into the social and cultural effects of mobile phone use, this volume assembles the fascinating approaches and new insights of leading scientists and practitioners.

The book contains the results of a first international survey on the social consequences of mobile phones. It provides a comprehensive inventory of today's issues and an outlook in mobile media, society and their future study.


Read the introduction and learn more about the book's content or download the flyer here.


"Thumb Culture" was mentioned in a review article called "Winter Bookshelf" by Ann Light on Usability News, November 29, 2005. The book is said to be "a useful addition to the literature growing up round mobile phone practices and their meaning to people, and offers suggestions for where to go next in this research area."

Come to know what Jennie Bristow said about "'Thumb Culture' and the meaning of mobiles" in sp!ked-IT, January 4, 2006: "A thought-provoking new book asks: What is a mobile phone...?" The reviewer concludes in her essay that "the book is engaging, readable and above all very interesting [...]. Overall, Thumb Culture is a positive appraisal of the increasingly complex role played by mobile phones in our society."

The "Thumb Culture" anthology is mentioned in an article on mobile phones and parenting by Carolyn Moynihan on MercatorNet, March 9, 2006. It contains some snippets of an interview: "Stefan Bertschi [...] argues that mobiles amplify existing cultural trends rather than create new ones. [...] Bertschi is surely right when he concludes, 'The mobile phone is here to stay and we will have to make the best of it.'" This particularly refers to the social rules of mobile phone usage which still have to be negotiated.

"Thumb Culture" was featured as a new publication in the Cosmobilities Newsletter, June 2006, and on their (old) website. Additionally, it was listed on Mobile Telecommunications by McKinsey & Company, on the MEX blog and by the "160 Characters Association". "Thumb Culture" and its guiding question (i.e., what is a mobile phone?) were mentioned by Richard Watson in the Future Exploration Blog, April 18, 2006. The Future Exploration Network's Chief Futurist concludes that it "asks this question to a cornucopia of 25 technology experts and academics and comes up with some interesting answers."

There are references to Nick Foggin's "Thumb Culture" chapter in a 2006 journal paper called 3G to Web 2.0? by Jason Wilson. Following Nick's stance, it is argued that "the [mobile] telcos need to [...] focus on improving and extending consumers' ability to communicate with one another." Speaking of a mobile data mythology, this reflects a core finding of "Thumb Culture".

The volume is reviewed in the "Technology" section of Communication Booknotes Quarterly 37(2), 2006: 105-108. Unfortunately, I have no access to the review, hoping its author has only good things to say about "Thumb Culture".

Michael Marien, editor of Future Survey 28(7), 2006 (published by the World Future Society), listed "Thumb Culture" in the "Best Recent Books and Reports Selection 2006". He featured our "Mobile Phone Delphi" as a highlight of said issue: "A 2004 survey of experts on impacts of emerging 'thumb culture' foresees cell phones becoming ever more important, average age of first use dropping, stronger regulation on use by minors likely, and more expectation of constant availability." (FS 28:7/337)

A review essay, suitably titled "Phones R Us" by Jonathan P. Allen, appeared in the journal The Information Society 23(1), 2007: 69-70. The author compares "Thumb Culture" with another collection on mobile phones (i.e., Mobile Communications by Rich Ling and Per E. Pedersen) and particularly refers to our Delphi survey: "Many of the major themes in today's mobile phone research are nicely summarized by the expert survey at the end of Thumb Culture."

Michael Thomas, in his review for the Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society 5(1), 2007: 60-62, also mentions the "interesting survey of experts' views on the implications of mobiles, and this [being] a significant addition that provides greater weight to the findings of the book as a whole." Furthermore, he concedes that "the style of the book is surprisingly accessible and easy to digest." Additionally: "The book's overall achievement is its fascinating insight into the changing cultural signification of mobiles." The review concludes, "Thumb Culture is a significant intervention into a rapidly changing area of research [...]."

A review of "Thumb Culture" by Simon Forge was published in info 9(4), 2007: 84-85. He critically describes it as being "packed full of useful and thoughtful social perspectives [...] [and concludes:] Altogether a jolly riveting read." The following comment is especially worthy of mention: "What is so interesting is that the exploration of the sociology of mobile communications here throws up many themes which have been consistent over ten or 12 years, except that now they are taken down carefully and respectfully analysed." (This refers to the above stated "here to stay" [see Carolyn Moynihan's article], meaning that the mobile phone has not created anything new, but is rather a catalyser and amplifier for existing and ongoing social change, and reflected in "Thumb Culture".)

Four chapters of "Thumb Culture" (Bell, Foggin, Geser and Hulme/Truch) were cited in a "Review Essay: Mobile Communication Society?", written by Ilkka Arminen and published in Acta Sociologica 50(4), 2007: 431-437. In appreciation of "the most rapidly disseminated technology in world history", the author concludes, "mobile communication is indexically tied to local circumstances and ways of life that may be affected, enriched or modified by the potential of mobile communication". (Again, the "Thumb Culture" anthology is meant to reveal these social and cultural effects.)

A review by Zaheer Baber appeared in International Sociology 23(5), September 2008: 765-768. The author, Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, praised "Thumb Culture" as "an excellent global overview of the social implications of mobile communication", "an introduction to the dramatic social transformations unleashed by mobile phones" and "an impressive addition" to the list of previous literature. As an exemption to edited volumes, which are usually poorly edited and incoherent, "Thumb Culture" defies this trend and "will be very useful for researchers and advanced courses on communication and society." According to the reviewer, it "cover[s] a wide range of issues and geographical locations", both throughout the many chapters and in the critical summary of our international survey of industry and academic experts.

Table of Contents

Foreword (9)

Peter Glotz, Stefan Bertschi and Chris Locke: Introduction (11)

Section One – Cultural Identities

Hans Geser: Is the cell phone undermining the social order? Understanding mobile technology from a sociological perspective (23)

Jonathan Donner: The social and economic implications of mobile telephony in Rwanda: An ownership/access typology (37)

Larissa Hjorth: Postal presence: A case study of mobile customisation and gender in Melbourne (53)

Genevieve Bell: The age of the thumb: A cultural reading of mobile technologies from Asia (67)

Leslie Haddon: Communication problems (89)

Richard Harper: From teenage life to Victorian morals and back: Technological change and teenage life (101)

Section Two – Mobile Personalities

Jane Vincent: Emotional attachment and mobile phones (117)

Joachim R. Höflich: The mobile phone and the dynamic between private and public communication: Results of an international exploratory study (123)

Michael Hulme and Anna Truch: The role of interspace in sustaining identity (137)

Leopoldina Fortunati: The mobile phone as technological artefact (149)

Kristóf Nyíri: The mobile telephone as a return to unalienated communication (161)

James E. Katz: Mobile communication and the transformation of daily life: The next phase of research on mobiles (171)

Section Three – Industry Perspectives

Raimund Schmolze: Facing the future, changing customer needs (185)

Peter Gross and Stefan Bertschi: Loading mobile phones in a multi-option society (189)

Lara Srivastava: Mobile mania, mobile manners (199)

Nicola Döring and Axel Gundolf: Your life in snapshots: Mobile weblogs (moblogs) (211)

Laura Watts: Designing the future: Fables from the mobile telecoms industry (225)

Paul Golding: The future of mobile in the 3G era (235)

Nick Foggin: Mythology and mobile data (250)

Conclusion – Delphi Report

Peter Glotz and Stefan Bertschi: People, mobiles and society. Concluding insights from an international expert survey (259)

Notes on Contributors (287)

Where to Buy

All editions of the book are out of print. Search inside the book at amazon.com and amazon.de. Find sellers through amazon.com or other known second hand book outlets.

Reprint in "Knowledge, Technology, and Policy" Journal

Most chapters of the "Thumb Culture" book were reprinted in two special issues of "Knowledge, Technology, and Policy" (Guest editors: Peter Glotz, Stefan Bertschi and Chris Locke). For details see Volume 19, Number 1 / Spring 2006 and Volume 19, Number 2 / Summer 2006.

German Translation

Visit the website of the book's German edition.

Selected Links

Kristóf Nyíri co-ordinates the international social science research programme Communications in the 21st Century with a conference series on the mobile information society. – James Katz is Director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Boston University. – Visit the publisher's website.

Speaking Opportunities, Press Enquiries and Contact

Stefan Bertschi is an experienced speaker and a consultant on the social aspects of the mobile age and other subjects. Feel free to address your requests, questions or (press) enquiries to stefan.bertschi@loginb.com.