Chapter 16: Stories of the Mobile: Women, Micro-Narratives, and Mobile Novels in Japan

by Larissa Hjorth


Chapter Abstract: 

Drawing on case studies of mobile phone novels in Japan, keitai shôsetsu, sales of which stagger over the sale of print text books in the West, this chapter looks at the role that user created content plays in the creation of these cellphone novels. In Japan, these mobile phone novels are read, written, and commented by thousands on their daily train rides to and from work. By employing user created content, the readers/writers of these “micronarratives” reflect a sense of place that is not just a geographic, spatial notion but also as a social, political, and emotional space. These cellphone novels, the majority of which are written by women and for women, demonstrate how mobile media is undoubtedly transforming what it means to be creative and intimate whilst circumnavigating public and private spaces and places. Through keitai shôsetsu, women can bring intimate and private stories into the public space, proffering new ways to experience storytelling in public places.


Hands-On Exploration:

Part 1: Short In-Class Exercise

As a group, choose a well-known novel or film and adapt it for the mobile phone. Initially, work individually to adapt the content to run as a series of stories for the mobile via text message format. Consider how the traditional limit of 160 characters shapes your expression. Also consider how the content should adapt to this medium and being read in short portions. You have 15 minutes to make your adaptation. The class should then come back as a group and read each other’s adaptations. It should soon become apparent how each individual’s expression is amplified through the mobile context.

Part 2: Creating a Cell Phone Novel

Building on the in-class exercise, pick a well-known piece of fiction and adapt it for distribution on cell phones. You should think about which medium would work best for your chosen piece of fiction. Should it be read on Twitter, text messages, a mobile website, or locative social media like Foursquare? How should it be released (e.g. in short bursts every day or in longer sections every week)? Take a chapter or a scene from the story and create a cell phone experience of your chosen text. Students should sign up to read another student’s novel and then, once the stories are completed, do a usability study to discuss what worked and what needs improvement. Each student writes a final reflection paper about the process, the decisions made, and the revisions that are necessary based on reader feedback.

Image “Waiting” by aimeeis on Flickr. (Used under Creative Commons)