Mobile Telephony and Kranzberg’s Laws of Technology


Ling holds a PhD degree in sociology received from the University of Colorado in 1984 (Academic profile, n.d.; Richard Ling receives, 2015). He is currently the Shaw Foundation Professor of Media Technology at Nanyang Technological University (Academic profile, n.d.). The author of the book has been a member of Department Management at the IT University of Copenhagen (Academic profile, n.d.).

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In 2008, the professor received the Telenor Research and Innovation Award at the Technoport Festival for his contribution to a learned discourse on the social consequences of mobile phone ownership (Richard Ling receives, 2015). Since 2015, Ling has been holding an adjunct position at the University of Michigan (Academic profile, n.d.).

Key Issues Raised in the Book

An analytical focus of the book is on the sociological impact of the use of mobile phones. Ling (2012) maintains that technology has become so ingrained in the social fabric of modern societies that it can hardly be detected by a radar of public attention. By using the clock and the automobile as points of comparison, the author creates a framework for understanding how mobile phones have become an inextricable part of human communities. Another important issue raised in the book is the restructuring of social interaction and cohesion through the usage of the communication device.


  • Mobile communication is a technology that is extremely efficient in mediating social interaction; therefore, it is no longer perceived as unnatural.
  • The diffusion of communication technology is predicated on indirect reciprocal expectations of social groups (Ling, 2012).
  • The need for intragroup and intergroup coordination has propelled the development of cars, clocks, and mobile phones (Ling, 2012).
  • Domestication theory can be used to explain several stages of adoption of technologies that become mutually assumed grounds for social interaction (Ling, 2012).
  • The facticity of mobile communication can change over time; however, it exists outside of the sphere of influence of single individuals.
  • In order for a social mediation technology to become embroidered in a fabric of society, it must have a critical mass of users (Ling, 2012).
  • Mechanical timekeeping is one of the most ancient technologies for social coordination.
  • Modern social ecology is shaped by the acceptance of mechanical timekeeping as a precondition for sociation, which is regulated by reciprocal expectations that put constraints on individuals’ behavior (Ling, 2012).
  • The invention of the mechanical timekeeping has allowed the developing other complex logistical systems.
  • Isolating effects of the automobile as a means of private transportation constrain sociation.
  • The diffusion of vehicles into society has led to the expansion of urban areas, thereby aligning the social ecology with “the drive-in culture” (Ling, 2012, p. 74).
  • Mutual expectations about social interactions have adjusted to the ever-increasing mobility and facilitated the extension of travel radius.
  • The worldwide acceptance curve of the mobile phone is much steeper than that of the car and the clock (Ling, 2012).
  • Texting is a social phenomenon that has precipitated the diffusion of the technology and helped to change its perception in the eyes of the general public from something that is merely useful to an expected social attribute.
  • Despite the substantial transformations of the mobile phone, interpersonal communication remains its main function (Ling, 2012).
  • There are two contradictory dimensions of the telephone: “a helpful communication tool and a wasteful diversion” (Ling, 2012, p. 102).
  • The widespread communication devices have encroached on people’s personal spaces.
  • The legitimation of the adoption of the technology has been mediated by self-correcting social behavior, which has eradicated many negative attitudes towards technology.
  • The new level of interpersonal accessibility introduced by mobile communication has propelled the emergence of the phenomenon of micro coordination or spontaneous readjustments of social interaction schedules.
  • Texting has increased the number of simultaneous social connections.
  • Ubiquitous access to instant means of communication has changed the perception of safety.
  • The reification of technology is a continuous process of the apprehension of social phenomena as developments whose authorship is either non-human or supra-human (Ling, 2012).
  • Mobile telephony approaches mechanical timekeeping in terms of its reification.
  • Mediated communication serves simultaneously as a bridge and a barrier between interlocutors.
  • The social landscape has been changed beyond recognition by synergies between new means of transportation, mechanical timekeeping, and electronic mediation of communication.
  • The changes introduced by the three technologies have increased levels of independence and interdependence of societies and individuals within them.
  • Technologies that help people to manage logistics and communication push societies toward the spirit of Gesellschaft or “commercial orientation and self-interest” (Ling, 2012, p. 187).

Kranzberg’s First Law

According to Kranzberg’s first law technology should not be considered good, bad, or neutral (Kranzberg, 1995). However, it does not mean that technology is a vectors phenomenon that does not have innate momentum. On the contrary, many technological artifacts are characterized by “a high degree of momentum” that often makes it difficult for people to overcome their motion (Veak, 2012, p. 74). In his book, Ling (2012) maintains that mobile telephony is associated with two polar narratives. Some argue that the diffusion of mobile phones leads to a disruption of people’s lives. Another state that it facilitates interaction, thereby increasing social cohesion (Ling, 2012).

Ling (2012) acknowledges the weight of both narratives and posits that even though the mobile phone is a critical instrument of social mediation, its unanticipated negative effects necessitate a cautious approach to the assessment of its impact. The author goes to great lengths not to take sides in the argument and stresses that the rapid diffusion of the technology into society has been possible due to reciprocal assumptions about its use.

Specifically, people expect their interlocutors to be in a state of “connected presence” and feel slighted when someone does not return a call (Ling, 2012, p. 7). It means that mobile communication has rearranged key elements of existing social structures during its diffusion process. As a result of this restructuring, freedom of interaction has given way to an obligation to interact. However, this development has taken place due to the human predisposition to reciprocal expectations.

Kranzberg’s Second Law

The second law of Kranzberg states that “invention is the mother of necessity” (Kranzberg, 1995, p. 7). The scholar has argued that in order to achieve full efficiency of technical innovation, additional technical advances should be made (Kranzberg, 1995). In the case of the mobile phone, new radio frequencies for cell towers had to be used. A complex system of towers that supported mobile communication relied on the 900-1800 megahertz range, which had not been used in radio (Ling, 2012). The use of the frequencies had a drawback of rural population relocations, which was met with reluctance.

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The mobile phone necessitated an ever-increasing amount of computer power; therefore, the development of new transistor miniaturization techniques allowed to propagate the technology. Other technological elements that had to be put in place to facilitate the use of technology were switching systems and optical landlines between cell towers (Ling, 2012). In order for the mobile phone to overcome the status of a niche product, additional improvements had to be made. The introduction of roaming functionality, which was possible due to the invention of the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), helped the technology to gather a critical mass of users (Ling, 2012).

During later adoption phases, communication monoculture was eliminated by the introduction of new communicatory mediums. The most popular mediums included “email, blogging, micro-blogging (i.e., Twitter), instant messaging, texting, and social networking” (Ling, 2012, p. 94). These major innovations allowed the transformation of the device’s perception from a communication mediator to a cultural icon. As a result, the use of technology increased dramatically among teenagers who were particularly attuned to cultural messages.

Kranzberg’s Third Law

According to Kranzberg’s third law, “technology comes in packages, big and small” (Kranzberg, 1995, p. 7). It means that all technological innovations involve several stages, components, and processes. As far as mobile communication is concerned, the technology that underpins it is a complex system of interrelated tools, standards, and networks. Ling (2012) points to the fact that the dissolution of the technology into society was not immediate but rather occurred in several stages. The scholar stresses that the adoption of the technology was facilitated by the invention of the pager (Ling, 2012).

The book’s description of technology allows its readers to understand that nascent telephony was restricted to a small market of business people who needed to expand their communication possibilities. Ling (2012) maintains that pagers, electronic mail, button-based dialing, and fax machines were packages of the technology that later transformed into traditional forms of mobile telephony. Early telephone headsets were heavily built.

Moreover, they were associated with a considerable financial burden. The emergence of a disjointed system of mobile operators, which replaced the Bell system, allowed decreasing communication costs (Ling, 2012). The popularity of the technology propelled operators to sell handsets for nominal prices, thereby recouping their investments with the help of a contract.

The development of new mobile phone features represented additional technological stages. The mobile phone transformed from a single-purpose technology to the locus of social interaction. Furthermore, the device became “a camera, a music player, and any number of other functions and ‘apps.’” (Ling, 2012, p. 11). The ever-changing nature of the device confirms the second law of Kranzberg and shows that additional technical capabilities that make technologies more effective are gradual in their growth.

Technological Determinism

The book implicitly fits the idea of technological determinism. According to this view, which is espoused by some historians and sociologists, “technology autonomously drives history” and shapes human societies in unintended ways (Dotson, 2015, p. 101). The author of the book on the mobile telephony takes a descriptive approach to analyze the emergence and social impact of the technology. Ling (2012) explores the historical context in which mobile telephony has been developed and connects it with other inventions such as the car and the clock.

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Ling (2012) posits that the social mentality necessary for the adoption of the device was shaped by mechanical timekeeping. The clock had introduced basic expectations of reciprocity, which were later exploited by mobile telephony in order to increase group coordination. Although it is not explicitly stated in the book, the scholar holds the view that people’s fascination with mobile communication is predicated on an innate drive towards ever-increasing levels of interconnectedness.

It follows that socio-material experiences of people resisting to the diffusion of communication technologies always transform in order to enable the acceptance of innovation. Indeed, Ling (2012) maintains that mentalities governing the adoption of mobile telephony quickly changed, thereby making the diffusion of the device into society unavoidable.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to either acknowledge or challenge the validity of technological determinism; nonetheless, it has to be borne in mind that the autonomous nature of innovation finds reflection in people’s passivity to resist the toxic nature of some inventions. The adherence to the notion of the unavoidability of the technology is evident in the scholar’s description of the mobile phone as an irresistible force (Ling, 2012).


Academic profile. (n.d.). Web.

Dotson, T. (2015). Technological determinism and permissionless innovation as technocratic governing mentalities: Psychocultural barriers to the democratization of technology. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 1(1), 98-120.

Kranzberg, M. (1995). Technology and history: Kranzberg’s laws. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 15(1), 5-13.

Ling, R. (2012). Taken for grantedness: The embedding of mobile communication into society. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Richard Ling receives Research and Innovation Award. (2015). Web.

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Veak, T. (2012). Democratizing technology: Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology. New York, NY: SUNY Press.

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