You are here

Examining the Use of Mobile Phones in Public Places

ICA2006 day four has started with a session on mobile telephony. The first paper is by Scott Campbell and deals with cross-cultural perceptions of mobile technologies. The theoretical framework here is something called Apparatgeist, which explains multi-national trends in how people think about and use personal communication technologies (PCTs). There are tensions between autonomy and privacy, around how these technologies are used, etc., and Apparatgeist (literally the spirit in the machine) helps explain how people are oriented towards these technologies. There is a socio-logic of perpetual contact by which humans are naturally driven towards social connection, and essentially the concept draws attention to some apparent universals in how we think about and use PCTs.

This framework then explains some trends around the world, but of course many local cultural differences remain. Scott studied students from a variety of national backgrounds and compared their attitudes against one another. For example, students from Japan were considerably less tolerant of the use of mobile telephony in public settings, while students from Hawai'i and the U.S. mainland used mobile phones much more for personal safety reasons - but overall most other uses were relatively uniform across all students.

A follow-up study dealt with use of PCTs in specific public settings or scenarios. Again this is framed by Apparatgeist as well as Goffman's notion of the 'social stage' - in PCT use in public places, of course, people need to juggle dual social stages, and this can lead to diverse approaches (fully focussed, partially focussed, or multi-focussed) to interaction. Different scenarios can be described as differently focussed (a theatre or classroom would be fully focussed, for example). This may be universal (culture-independent), but an additional framework of the social construction of technology might be able to introduce culturally specific factors.

Scott now presents some of the findings, which show a mixture of universal and culturally specific attitudes. The order of social acceptability of PCT use in each scenario remained relatively fixed (it is far more unacceptable to use mobile phones in a cinema than on the sidewalk), but each national group's scores differed significantly - for example, Taiwanese students found mobile use in cinemas far more acceptable than others, while Japanese students were less accepting of mobile phone use in the public environment of a bus. It is also important that breaches of social etiquette, however strongly felt, may be more acceptable in different cultures - so higher ratings of unacceptability might not necessarily translate into less use of such devices in such contexts.

Performing Mobile Communication

Satomi Sugiyama is the next presenter - she presents a comparative study between Japan and the U.S. which also builds on the Apparatgeist idea. The two basic aspects of mobile communication are communication with physically distant others and communication with physically co-present others (the performance of mobile communication in a social context, with friends or with strangers). Indeed, the mobile phone has become a fashion accessory as much as a communication device, of course. Mobile phones therefore help express their user's identity - and Satomi notes the distinction of clothing (what you wear) and fashion (the social connotations of what you wear). Fashion has an intersubjectified nature - it communicates personal identity.

How do young people communicate via the mobile phone, then, and how do their communicative behaviours address co-present others? Satomi's study draw a comparison between Japan and the U.S. to explore this question, mainly using focus groups of college students. In this, the Japanese group noted the look of the mobile phone as a significant selection criterion for which model to choose, as well as simply the wish to get the latest technology - while U.S. students had often received their mobile phones as gifts from parents and therefore never made a personal choice at all. Answers on what the ideal phone would look like, on the other hand, focussed mainly on durability and battery life, however. Overall, then, the phenomenon of students fashioning themselves seems to be more prominent in Japan.

Emotional Responses to Mobile Phone Use

Kathleen Cumiskey is the next presenter, on the emotional impact of mobile phone use during face-to-face interaction. There is growing evidence for this impact, and Kathleen focussed here specifically on the U.S. situation. Use of mobile phones in ftf changes perspective, and of course depends on whether one is the phone user, or the other party in the ftf conversation. Kathleen conducted user surveys which were identical except for this change in perspective, enabling her to compare emotional impacts across both sides of the ftf conversation. A range of adjectives describing emotional reactions emerged from this, and there were significant differences in responses across both groups, of course.

A second study used photos depicting parent-child interaction, one involving the parent on a mobile phone and one without the phone, and asked respondents to describe the situation from the perspective of parent or child, focussing on their emotional response. The attitudes of both were rated more negatively in the image involving the mobile phone, and especially so for the child whose parent was using the mobile phone. Combining both studies, then, negative perceptions clearly arose from others' use of mobile phones in face-to-face interaction, while positive perceptions remain connected to people's own use of mobile phones, which of course is a somewhat contradictory result: we enjoy talking on the phone in the presence of others, but do not like to have others do this to us...

Teledensity on a U.S. Campus

Yi-Fan Chen is the final speaker. Her paper again uses the theoretical framework outlined by Scott Campbell, and focussed on the use of mobile phones in a popular setting. In particular, however, she is interested in gender differences in mobile technology use, and focussed on students at a college in the Northwestern U.S. What is the level of use of mobile technologies in this group? Teledensity increased significantly between 2005 and 2006, and the balance of genders reversed from a higher teledensity in males to a higher teledensity in females. The lecture hall (or more specifically the entrances tot it) was found to have a higher teledensity than other spaces - students made calls immediately before entering and after leaving lectures; males used mobiles more in the morning. Most mobile phones were still used more prominently by students alone rather than in social contexts, but some social uses could also be observed - and the effects of this need to be further investigated.

Technorati : , , , , , : , , , , ,