Gender as a Distinguishing Cellular Phone Usage Characteristic
The purpose of this study is to determine the differences, if any exist, between
genders in their usage and understanding of their cellular phones different functionalities.
As cellular phones become more and more technologically advanced, their capabilities
have gone far beyond just a means of simple conversation. More and more advanced
functionalities are being packed into these small phones, but are these functions being
utilized, and if so, by whom.
We begin by describing the history and development of the cellular phone from
when it began as a mere idea in the mid 1900s and then developed into the massive
worldwide market that it serves today. We then have a section describing our hypotheses
regarding gender differences in cellular phone functionality usage. This is then followed
up by a section describing the survey we created that was used to gather data among
college students at Princeton University, and then by sections describing our findings and
Cellular Phone History
The whole concept of cellular phones began in 1947. Researchers realized that by
using smaller cells (service area’s), they could reuse frequencies and very substantially
increase the traffic capacity of the existing crude mobile (car) phones. At the time
however, the technology to make this idea work was not yet developed. In order to have
incentive to further develop the technology, AT&T proposed that the FCC (Federal
Communications Commission) allocate a larger range of radio frequencies so that
widespread mobile phone usage would become feasible. However the FCC was very
slow to allow the use of more frequencies. In 1947 the FCC limited the amount of
frequencies that could be used, which only allowed for 23 simultaneous phone
conversations in each service cell. This didn’t provide much incentive for research and
development in the industry.
In 1968 the FCC reconsidered its position and stated that if it is shown that the
technology exists to build a better mobile phone network, they will increase the range of
frequencies available for use by cell phone networks. AT&T and Bell Labs proposed a
network design to the FCC that used many low powered broadcast towers that would
cover an area (“cell”) of a few miles in radius. When many of these cells were placed
next to each other, they would cover a large area. These cells would each use the
frequencies independently of each other, and as phones passed through different cells, the
calls would be passed from one tower to the next. Despite the FCC finally providing
some incentive for the development of new technology, it can be partially blamed for the
large time gap between the development of the initial concept of cellular service and its
availability to the public.
The first prototype cellular system was constructed by AT&T and Bell Labs by
1977. Within the year, public trials of the system were being held in Chicago. In Tokyo,
the first commercial cellular system began operating. In 1982 the FCC, which was pretty
slow moving, finally authorized and provided enough bandwidth for commercial cellular
service in the USA. In the next year after that, the first American commercial analog
cellular service was made available in Chicago. It took 37 years for cellular phone
service to finally become available commercially in the United States. The popularity of
cell phone soon began to take off. Consumer demand rapidly overran the 1982 system
standards and by 1987 the number of cellular phone customers exceeded one million.
In order to expand the cell phone service to meet consumer demand the existing
system needed to be improved. This could be accomplished by increasing the frequency
allocation, splitting existing cells, or improving the existing technology. Since the FCC
was hesitant to provide any more frequency bandwidth, and splitting cells would be quite
expensive, the cellular industry started to research new alternative transmission
technologies to expand the cellular networks.
Since 1987, different wireless standards have emerged. Analog cellular phone
service works very similarly to an FM radio. The drawback of analog service is the
limitation of the number of channels that can be used. Most new wireless phones and
networks have switched from analog service to digital cellular service, which works quite
well, but has its own drawbacks. The main drawback with digital service is that there are
basically three major existing digital wireless technologies. These are TDMA, CDMA,
and GSM. Phones that were created with one technology in mind would not work on
networks designed with another technology in mind. Currently, GSM is the only
technology that allows for high speed data transfer used for services such as email, web
browsing, and faxing.
In 1985, there were about 204,000 cellular subscribers in the United States. This
number grew to 1,600,000 by 1988. Now over a decade later, things are much different.
In 2004 alone, there were 21.7 million new subscribers. There are a total of 180 million
cell phone subscribers currently in the United States, each paying on average $50.64. For
the first time total subscription revenues for the U.S. went over $100 billion in 2004.
Also in 2004, 703 million mobile phones were sold worldwide, and this number is
forecasted to grow to 735 million in 2005. With this ubiquity of cellular phone usage in
the United States, and the advances in technology, cellular phone companies are adding
many more advanced features to their cellular phones in an attempt to set themselves
apart from other manufacturers and capture a part of this massive market.
Today with the continuing expansion of hardware, such as faster processing,
miniaturization, more storage capacity and lower costs, cell phone manufacturers are
packing more and more technology into their phones. Cellular phones are no longer just
used for communication. While they have for the most part been decreasing in size, their
capabilities keep increasing. On top of just being a phone, they are now also personal
organizers with an address book and calendars, and have computer synchronization
capabilities. Many phones now have cameras for picture, and even video taking
capabilities. The large, hi-resolution color screens on the newer phones are great for
surfing the web, playing games, or viewing pictures. They are also used very widely for
text messaging, emailing, and sending photos/videos taken by the phone’s camera. Some
phones even have capabilities to play different types of music files, such as mp3s, and
can be used as personal music players. More business oriented models have miniature
keyboards built into them for easier emailing. With this ever expanding industry, it is
important for cell phone manufacturers to understand how people are interacting with
their cellular phone functions. Understanding how different genders use their phones
may help cellular phone designers close the gender gap as well as make phones more
appealing to a specific gender.
The primary motivation for our research is the study by Cooper and Mackie
(1986) which showed significant differences in how males and females interact with
technology. In this study, they established that girls were not interested in playing video
games. This was not a question of ability, as girls often did as well as boys for certain
types of games. Rather the issue was interest in the activity, and thus on this point girls
were not drawn to the video games. However, boys were attracted to playing the games
without any reward (except for perhaps not being in class). The study showed that a
problem that had come about as a result of this behavior is that technological learning
favors boys more than it favors girls. In somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophesy, computer
programs are mainly used by boys, and since program developers know this, software is
written in a style that appeals mostly to males. And thus women are effectively given an
unfair playing field when it comes to learning through computers.
A deeper analysis shows that women do not interact well with technology at all,
and in many cases have anxiety when the situation requires that they be proficient in
using a computer. Key areas that were pointed out were computer camps, arcades, and
presence in computer clusters as being lacking in female participation. In addition,
academic pursuits in technical fields consistently see smaller percentages of women,
especially in advanced degrees. This is not a problem in just the Unites States but rather
the entire world.
Cell phones present an interesting angle when looking at their use in the
technological world. On one hand they are fundamentally computer-related. As discussed
in the background section, cellular technology rose from the progress made in the areas
of personal computers. Their features, size, speed, price and capabilities are largely based
on the current technological advancements. Thus when one considers issues that apply to
technology, cellular phones are a likely candidate for consideration. However, the
ubiquitous nature of cell phones currently has gone from being a specialized item to a
mainstream necessity. They are obviously an extension of regular telephones, which have
not been categorized by lack of female involvement or anxiety. Currently, they are used
throughout the world by a large proportion of the population. Thus the cell phone
represents an object that has the properties of being both a common tool, used by both
women and men, and a technological device as well.
Our focus of this paper will be a combination of the findings of Cooper and how
this relates to cellular phone technology. Primarily our focus will be on determining what
role gender plays in cellular phone usage. Because cellular phones are used so widely by
both men and women, we should be able to obtain a large sample size. As there are many
different aspects about cell phone usage that could be addressed to, our questions will be
focused on specific features of cellular phones that we might expect to see differences in
between boys and girls, with an emphasis placed on the technology behind the phone as a
driver in appealing to boys and girls in different ways. Our sample population will be the
students of Princeton University. Though not representative of the larger population, it
will give us some key insights as to differences in how male and female students might
use their phones differently.
All of the data that we collected for this experiment was obtained through
surveying the student body. We devised a survey that consisted of a brief background
information section, and then a series of fourteen questions pertinent to the individual’s
cell phone usage. Each question was designed to reveal how important specific functions
of the cell phone were to each individual. In writing the survey, we hoped that some
correlations between cell phone usage and certain aspects of the background information
The background section of the survey contains four questions designed to divide
the subjects into categories The first of these classifications is gender. The question is
posed as a binary decision in which the subject circles either M or F, corresponding to
male and female, respectively.
The next question in the background section is class. Since our population for this
experiment is only undergraduates here at Princeton, we listed out the four classes
currently in school (2005-2008, inclusive), and were again asking the subject to circle
their year of graduation.
The third question in the background section asks the subject to fill in their major.
Because freshmen have, for the most part, not decided on their major, this question could
be misleading. We have decided that the main distinction we are going to make with the
data from this question is that between degree, dividing AB and BSE students. Engineers
will have already made a commitment to the engineering department at this point in the
year, so that clears up the issue of undeclared freshmen. We will, however, go ahead and
collect data about the subjects’ majors and look for correlations between specific
departments and cell phone usage.
The final question of the background section asks about geographic origins. We
simply ask for the subject to write in his or her home city and state. The data obtained
from this question will be somewhat difficult to analyze due to the large number of
possible classifications relative to the number of samples taken, but we decided to include
it anyway to see if there were any obvious correlations from certain cities, states, or even
Of all questions in the background section, gender was the only significant
distinguishing characteristic for cell phone usage.
Cell Phone Usage Section:
Today’s cell phones are no longer just mobile telephones; they can now serve as
tools for taking pictures, sending and receiving short-mail as well as email, GPS
navigation, listening to music, and browsing the internet, just to name a few. The purpose
of this section of the survey is to determine exactly which of these cell phone capabilities
people use. This section represents the bulk of the survey, containing fourteen questions,
with each intended to reveal to what extent the subject uses a specific function of their
cell phone. The questions are as follows:
1. Do you own a cell phone?
The purpose of this question was to eliminate people without cell phones from our
sample group. We cannot tell anything about how someone uses a cell phone if
they do not have one.
2. If so, how often do you take advantage of its speed / voice dial functionality?
We asked the subject to circle a number on a five point scale, ranging from a
value of one (never) to five (majority of the time). We consider speed / voice dial
to be one of the more technologically advanced features of a phone because it
requires a setup procedure. In retrospect, we believe that some people may have
confused speed dial with simply dialing from a contact list, but we thought that
the question was as clear as it could be.
3. How often do you carry your cell phone with you?
This question was based on the same five point scale as above. We had no
hypothesis as to how this question would turn out, but figured it would be an
4. Does your cell phone have a camera feature?
This question was a yes / no question intended to allow us to compare the
percentages of subjects with camera-phones from the different categories. It also
narrowed down the sample for the next question regarding camera-phone use.
5. If so, how often do you use your camera to take pictures?
This was another question with the same five point scale intended to measure the
use of the camera feature on the subject’s phone, when applicable. We considered
this to be another advanced feature of a cell phone, like the speed dial.
6. How often do you use your cell phone to browse the web or check email?
Again, this question was based on the five point scale. Also, we saw it as an
advanced feature of the cell phone, though the email function is an extension of
the communication capabilities of the cell phone.
7. How often do you play video games on your cell phone?
Five point scale, advanced feature.
8. How often do you text message on your cell phone?
This is basically equivalent to instant messaging via cell phone. It is a technically
simple additional communication capability of the cell phone.
9. How often do you download ring tones for your phone?
Five point scale. This question was intended to reveal somewhat the tendency to
personalize the phone.
10. How often do you use any calendar / organizer functions of your cell phone?
Five point scale. We viewed this as a technologically advanced feature of the
11. Do you know the make and model of your cell phone?
This was a yes / no question intended to test the technological awareness of the
subject. We believe that the people who can recite the serial numbers of their
phones are more IT savvy than those who do not.
12. Have you upgraded your phone cosmetically since you bought it?
This was another yes / no question, but this time one is aimed at cell phone
13. Approximately how many contacts do you have stored in your phone?
This question asked the subject to write in the number of contacts in his or her
phone. We believe that a higher number of contacts may correspond to greater use
of the cell phone as a communication device, and that the subject would
subsequently use the other features less.
14. On average, about how much time do you spend talking on your cell phone
This question was scaled on a five point scale ranging from “Less than 15
minutes” to “Over an hour” in 15 minute intervals. Here, we were looking for a
direct, quantitative answer to our question about the use of the cell phone for its
These were the questions that we included on the final version of the survey. We rewrote
it several times based on feedback we got from subjects who indicated that some of the
questions needed clarification. These are the changes that were made:
1. NA option available for question 5 if the subject’s cell phone had no camera
2. Clarified question 11 from “Do you know the model / brand of your cell
phone?” to read as it does now, which is to know both model and brand
Results and Findings
How often do you take advantage of its speed / voice dial functionality?
How often do you carry your cell phone with you?
Does your cell phone have a camera feature?
If so, how often do you use your camera to take pictures?
How often do you use your cell phone to browse the web or check email?
How often do you play video games on your cell phone?
How often do you text message on your cell phone?
How often do you download ring tones for your phone?
How often do you use any calendar / organizer functions of your cell phone?
Do you know the make and model of your cell phone?
Have you upgraded your phone cosmetically since you bought it?
Approximately how many contacts do you have stored in your phone?
On average, about how much time do you spend talking on your cell phone each
Top 10 Distinguishing Questions in Order of Significance
1. Does your cell phone have a camera? (Men)
2. Do you know the make/model of your phone? (Men)
3. How often do you play video games on your phone? (Men)
4. How often do you use the camera to take pictures? (Men)
5. How often do you text message on your cell phone? (Women)
6. How often do you carry your cell phone with you? (Men)
7. Have you upgraded your cell phone cosmetically? (Women)
8. How often do you use the calendar/organizer functions of your phone? (Men)
9. How often do you download ring tones? (Men)
10. On average, about how much time do you spend talking on your cell phone each
As anticipated, our findings have a great deal in common with the Cooper and
Mackie (1986) study of how gender and technology interactions are related. Cooper
suggests that girls are far more likely to have anxiety about working with technology and
that there is a lack of intrinsic motivation to do so. Consequently, teaching strategies with
computers often can favor male students. This happens as a result of the fact that software
developers create programs with male students in mind, which discourages female use
due to the differences in what types of interfaces are appealing to the two gender groups.
Our study is an extension that shows how the interaction with technology works
when applied to a device such as a cellular phone. Women feel comfortable with talking
on a regular phone, which is the parent of the cellular phone. We hypothesized that
certain features on cellular phones would inherently be used more often by men, as a
result of the technology component’s bias towards men, but that women would find other
features or uses that were more analogous to their methods of interactions.
Our results were concurrent with our hypothesis. We found that the
technologically advanced components, such as cameras, calendars, or video games were
most likely to be used by men over women. Men knew the model of their cell phone
more often than women, as was expected. However, for the communication-based
features of the cellular phone, women tended to dominate the men. We found that text-
message was more often used by women, and that they tended to talk on their phones for
longer then men did. In addition, they usually had more contacts on their cell phones then
men did. Keep in mind however the sample from which this is taken. We found these
differences in Princeton University students, who do not represent the population at large.
We would suggest that it is probably the case that female students are more adept with
the technological components of their cellular phones, and that we might see larger
differences between men and women given a different population. Also, the age and
education level is a critical distinguishing factor in our sample population versus a more
overall representative sample. We would expect to see a lower level of sophistication
with the technology when looking at different populations. Future study is recommended
in this area. Thus while technology was a limiting/unused factor in how girls interacted
with their cellular phones, certain features were more widely used, driven by inherent