Friend Or Foe - Mobile phones and communication


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Friend Or Foe - Mobile phones and communication

  1. 1. Friend or Foe? 1 Friend or Foe? Is the mobile phone influencing communication positively or negatively? Carmen Neghina International University in Germany Writing and Research Methods Frank Funicello August 3, 2007
  2. 2. Friend or Foe? 2 Table of Contents Abstract _____________________________________________________________________ 3 Evolution: from Fixed Lines to Mobile Telephones ___________________________________ 4 Particularities of the Mobile Phone _______________________________________________ 5 Phone Calls in Social Circumstances ______________________________________________ 6 Texting______________________________________________________________________ 7 The Effects of SMS _______________________________________________________ 7 The Effects of Mobile Technologies _______________________________________________ 8 Conclusions __________________________________________________________________ 9 References __________________________________________________________________ 10
  3. 3. Friend or Foe? 3 Abstract The topic of mobile communication is a highly debatable as the number of mobile users increases. The mobile is becoming an integrated part of our daily lives. Since it is always by our side, ready to be used, we are constantly connected to a network of friends and family, colleagues or other business contacts. How and when we use our mobiles affects how we communicate not only with the persons we seek contact with, but also those situated in our proximity. It is important to understand the changes that lead to the adoption of mobile phones and the consequences of the proliferation of this device in order to fully grasp the consequences it has had on the traditional communication model. Who uses mobiles and for what purposes? Has the primary role of the mobile phone of facilitating communication, changed with time? Do we use our phones to hide from the world? Are mobile calls becoming a substitute for face-to-face interaction? These are the questions that will be tackled in this paper in the attempt to solve the dilemma of whether our mobiles have transformed themselves from mere tools to enemies of our personal and professional lives.
  4. 4. Friend or Foe? 4 Friend or Foe? Is the mobile phone influencing communication positively or negatively? Since the Ancient Greeks, people have been dreaming about a unifying tool that would allow people to communicate regardless of the distance separating them. This only hypothetical tool at the time was called ‘a telephone’. (Lasen, 2002, p.2) Since its invention, the telephone has been seen as a medium designed to diminish distances and bring people closer together. But is this really the purpose of the mobile phone today? Have we been transformed in emotionless people who hide behind our phones? The introduction of the mobile phone has revolutionized the way we communicate; differences in how the mobile phone is perceived and used can be noticed from individual or social levels. For some, the telephone is a means of enhancing communication with acquaintances, friends and families. Others see in it a means of forming new acquaintances, of enhancing their social circle. There are even cases where people no longer feel the need for face- to-face conversations Mobile phones can bring friends together, but it can also separate us from our friends or families by providing more interesting quasi virtual lives. In such circumstances we must ask ourselves what the impact of the telephone on our lives is: Are we using telephones to enhance communication or to deter from it? Evolution: from Fixed Lines to Mobile Telephones The first telephones had fixed locations. They were usually situated in reclusive areas, away from intrusions or disturbances. Talking on the phone was seen as a singular activity that required concentration and a peaceful quiet environment. This was even the case when telephone calls were made from phone booths which were designed so that privacy was ensured. (Bergvik, 2004, p.5) Restrictions also extended to the users targeted by the phone companies. Telephones were seen simply as business tools. Their purpose was not to propagate small talk, which is why they were seen as unsuitable for both women and teenagers. (Lasen, 2002, p.20)
  5. 5. Friend or Foe? 5 The cell phone changed all that. Phone calls are no longer restricted to a few designated spaces. “Today, we see people use cell phones in all kinds of situations, from the most private situations such as in bed and in the bathroom, to public places such as in the streets, on the bus, in shops, restaurants, public theaters, offices, at work as well as leisure, alone as well as together with others.” (Bergvik, 2004, p.5) Also, women and teenagers have become the most targeted potential buyers of cell phones. Advertisements are now directly addressed to them, offers catering to their needs and demands are proliferating. Particularities of the Mobile Phone In 2001, 62% of the American adults owned a telephone; it is safe to suppose that this number has been increasing, especially since now cell phone companies target younger and younger buyers, such as teenagers and sometimes even children. (Bergvik, 2004, p.5) People nowadays have become addicted to their mobile phone: they carry it around everywhere. The telephone is rarely shut down, as it is on stand-by, waiting to be used at all times. (Jarvenpaa & Lang, 2005, p.7) Devices designed for private conversations, mobile phones enable their users to create a personal virtual network that is available at all times. (Jarvenpaa & Lang, 2005, p.17). Mobile phones have simply produced circumstances of closeness as well as distance, by destroying the idea of proximity, by replacing direct face-to-face communication with mediated communication. The mobile has made some activities such as meetings obsolete, as now most conversations are mediated either by a phone or a computer. This is true for enterprises where technologies offering the possibility of mediated conferences are increasing, as well as for our private lives. SMS and computers now offer the appropriate communication lines for most teenagers. This is why contact between teenagers has diminished significantly. (Jarvenpaa & Lang, 2005, p.17)
  6. 6. Friend or Foe? 6 Phone Calls in Social Circumstances There is something about the ring of a phone call that makes most people unable to answer their plea, regardless of the task the receiver was undertaking before the ring: “the need or desire to answer a call often outweighs the importance of maintaining the flow of a face-to- face conversation.” (Plant, 2002, p.30) Sometimes the mobile does not even need to ring for it to demand our full attention. Simply the knowledge that it might do so is distracting enough for some. The situation is extremely intruding especially for couples, where sometimes the cell phone acts as a third party participating at dates at all times, intruding in the private life of the couple. (Plant, 2002, p.30) This is alarming, as face-to-face conversation is losing importance to phone calls. In doing so, the relationship with the person present when the phone rings is harmed. Although some groups tolerate such interruptions, there are some circumstances where answering a mobile phone is unacceptable. (Plant, 2002, p.36) Nevertheless, few people choose to abandon their phones even in formal cases where cell phones are believed to be taboo devices, such as church visits or important meetings. Even when clearly asked to turn off their cell phones, few do so. Instead they choose a less disturbing ringtone volume as they see the action as inconceivable. “Some mobile users tend to make a virtue of the lack of privacy, enjoying and exploiting the presence of third parties as a unique opportunity to put something of themselves on display by stage-phoning.” (Plant, 2002, p.49) This can in turn explain the increased number of conversations in public places, such as transportation means or gathering spots such as cafes or restaurants. While some people choose to answer any call they receive, ranking the phone call as more important than the situation at hand, others choose to isolate themselves from their current situation. Mobiles can be used to distance one from unnecessary conversations. Some people regard their own privacy as more important and do not prioritize their mobile phones. These people are called ‘hedgehogs’ in Plant’s study; they are the opposite of ‘foxes’ who constantly need their phones and tend to answer all calls, regardless of their importance. (2002, p.62)
  7. 7. Friend or Foe? 7 Although sometimes mobiles can lead to isolation, sometimes the lack of the mobile can be even more isolating, especially for regular users, who cannot perceive their lives without that feeling of being connected. (Plant, 2002, p.63) Texting The notoriety that took e-mails 20 years to reach was accomplished by the SMS technology in a matter of years. (Williamson, 2002, p. 18) Indeed, telephones have been successful in making us communicate more, both in verbally and written. They are changing the way we communicate, contributing to the modernization of our society, especially by promoting text messaging. In UK, more than 3.5 billion text messages were sent in July, 2006 alone. The short 160 character texts make communication more immediate, liberate it from space constraints, as well as individualize it. This is one of the reasons young people prefer texting to phone calls. (Croft, 2006, p.43) 36% of all written communication for women and 23% for men constitute the text messages they send from their phone. As phones start introducing more text functions such as e- mail support and hi-tech multimedia messages, we can safely assume that these ratios will increase. Texting has become almost a lifestyle. People now use it from chatting with friends to conducting business. It allows for easy, intimate communication. (Croft, 2006, p.43) The Effects of SMS SMS is generally known to unite people all over the world. A common language developed by SMS users in an attempt to abbreviate messages and save message space has now become acknowledged as a universal language. (Williamson, 2002, p. 18) Although there has been a lot of debate on whether the effects of this new language are beneficial or not, it is certain that at least for some, the SMS function of their phone has become even more important than the phone’s initial purpose, that of making phone calls. According to Reid & Reid, approximately 90% of teenagers now prefer texting to talking. (Reid & Reid, 2004, p.1) One reason behind the popularity of texting is the ability to send messages without the need to vociferate thoughts, or feelings. (Plant, 2002, p. 56) Space restrictions make messages
  8. 8. Friend or Foe? 8 briefer than phone calls. This in turn translates in the need to express more with less words or characters. As a consequence people tend to be more honest about their intentions. Formalities are eliminated, which makes conversations more personal. This is why so many teenagers prefer texting when they want to flirt or simply converse with their friends. Moreover, SMS can help the sender hide his or her insecurities. (Plant, 2002, p.56-57)Those who prefer texting to talking often believe that SMS has helped them create a greater social network. Texting was especially preferred by introverted persons, who lack social skills; it allows them to express the real person inside them, and establish stronger relationships with the outside world. (Reid & Reid, 2004, p. 8) Some prefer these unrevealing form of sending messages and simply choose to substitute others forms of communication with it. This is the case with Japanese teenagers that choose virtual friends over real ones. They find it easier to be themselves while shielded by their phones. This way they can create a different personality for every person they come into contact. “One Japanese student expressed concerns that younger keitai users are becoming ‘less capable of direct, social communications. They rely on technology to converse. They are often intelligent with collecting information but not with utilizing it, and I am often surprised by their awkward emotional responses.’” (Plant, 2002, p.57) The Effects of Mobile Technologies People tend to use their mobiles as a shield from the outside. With the help of mobiles, people have made it easier to hide ones feelings or intents, plans as well as whereabouts. (Plant, 2002, p.55) The potential for lying also results in increased suspicions. As a result it is no longer uncommon especially for couples to check each others messages, sometimes without the partner’s knowledge. On the other hand, most users still believe that mobiles help them maintain and handle relationships. It is generally known that we travel more today, that families are more and more separated. This is the reason why the mobile is so useful in maintaining strong relationships with ones family even when distances are great. Communication is what bonds us together. (Plant, 2002, p.58)
  9. 9. Friend or Foe? 9 Although parents usually use the phone to keep their children under surveillance and control their whereabouts, many are concerned about who their children talk to, as they cannot monitor their mobiles at all times. Having friends that parents disapprove of is easier now. Although this does bring about advantages, the drawbacks are also known. A major concern for parents is the accessibility of their children to strangers. (Plant, 2002, p.58) Similar to computers, mobile users can now create virtual communities, as networking ones social life becomes increasingly faster and easier. It is even possible to assume that most regular users have their own social life stored in the contact list of their mobile. And accessing this network is easier than ever. (Plant, 2002, p.61) Conclusions Regardless of how or why they are used, one thing is certain: the way we communicate has changed significantly. For some the mobile phone is seen as an intrusive device, threatening their personal and social lives. Such persons seek to limit mobile conversations, preferring real time face-to-face conversations, instead of mediated talks. For persons with hectic lifestyles, who have little or no time at all for social gatherings, mobile phones provide the ideal means of keeping in touch with friends and family members while on the move. Moreover, mobiles can help otherwise socially shy persons develop relationships and increase their social network, acting as an enhancement tool for networking. Although some worries do arise regarding the excessive use of mobile technology, the main purpose has remained the same: to facilitate and proliferate communication. As one interviewee for Plant’s study said, the mobile makes it cooler to communicate. (Plant, 2002, p.57)
  10. 10. Friend or Foe? 10 References Bergvik, S. (2004). Disturbing cell phone behavior – a psychological perspective. Implications for mobile technology tourism. Kjeller: Telenor R&D. Report 29/2004. Retrieved online July 27, 2007 from the World Wide Web: Croft, M. (2006). CU L8R? Marketing Week, September, 2006, 43-45. Retrieved July 27, 2007 from EBSCO Database. Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Lang, K. R. (2005). Managing the paradoxes of mobile technology. Information Systems Management, 22(4), 7-23. Retrieved July 27, 2007 from the World Wide Web: Lasen, A. (2002). The Social Shaping of Fixed and Mobile Networks: A Historical Comparison. Surrey Vodafone Scholar. Digital World Research Centre, University of Surrey, 2002. Retrieved July 27, 2007 from the World Wide Web: Plant, S. (2000) On the Mobile: the effects of mobile telephones on social and individual life. Retrieved July 27, 2007 from the World Wide Web: Reid, D. J. & Reid F. J. M. (2004). Insights into the Social and Psychological Effects of SMS Text Messaging. Retrieved July 27, 2007 from the World Wide Web: Williamson, J. (2002). SMS: An unlikely hit. Global Telephony, March 2002, 16-22.