Having a cell phone completely changed my social life. This is what my sons told me after we finally got them cell phones when they were in high school. I also have a cell phone, but don’t feel having it changed my social life. For my sons, however, the effect was dramatic. Cell phones may be changing how people interact with each other and changing their expectations for social interaction.
A recent set of research indicates that young people use their cell phones differently than older adults use their cell phones. We have this belief that young people are constantly using their cell phones – texting, checking email, searching the web, taking pictures, and tweeting. Supposedly, older people (people like me) use their cell phones less frequently. But there is actually very little data on differences in how age impacts cell phone use and beliefs about etiquette. With my colleague, Deborah Forgays, and one of our students, Jessie Schreiber, we’ve recently published an investigation on how people use their cell phones for social interaction and their beliefs about etiquette. The fun part is that we looked at people in different age groups (18-24; 25-34; 35-49; and 50-68).
First the obvious finding. Age relates to big differences in how many text messages people send and receive each day. Young adults rely on text messages but older adults send and receive substantially fewer texts. In the over 50 group, more that 80 percent send and receive fewer than 10 texts each day. But young adults are texting much more every day. Interestingly, we found no difference in the number of cell phone calls made and received. Nobody is making very many – over 90 percent in every age group made fewer than 10 calls each day. The age difference in cell phone use is in texting.
Young adults also use text messaging as their primary method of contacting friends – over 80 percent report texting as their preferred method. The percentage of people who use texting as their primary method of contacting friends drops in older age groups. Older adults (over age 50) prefer calling or email. Given the age difference in the number of texts, it shouldn’t be surprising that younger adults believe it is more appropriate to use their cell phones in a greater variety of situations than do older adults. We asked about a lot of contexts – having dinner with friends, in line at the store, in church, intimate situations, at the gym, having coffee with a friend. Across the board, younger adults saw text messaging as more acceptable than older adults.
So the quick message is that younger adults are texting in more situations, using it to contact friends, and see texting as acceptable.
This seems to be having an impact on their expectations in relationships. You’ve got to feed the beast in text interactions with young adults. Young adults expect quicker responses from friends than do older adults. By the way, we didn’t find any difference in how quickly people expect responses from romantic partners – everyone expects a response relatively quickly. So when you get a text from your partner, stop what you’re doing and respond. Oh, and if you are slow to respond to young adults, they will get irritated with you more quickly than older adults.
Young adults text more, use texts to contact friends, and expect quicker responses. Younger adults also use text messages for a variety of functions in romantic relationships. In particular, about 15 percent of young adults reported they had ended a relationship via text message and 25 percent reported they had been dumped via text. The percentage of text break ups dropped in older age groups and the over 50 crowd never reported text dumps. We’ve always known that breaking up is hard to do – so why not do it via text?
I think this may explain why young adults are so attached to their cell phones. This isn’t addiction. This is social interaction. When you conduct your social life via text, keeping track of your cell phone takes on particular importance. Older adults, like me, shouldn’t make judgments about cell phone use in younger adults, or at least we should withhold the negative evaluations of people constantly checking their cell phones. Perhaps instead we can respect the cell phone and internet natives. These young adults have grown up using cell phones and the internet. They’ve learned to effectively maintain and enhance (and sometimes end) social relationships through the ether. Maybe they will be more engaged with and attached to their social groups than older adults who are still learning to keep in touch in the modern era.
Mobile phones - the impact on the economy, society and our personal livesMobile phones have changed how we negotiate our relationships with family, spouses and close friends. Increased levels of mobile phone subscriptions are linked with improvements in education, gender equality and political participation, particularly in developing countries. They are also associated with higher economic growth.
These are among the findings of a research report by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, which explores the ways in which mobile technologies influence economics, society and people’s private lives across 10 countries – the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, India, Turkey, Egypt, Kenya and South Africa.
The report – ‘Mobile Technologies: The Digital Fabric of Our Lives’, commissioned and published by the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications – bases its findings on numerous sources, including interviews with 10 top academic researchers and a worldwide survey of Vodafone country experts. Among the findings:
Relationships: Mobile phones have altered our relationships with family, spouses and close friends. But while they seem to promise a wider social network, more than half of the average person’s calls and texts go to only four to six different people.
Health: Mobile phones significantly help to maintain physical and psychological health when family members move away from home. And they enable women to maintain three roles within the household, simultaneously being wives, mothers and wage earners.
Political participation: More mobile phone subscriptions are correlated with more democratic participation, less gender inequality and longer time spent in education. In all three areas, the impact of mobiles on social development indicators is stronger in developing countries.
Economic growth: Mobile technologies contribute significantly to GDP growth, with a forecast range of between 1.8% in the UK and 24.9% in Egypt over the years 2010-2020, compared with today’s GDP. Again, the effects will be larger in developing countries.
The growth impact in more detail:
The effects of increasing mobile phone subscriptions on GDP growth across 10 countries are all positive for the years 2010 to 2020, forecast to grow continuously in this period. They range between 1.8% in the UK and 24.9% in Egypt (compared with today’s GDP).
Mobile phones enable new services and applications that provide opportunities to generate income. Furthermore, the access to information and increased communication through mobile communication facilitates coordination resulting in productivity gains. Mobiles also enable immediate responses to crises and shocks that without them may lead to destruction of crops or machinery.
The effects tend to be larger in developing countries. This is explained by the significantly higher growth rates of mobile phone subscriptions in these countries. In practice, mobiles fill the gap that other poor or non-existent infrastructure in these countries leave wide open. So it is not surprising that many innovations related to mobiles are adopted more quickly in developing countries. Mobiles are also often the first and only way of communication without having to travel under difficult circumstances.
In developed countries, there are smaller effects for mobile phone subscriptions on growth. In these countries, effects are likely to be less pronounced due to less growth in mobile phone subscriptions in forthcoming years and generally good infrastructure.