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Posts in category 'Teens'

20 November 2008

Worldwide Lab at Alcatel-Lucent

Worldwide Lab at Alcatel-Lucent
Alcatel-Lucent’s Worldwide Lab is an innovative primary research program focused on soliciting the end-user experiences and preferences from the highly coveted teen and young adult market.

Lab Members are made up of users from around the world and range in age from pre-teen to young adult. Currently there are 75 users from 19 countries in the lab.

The Lab’s ongoing research looks to understand how these teens experience entertainment across all the screens they use (e.g., phones, televisions, computers, etc.).

The team is given regular assignments – for example, downloading games on their mobile phone – and then they are asked about their experience. The results are published on the site each month.

The latest assignments:

RapidResults – mobile multi-tasking
We want to understand teens’ current habits of using their phone and computer at the same time along with their interest of using simultaneous voice and data on a mobile device.

Mobile downloads 2 years later
Two years after our first study on mobile downloads, Lab members tell us how things have changed, if there have been improvements and how we can fix the user experience.

RapidResults – Going green
Tell us what you do to help the environment and how “green” affects the decisions you make.

RapidResults – James Bond inventions
If you were Agent 007, James Bond, what new invention would you create that would make using technology a better experience for you? Our teens tell us their ideas…

RapidResults – education
Tell us how technology can be used to improve the education experience.

RapidResults – mobile accessories
Tell us about the accessories you use with your mobile phone

Location-based services
Location-based services will serve up special offers and notices based on where you travel. We want to see how willing teens are to tell us where they learn, play and shop.

20 November 2008

Report published on three-year digital youth research project

Digital youth
A three-year research project that explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives has just published its report.

Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures” is a collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley.

By socializing, tinkering with technology and intensely delving into media, teens and children on the Internet “are picking up basic social and technical skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society,” according to a three-year national study released today, reports the Mercury News. […]

The $3.3 million study, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, found that youths use online networks to extend friendships, acquire technical skills, learn from each other, explore interests and develop expertise.

The study used several teams of researchers to interview more than 800 young people and their parents and to observe teenagers online for more than 5,000 hours

You can find the main insights below, but Mizuko Ito, a research scientist in the department of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, who was the lead researcher on the study, also provides her own background.

- Report: Summary | White paper | Full report | Press release and video
Reviews: The New York Times | Mercury News

8 October 2008

Carphone Warehouse publishes latest Mobile Life Report

Mobile Life
Carphone Warehouse, the British mobile phone retail chain, in conjunction with the London School of Economics, has released its fifth Mobile Life report, a comprehensive study into the technology usage habits of children and adults in the UK and US.

While the press release stresses online safety concerns for children, with a significant difference between a parent’s understanding of their child’s online activity and the reality of content being accessed, the report itself is much broader in scope.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Mobile replaces TV as the most essential technology
  • Holidays are incomplete without some online interaction
  • The internet plays a central role in planning free time
  • Nearly one in three young people prefer chatting to friends online than face to face
  • One in three UK kids and one in four US kids argue with their parents about how long they spend online
  • The internet is crucial for maintaining networks of family and friends
  • One third of adults admitted checking their partners’ email
  • 14% of kids have found themselves in a situation which made them feel uncomfortable
  • Only 2% of UK adults still uses letters to stay in touch with friends
8 October 2008

Teens, video games and civics

PEW_logo
This US survey by Pew Internet with the support of the MacArthur Foundation finds that teens’ gaming experiences are diverse and include significant social interaction and civic engagement.

The main conclusions:

  • Game playing is universal, with almost all teens playing games and at least half playing games on a given day. Game playing experiences are diverse, with the most popular games falling into the racing, puzzle, sports, action and adventure categories.
  • Game playing is also social, with most teens playing games with others at least some of the time and can incorporate many aspects of civic and political life.
  • Another major finding is that game playing sometimes involves exposure to mature content, with almost a third of teens playing games that are listed as appropriate only for people older than they are.

- Read more
Download report

4 October 2008

Mobile Revolutions

Mobile revolutions
Mobile Revolutions is a great blog about mobile phones, youth and social change by Lisa Campbell, that I discovered via Mobile Active. What’s more, she has actually taken the time to write a lengthy, seriously researched and in-depth paper to dwell on the subjects that are dear to her (and important to us).

“In this paper I outline the transformative power of new media technologies in Latin American contexts as tools for social change, comparing examples of youth digital activism from both Costa Rican and Panamanian contexts. Focusing on two types of Social Media, both Social Networks and Mobile Communication are examined as tools for Central American youth activists. In my conclusion I summarize the effects of national media policies, the situation of the digital divide and its effect on media democracy. The powerful nature of Citizen Media illustrates how overcoming the digital divide can produce democratic access to the media and societies’ larger institutions for social change.”

You can read it in one go, or split out over four chapters:

5 September 2008

Ambient awareness

Awareness
The upcoming New York Times Magazine has a long feature on the effects of News Feed, Twitter and other forms of incessant online contact.

“Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye. Facebook is no longer alone in offering this sort of interaction online. In the last year, there has been a boom in tools for “microblogging”: posting frequent tiny updates on what you’re doing. The phenomenon is quite different from what we normally think of as blogging, because a blog post is usually a written piece, sometimes quite long: a statement of opinion, a story, an analysis. But these new updates are something different. They’re far shorter, far more frequent and less carefully considered. One of the most popular new tools is Twitter, a Web site and messaging service that allows its two-million-plus users to broadcast to their friends haiku-length updates — limited to 140 characters, as brief as a mobile-phone text message — on what they’re doing. There are other services for reporting where you’re traveling (Dopplr) or for quickly tossing online a stream of the pictures, videos or Web sites you’re looking at (Tumblr). And there are even tools that give your location. When the new iPhone, with built-in tracking, was introduced in July, one million people began using Loopt, a piece of software that automatically tells all your friends exactly where you are.”

Read full story

27 August 2008

Book – Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

Born Digital
Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives
by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser
Basic Books, 2008
Hardcover, 288 pages

This new book, which grew out of the digital natives project at Harvard University’s Berkman Center, investigates “what it means to grow up in a mediated culture and the ways in which technology inflects issues like privacy, safety, intellectual property, media creation, and learning,” (as introduced by Danah Boyd). Here is the official abstract:

The most enduring change wrought by the digital revolution is neither the new business models nor the new search algorithms, but rather the massive generation gap between those who were born digital and those who were not. The first generation of “digital natives”-children who were born into and raised in the digital world-is now coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our cultural life, even the shape of our family life will be forever transformed. But who are these digital natives? How are they different from older generations, and what is the world they’re creating going to look like?

In Born Digital, leading Internet and technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser offer a sociological portrait of this exotic tribe of young people who can seem, even to those merely a generation older, both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow. Based on original research and advancing new theories, Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues? Or is privacy even a relevant value for digital natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world? Is “stranger-danger” a real problem, or a red herring?

John Palfrey is Clinical Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. He is a regular commentator on network news programs, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News, NPR and BBC. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Urs Gasser is an associate professor of law at the University of St. Gallen, where he serves as the director of the Research Center for Information Law, as well as a faculty fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. He has published and edited, respectively, six books and has written over fifty articles in books, law reviews, and professional journals. He lives in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

24 July 2008

Recent videos on Fora TV

Fora TV
Fora TV (a.k.a. “the thinking man’s YouTube”) has some videos that are worth taking a look at:

Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody
Aspen Institute – Jul. 06, 2008
Clay Shirky discusses his latest book, Here Comes Everybody, about the way people organize themselves without formal structures to respond to catalyzing events.

Clay Shirky on social networks and the Obama campaign
Aspen Institute – Jul. 06, 2008
Clay Shirky discusses social software, including the system used by the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. He notes the way members of the community organized in response to Obama’s support for the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act legislation.

Clay Shirky on Social Networks like Facebook and MySpace
Aspen Institute – Jul. 06, 2008
NYU Professor Clay Shirky discusses Facebook, Friendster and other social software.

Danah Boyd on social networks and immersive environments
Aspen Institute Jul. 04, 2008
Anthropologist of the online community Danah Boyd discusses ways young people use social network sites to connect with their friends and present themselves online. Boyd compares social networks like MySpace to immersive environments like Second Life. She also discusses mobile portability.

Danah Boyd on how teens interact online
Aspen Institute – Jul. 04, 2008
Danah Boyd discusses ways young people use social network sites to connect with their friends and present themselves online. She discusses various techniques teens use to talk and interact online.

Craig Barrett: Technology the Human Impact
Aspen Institute – Jun. 30, 2008
In an interview with Aspen Institute Trustee and venture capitalist John Doerr, Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, discusses the intersection of technology and society.

10 June 2008

French ethnographic study on teens and mobiles

Afom
The fact that young people are more adapt at using the latest technologies has less to do with expertise, experience or access, but more with their “non-dramatic” relation with these technologies, as evidenced by the way they deal with small failures and technological problems.

This is one of the results of a recent ethnographic study conducted by the French Interdisciplinary Group on Information and Communication Process (Gripic) on behalf of the French Association of Mobile Operators, and reported at length on InternetActu (site in French).

Summarising it differently, Gripic says:

“You cannot be connected if you are afraid of failures and of DIY-ing. Once upon a time, one had to learn. Now one has to experiment. Usage is no longer something that comes at the end of a training – it is the training.”

The researchers also looked at the practice of mobile sharing:

“There is a growing trend of sharing with teenagers. Phones are more and more objects that circulate within a group, in particular when they have lost their own phone, when it is broken or stolen. The Gripic researchers were surprised to find that a fair number of teenagers didn’t even have their own mobile phone, but just a “replacement mobile”: an object that was ephemeral, non-sacred, cheap and aimed at circulation. The only thing that matters is that it works.” […]

“In fact, for adults the mobile is a hyper-personal device, an intimate black box with data that absolutely need to be protected. For teenagers on the other hand, the mobile is often as little confidential and intimate as their blogs. They are instead identity and exhibition spaces of oneself, with “museum galleries” of photos, ringtones, videos, and music to share with a community of peers: archiving makes only sense if it can be shared.”

Gripic sees teenager usage of the mobile no longer as “emblematic of an individualistic society”, but rather as “a reflection of collective and collaborative behaviours”.

Also in the study, a lot of insights on how mobile phones are used at schools and in the relationship between parents and children.

If you read French, you should read the full InternetActu post, but also check the various downloads available from the website of the French Association of Mobile Operators (ASOM).

2 June 2008

AP using ethnography to rethink news in the digital age

Rethinking news
Last year, Associated Press commissioned Baltimore-based Context-Based Research Group to conduct an ethnographic research study focusing on the news consumption habits of young digital consumers in six cities around the world.

The drive for this research came from the recognition that a significant shift in news consumption behaviour is taking place among younger generations.

The study’s main finding was that the subjects were overloaded with facts and updates and were having trouble moving more deeply into the background and resolution of news stories.

The report, which is presented today at the World Editors Forum in Goteborg, Sweden, structures the field study findings in a series of headings with short, one page descriptions:

  • News is connected to e-mail
  • Constant checking is linked to boredom
  • Contemporary lifestyles impact news consumption
  • Consumers want depth but aren’t getting it
  • News is multitasked
  • Consumers are experiencing news fatigue
  • Television impacts consumers expectations
  • Story resolution is key and sports and entertainment deliver
  • News takes work today but creates social currency

These research insights helped AP design a new model for news delivery to meet the needs of young adults, who are driving the shift from traditional media to digital news.

In essence, AP realised that how news is being consumed in the digital space by young people matches how they are improving their own newsgathering and project development, and that they can build on this workflow to develop new delivery models that match people needs.

“Chief among those initiatives is a fundamental new process for newsgathering in the field called “1-2-3 Filing.” The name describes a new editorial workflow that starts with a news alert headline for breaking news, followed by a short present-tense story that is usable on the Web and by broadcasters. The third step is to add details and format stories in ways most appropriate for various news platforms.”

This led to a new ‘Top Stories Desk‘ at AP headquarters in New York, where “the editors on that desk are urged to consider the big-picture significance of a select number of stories each day and to provide the perspective and forward-looking thinking that can enhance their development across all media platforms.

AP also launched major new content development projects in entertainment, sports and financial news to create more entry points for consumers with appetites for broader, deeper content in those categories, as well as a comprehensive mobile news service “to deliver news content, across category, to a platform most likely to be in the hands of the young target audience.”

Finally, AP has been actively pursuing the creation of content with more “social currency” for consumers through new services such as Ask AP, by adding interactive explainers and audience views, by conceiving alternative story forms, or by providing further context such as was done in the “Measure of a Nation”.

“These initiatives at AP, large and small, have sprung from a concerted effort to think about the news from an end-user’s perspective, re-emphasizing a dimension to news gathering and editing that can get lost in the relentless rush of the daily news cycle. The consumer study provided important validation for that approach, as well as a continuing framework for thinking about future innovation.”

Editors at the Telegraph in London are following a similar approach and have seen a big jump in traffic at the newspaper’s Web site. The study ends with a case study describing how the Telegraph has adopted the mind-set of a broadcast-news operation to quickly build from headlines to short stories to complete multimedia packages online to boost readership.

- Read news article
Download report (pdf, 3.6 mb, 71 pages)

1 June 2008

Library of Congress lecture series on “digital natives”

Digital spot
The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress is organising a four-part lecture series on “Digital Natives,” referring to the generation that has been raised with the computer as a natural part of their lives, especially the young people who are currently in schools and colleges today.

The series seeks to understand the practices and culture of the digital natives, the cultural implications of their phenomenon and the implications for education to schools, universities and libraries.

A Washington Times article today and some Library of Congress press releases provide some more insight:

[The series] began April 7 with child development expert Edith K. Ackermann (site) discussing “The Anthropology of Digital Natives” (video).

The Washington Times writes: “Ms. Ackermann, a visiting scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke almost affectionately of young people’s affinity for sharing, “even before they think,” and their “fascination with freedom,” defined, in part, as having “the ability to do the right thing even when they have not got all the knowledge.” Because of their affinity for texting and borrowing sources available widely on the Internet and social networking sites, she concluded that “the gap between reading and writing is closing down.”

On 12 May, a spirited defense of the digital generation was presented by the writer Steven Berlin Johnson (site) based on his 2005 best-selling book, “Everything Bad is Good for You” (wikipedia). [A video is not yet available].

According to the Library of Congress press release, Johnson discussed the response to his argument that popular culture is growing more complex and cognitively challenging, and is not racing downward towards a lowest common denominator. He also talked about the future of books in this digital age.

Michael Wesch (site), assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, is the man behind the viral internet video “The Machine Is Us/ing Us“, which with over 600,000 views has become somewhat of a phenomenon. Welsch will discuss the three-year-old video-sharing Web site in a lecture titled “The Anthropology of YouTube” on 23 June.

“More video material has been uploaded to YouTube in the past six months than has ever been aired on all major networks combined, according to cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch. About 88 percent is new and original content, most of which has been created by people formerly known as “the audience.”

According to Wesch, it took tens of thousands of years for writing to emerge after humans spoke their first words. It took thousands more before the printing press appeared and a few hundred again before the telegraph did. Today a new medium of communication emerges every time somebody creates a new web application. “A Flickr here, a Twitter there, and a new way of relating to others emerges,” Wesch said. “New types of conversation, argumentation and collaborations are realized.”

Douglas Rushkoff (site), a teacher of media theory at New York University who recently wrote a pamphlet for the UK think tank Demos, will close the series with a lecture entitled “Open Source Reality” on 30 June.

The series should eventually be available on video webcasts.

The Washington Times article also refers to a few other resources, including Digital Native, an international online academic research project that explores the “digital media landscape” and its implications. (Check the links at the end of that page).

By the way, check out the gorgeous illustration that Linas Garsys made for the Washington Times. Click on the image on the left so see it in its full size.

27 April 2008

First findings presented of study on kids in digital environments

Digital youth
A group of researchers from the University of Southern California and University of California at Berkeley presented their first findings from one of the largest ethnographic studies on kids in digital environments.

Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures is a three year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives.

The study pictures a new generation that is “self-publishing, programming, and pushing the boundaries of what can be done online”, which provides them “with a sense of competence, autonomy, self-determination and connectedness”.

But – shows the research – they’re not learning how to do this in school.

The full research will be published later this year.

- Read more: news.com | UC Berkeley News
Talking notes, danah boyd, UC Berkeley

24 April 2008

Writing, technology and teens

PEW_logo
The International Herald Tribune writes about the latest study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on how technology is impacting the writing style of teenagers in the United States.

“It is nothing to LOL about: Despite best efforts to keep school writing assignments formal, two-thirds of U.S. teens admit in a survey that emoticons and other informal styles have crept in.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project, in a study released Thursday, also found that teens who keep blogs or use social-networking sites like Facebook or News Corp.’s MySpace have a greater tendency to slip nonstandard elements into assignments.

The results may give parents, teachers and others a big :( – a frown to the rest of us – though the study’s authors see hope.”

Read full story

6 April 2008

New UK report on children and new technology

Byron Review
The UK Department for Children, Schools and Families launched last week its eagerly anticipated Byron Review into Children and New Technology.

It contains a comprehensive package of measures to help children and young people make the most of the internet and video games, while protecting them from harmful and inappropriate material, and sets out an ambitious action plan for Government, industry and families to work together to support children’s safety online and to reduce access to adult video games.

The report has led to a huge amount of press coverage and debate.

BBC News summarises the report and provides an overview of the reactions to it.

DK of MediaSnackers is rather lukewarm in his reaction and identifies three areas the report fails to tackle:

  • children vs young people—very different demographics in terms of their internet/technology use and expectations. There is a danger of trying to develop strategies which cater for both groups here;
  • internet or playing video games—surely these are two very different activities but in the report they are often ‘lumped’ together;
  • social networking regulation—any plans to regulate these online spaces will be near impossible to enforce let alone coordinate (due to the amount of platforms plus their international approaches—check this out).
22 March 2008

The human side of Moore’s Law

Robert X. Cringely
Robert X. Cringely, the pen name of technology journalist Mark Stephens, who is the host and writer of the hit PBS-TV miniseries “Electric Money”, has penned a polemic piece about culture and technology:

“There is a technology war coming. Actually it is already here but most of us haven’t yet notice. It is a war not about technology but because of technology, a war over how we as a culture embrace technology. It is a war that threatens venerable institutions and, to a certain extent, threatens what many people think of as their very way of life. It is a war that will ultimately and inevitably change us all, no going back. The early battles are being fought in our schools. And I already know who the winners will be.

This is a war over how we as a culture and a society respond to Moore’s Law.”

And a bit down in the piece comes his most key statement:

“We’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.”

Read full story

26 January 2008

‘Google Generation’ is a myth, says new UK research

Google generation
A new study overturns the common assumption that the ‘Google Generation’ – youngsters born or brought up in the Internet age – is the most web-literate.

The first ever virtual longitudinal study carried out by the CIBER research team at University College London claims that, although young people demonstrate an apparent ease and familiarity with computers, they rely heavily on search engines, view rather than read and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web.

The report Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future (pdf, 1.7 mb) also shows that research-behaviour traits that are commonly associated with younger users – impatience in search and navigation, and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information needs – are now becoming the norm for all age-groups, from younger pupils and undergraduates through to professors.

Commissioned by the British Library and JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee), the study calls for libraries to respond urgently to the changing needs of researchers and other users. Going virtual is critical and learning what researchers want and need crucial if libraries are not to become obsolete, it warns. “Libraries in general are not keeping up with the demands of students and researchers for services that are integrated and consistent with their wider internet experience”, says Dr Ian Rowlands, the lead author of the report.

The findings also send a strong message to the government. Educational research into the information behaviour of young people and training programmes on information literacy skills in schools are desperately needed if the UK is to remain as a leading knowledge economy with a strongly-skilled next generation of researchers.

Read full press release

11 January 2008

“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born”

Digital Youth
In a blog post, Danah Boyd (a Berkeley Ph.D student and a Harvard Fellow) relates the story of a mother who describes how her daughter’s approach to shopping was completely different than her own:

“Using Google and a variety of online shopping sites, Mary researched dresses online, getting a sense for what styles she liked and reading information about what was considered stylish that year. Next, Mary and her friends went to the local department store as a small group, toting along their digital cameras (even though they’re banned). They tried on the dresses, taking pictures of each other in the ones that fit. Upon returning home, Mary uploaded the photos to her Facebook and asked her broader group of friends to comment on which they liked the best. Based on this feedback, she decided which dress to purchase, but didn’t tell anyone because she wanted her choice to be a surprise. Rather than returning to the store, Mary purchased the same dress online at a cheaper price based on the information on the tag that she had written down when she initially saw the dress. She went for the cheaper option because her mother had given her a set budget for homecoming shopping; this allowed her to spend the rest on accessories.”

Boyd analyses this further:

In the 1980s, Alan Kay declared that, “technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” In other words, what is perceived as technology to adults is often ubiquitous if not invisible to youth. In telling this story, Mary’s mother was perplexed by the technology choices made by her daughter. Yet, most likely, Mary saw her steps in a practical way: research, test out, get feedback, purchase. Her choices were to maximize her options, make a choice that would be socially accepted, and purchase the dress at the cheapest price. Her steps were not about maximizing technology, but about using it to optimize what she did care about.

Read full story

The blog entry is also a Fieldnote for the Digital Youth Project.

(via FutureLab)

3 December 2007

Mobile usability for teens who are going mobile

Teenagers
In an article for UXmatters, Hilary Cooldige of Molecular reviews current research on teen mobile phone us, argues for contextual user research and mobile usability studies in the field, and presents some of the results of her own field studies.

Read full story

27 October 2007

ComDays07 / Stefana Broadbent: The 20 people we communicate with

Stefana Broadbent
Bruno Giussani reports on a recent talk by Swisscom anthropologist Stefana Broadbent on how people really use technology. The talk was delivered at the 6th Communication Days conference in Bienne, Switzerland.

“In traditional marketing research, she says, if you ask what the main constraints on usage of communication services are, the obvious answer would probably be price and some personal attitudes towards tech. But what we find in our research, observing people closely, is that actually the real discriminants are time and social networks.

Time: we collect hundreds of timelines and logs, we ask people to reconstruct with us their previous day of communication: who they communicated with, how, etc. We ask them to describe their social environment. Let’s consider teenagers. The image adults have about teenagers online is lots of friends, connected all the time, etc. Swiss teenagers: all use instant messaging; e-mail is used only for communicating with adults and institutions; all of them have a mobile phone and send SMS daily; more than 50% have a profile page on social networking sites; they read blogs and use Youtube etc. BUT there is something very specific to the Swiss educational system. In Switzerland, there is a high proportion — 75% — of professional/vocational training (“apprentices”). Teenagers are in a professional setting; receive a salary; they are in constant contact with adults during the day; etc. If we compare the structure of the day of the teen apprentices and that of their parents, it’s often not that dissimilar, except for the evening hours. And their patterns of communication are also very similar: balancing between work and private life; have a rather limited set of contacts. Apart from instant messaging, in Switzerland from 13 to 50 year old the patterns of usage of communication channels are very similar.

The other factor that has an impact on communication behavior is social networks. The close circle of contacts is composed of about 20 people: 7 in the “intimate circle”, 13 in the “close circle”. A further 37 are “weaker ties”. This core of 20 is a number that’s consistent across countries in Europe and the US. Who’s in this core? About 60% are “given” contacts (family, schoolmates, work colleagues, neighbours), only 40% are “chosen”. If you look with whom people communicate, 3/4 of the contacts happen with the people within those 20 “core” contacts. What does this mean? It may look obvious, you only communicate with the people you know. But to me it means: those 20 people are our (telecom operator’s) playing field. When we think of services for our customers, we have to keep in mind that their space is 20 people wide.”

18 September 2007

The French and their mobiles

The French and their mobiles
A few days ago, I translated an article from the French newspaper Le Monde about new French research on “collective mobile phone use”.

The French Association of Mobile Operators now published the full study (pdf, 630 kb, 156 pages), as well as a three-page press release/synthesis.

For a number of reasons I decided to spend (quite) some time translating the report synthesis:
– The study is strong and the results insightful, refreshing and highly innovative;
– Little is known internationally about anthropological research on mobile technologies in France;
– There is a barrage of coverage coming from the Anglo-Saxon world, and only a trickle from elsewhere.

Translating the study itself is unfortunately beyond my capacity and I can only hope that the French Association of Mobile Operators itself will one day make the study available in an English translation – feel free to put some pressure on them by contacting them at info@afomobiles.org.
 

MAIN CONCLUSIONS OF THE NEW SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY ON THE MOBILE PHONE IN FRANCE IN 2007

The French Association of Mobile Operators (AFOM) asked the Discours and Pratiques studio to conduct a study on the mobile phone in the French society in 2007.

Five researchers in information and communication sciences [sociology, information sciences, communication sciences, philosophy and literature], all members of GRIPIC (the research group of the CELSA school), worked on the study for six months, conducting about one hundred in-depth interviews, as well as anthropological observations in various locations (Paris and its suburbs, Marseilles, Strasbourg, Creuse and various ski resorts) and various situations.

The researchers tried to understand the ways of “doing and being” that go with the use of the mobile phone on the street, cafe terraces, restaurants, public gardens, train stations, apartments, vacation homes, companies, libraries, and transportation means, and this without falling back on traditional social categorisations. And to really cover the symbolic dimension of the mobile phone, the research also covered areas that up till now were not covered by research: the movies, television shows and literature.

The study was lead by Anne Jarrigeon and Joëlle Menrath, two researchers who were already involved with a previous GRIPIC study on the mobile phone in French society, conducted in 2004 and 2005.

The main points of the 2007 study are:
 

1. The mobile phone is no longer just a personal device. In 2007, the phone is integrated within collective practices both in the family and between friends.

Mobile phone are increasingly objects that circulate within a group. The owner of the mobile phone is no longer the only one to touch it, check it and use it.

Mobile phones can allow for exchanges based on the amount of credit left before the end of the month and on the range of hourly allowances when calls are free. This can also lead to a collective choice of operators, of discount plans and of prepaid cards, with the sole aim of optimising cost within the group.

Within the family, mobile phone reinforce the asymmetric role and character of the parent-child relationship: whereas parents do not think about money when calling their children, the children themselves try to save money by “beeping” their parents, in order to be called back.

The mobile of the child is a jointly managed tool and a transaction device. It is experienced by the parents – and mainly by the mothers – as an opportunity for exchange with their child and as a way for children to learn to manage a financial budget.

Within a group of friends, mobile phones serve to define roles and affinities. One can find the expert, and the user with difficulties, the “banker” who always has some credit, and the “borrower” who always asks for text messages and minutes (without ever giving them).

Beyond these roles, the mobile phone created relations of exclusivity with those whom one calls most often based on the tariff offers and their compatibility.
 

2. The French have ambivalent and changing relations with their mobile phone. In 2007, the mobile phone goes from being personal to transitory, from intimate to visible.

If the mobile phone is a “signature object” that one gets emotionally attached to and reflects the identity of its owner, it is also a “transitory object” that one can easily detached from, because it’s after all a device that young users see as something that will in the end be either replaced by a new model, or end up broken, lost or stolen.

If the mobile phone is an intimate “black box” where one stores the archives of one’s life (contacts, SMS, photos…), it is also:

  • for adults, the album that unites all the photos previously kept in the wallet and the object where one keeps its secrets from intrusion (partner listening to messages or checking on call history…),
  • for teens, the place where one keeps personal collections (images, ringtones, …), that one shares and shows like a museum.
     

3. New social conventions are being established around the mobile phone.

A mobile phone call can easily be interrupted (“I have to go now”, “I can’t hear you anymore”, “I am out of battery”, “I just arrived”). With a mobile phone, ending a call is allowed without this being considered impolite.

Calling someone on a mobile means living it up to him/her to answer or not. The mobile phone is increasingly seen as a non-intrusive tool of reachability.

New rules are also developing about money, with regards to “limit expenses”, or “pick up the tab” such as in a restaurant, or on the impoliteness of extending a conversation because the call is free anyhow.
 

4. The use of the mobile phone is governed more by example than by rules and prohibitions.

Nowadays there are many rules that prohibit the use of the mobile phone, be it at work, in public spaces or at school. Very often these rules are not followed.

In many contexts that were observed (office, train, waiting room…), use is self-regulated in terms of what people consider to be tolerable and appropriate.

At school, the mobile phone is added to the series of tools of those that are not interested in a class or have fun at creating some disturbance, something that more “traditional” tools were used for before. It becomes another challenge for the teacher to manage during his class.

Confiscation seems to be most effective sanction in school even if the user of the confiscated phone is no the owner (because phones often circulate in groups) and even if parents are opposed to this sanction because it prevents them from reaching their children (including – for some – during classes).

Because rules are usually not followed, example behaviour is often more effective than prohibition. When someone decides not to use his/her phone when on holidays, at dinner, during meetings or while with the family, this is often the best way to dissuade others from using it.

However such example behaviour requires constant vigilance because any use of the mobile phone quickly becomes a breach that others quickly take advantage of.
 

5. Several dominant sociological and philosophical lines of thought are consistent with the behaviours that were observed and the results that were obtained during the study.

While the mobile phone is often presented as the token of an individualistic and atomised society, in reality one observes collective and collaborative behaviours around the mobile in the family and between friends.

While the mobile phone is often thought of as creating a bubble around the people engaged in the call, excluding them from their immediate environments, in reality one increasingly observes conversations where those around the “caller”, allow themselves to intervene, to interrupt the caller or to speak to him/her about something else.

While the mobile phone is often portrayed as filling a void or a lack, one increasingly observes situations where the phone provides resources to act and react, allows to capture what one experiences et to bring an “extra value” to what one experiences that can be described with wellbeing or pleasure.

And while the mobile phone is often, also outside of expert research, mentioned in current discussions on improper behaviour the people that were interviewed do not speak about this and one observes increasingly less signs of exasperation or of cases of embarrassment in public life.
 

6. The mobile phone is seen as a “average medium” that renews amateur photo and film practice.

Mobile phone images are viewed as precarious images, often of uncertain quality, not to be printed and not be shared between devices. These images always call up a description of something one should see. They serve to create memories and to prove that one really was present at the event one is talking about (e.g. a concert, a celebrity passing by …).

Mobile phone images are integrated within several reference frameworks that preceded the phone: the journalism of the everyday and one’s own life, spontaneous family images as opposed to fake happiness, the sensationalism that comes with having to set up brief, clear, efficient and striking acts.

More spectacular scenes can raise the challenge by bringing in the grotesque, the playful, the macabre, even violence. This is what lead to the videos gags, the MTV Jackass and the so-called ‘snuff movies’. The aggressions filmed on a mobile phone are one of the most recent expressions of this (although the expression ‘happy slapping’ was not used by any of the people interviewed within this study).
 

Our friends from InternetActu, who also report on this study, highlight that the authors of the study conclude that “the mobile phone of 2007 is no longer exactly the same phone as it was in 2007:

“Its current massive and seemingly irreversible presence in all spheres of life would make one think that its uses would become trivialised or neutralised. None of that can be observed. […] Whereas the conventional uses of the mobile phone are more stable now than they were in 2005, they are now shared with new uses that are either linked to innovative technologies that are appropriated by users, or created by themselves in daily practice.

[…] What struck is, is that the mobile phone hasn’t ‘bursted’ under the effect of the successive additions of new functions, but continues to make sense to people as a “phone”, even though they use it in manifold ways. It goes even further than that. The mobile phone is no longer fully conceived or ‘experienced’ as a Swiss Army knife of aggregated functions but instead reinvented with each use as a ‘fully conceived object': a machine to write text messages, a photo camera, a voice mail system… It is an object that is endowed with the capacity of metamorphosis. When seen in the context of the other devices it relates to, the mobile phone seems today to be part of an augmented collection [or ‘ecosystem’] of communicating devices, including the devices of others […]. Research on the effects of the phone on others therefore seems more relevant today than an investigation on how to optimise the performance and complementarity of the different tools.”