AUSTIN, Texas—A lack of cell phone rules of etiquette such as when to answer ringing phones or turn phones off, and how to conduct a private conversation in public, was a common concern reported among cell phone users from 14 countries examined in a new study by the Science, Technology and Society Program (STS) at The University of Texas at Austin.
“The emergence of new rules of conduct is an important aspect of new communication technologies and is of great interest to anthropologists as well as the general public,” says Elizabeth Keating, STS director.
STS researchers presented NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest mobile phone company, their research findings regarding the societal impacts of cell phones. A research team of 14 graduate students, led by Keating and Emi Nagai, graduate research assistant, received $27,000 from the company to research problems and regulations emerging as a response to cell phone technology.
Complaints about new expectations of constant availability arising from cell phone use were common among many of the cultures studied. In some societies, for example Italy, consumers regularly purchase more than one cell phone in order to manage their relationships, such as work and family, and to restrict their availability.
Most cultural groups expressed concern about the increased vulnerability of children and people of all ages to harassment and unwanted contact with strangers and marketers, while at the same time acknowledging that cell phones also provide parents with increased contact with their children.
In every culture studied, young people are the highest percentage of cell phone users. They find innovative ways of use such as creating new language forms and types of relationships, as well as in some cases establishing individual and group identities through brand affiliation or elaborate decoration of phones.
“People reported experiencing a new kind of dependence on their cell phones, particularly valuing the ability to have brief, but frequent exchanges throughout the day with a select group of friends and family,” Keating said. “In spite of the negative societal impacts of cell phones, they are viewed positively for their power to enhance communication.”