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Posts Tagged ‘cell phones’

People have been complaining about bad cell phone behavior for years. What are the twenty-first century’s Emily Post rules for cell phones and texting? (For the millennials: Emily Post was the great doyenne of etiquette and manners advice in the twentieth century. Her descendants still produce advice books under her name. And there actually are new-era Emily Post rules; see below.)

In 2012, John Dvorak, a tech journalist, complained that “somewhere along the line, it became okay to yak on the phone in the restaurant . . . . Nobody cares unless you are talking too loud or making a scene. . . . [T]he mobile phone has plagued etiquette on the planet . . . . [and] all the old manners have been tossed out.” That same year, a chip-making company sponsored a survey which revealed that “most adults believe that mobile manners are getting worse (81%) and wish people practiced better mobile etiquette in public (92%).” Last year, the Pew Research Center conducted a large survey on “Mobile Etiquette.” Its findings suggest that people have some real peeves, but also that some consensus on proper cell phone behavior is emerging.

This fraught discussion recalls one about a century ago about the proper manners around non-mobile, landline telephones. Indeed, people generally meet new technologies with a period of bungling exploration toward a manners of proper use. (How much do people follow the etiquette? Well, that’s another issue.)

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Middle-class Americans have alternatively immersed themselves in and withdrawn from public urban spaces. In the early nineteenth century, the streets and squares of American center cities were commonly crowded, filthy, and dangerous – certainly no place for a “respectable” woman. By the end of that century, those same spaces had become even more crowded, but were now elegant and enticing – just where “respectable” women went to lunch and window-shop.

By the 1970s, however, middle-class Americans were again avoiding those streets and plazas. Television and the growth of suburbia had drawn many people into their homes. The center cities’ growing poverty and crime drove people away, leaving great American downtowns with abandoned stores and empty plazas. (See these previous posts: here and here.) We would expect, given all the speculations about how today’s communications technologies enable Americans to curl up in their burrows, for the flight from public spaces to have continued. Why go out at all? And if you do, why linger in public spaces?

Keith Hampton, Lauren Sessions Goulet, and Garrett Albanesius just reported a study in which they literally compared pictures of Americans in public spaces in 2010 to similar pictures in 1980. They found the pessimistic descriptions of changes disconfirmed.

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Cell Phone Science

My attention was recently drawn to the topic of cell phones and not just because … hold on a sec … um, no messages … of the phone sitting next to my keyboard, but because I was reading two books … wait, what’s the ball score? … No change … where was I? …. oh, yeah, two books – Rainie and Wellman’s Networked and Doron and Jeffrey’s The Great Indian Phone Book – and a few other items on the topic. Cell phones have spread across the globe faster and deeper than any other technology. Understanding why and with what consequence is a new frontier in social science research.

The mobile or cell phone emerged around 1980; almost no one had one. As late as 2000, there was about one cell phone subscription for every 12 human beings in the world; this year, there is about one subscription for every single human being. This must mean something. The latest Sunday New York Times Book Review presented the intriguing thoughts of many novelists on the question of what the advent of internet devices did to story-telling. The new technologies have blown up a number of plot lines – hero stranded, boy and girl unable to re-find one another, mysterious stranger comes to town, and so on. Get on your phone! Send a text! Google him! What’s the problem?

Some interesting and perhaps unexpected findings are coming out of research into the sociology of cell phones. One finding is that, however cell phone obsessed we think we are … um, did I just hear a buzz? Is that for me? … Americans are mobile laggards.

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