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Stone Age to Phone Age: New Study Examines Impact of Cell Phones on Business, Society

October 15, 2001

From Beijing to Birmingham, Chicago to Shanghai, mobile technology has made a radical difference in the way society works and plays, according to a major new behavioral study, On the Mobile, commissioned by Motorola, Inc. From men showing off their cell phones in public as symbols of status or even virility, to teenagers competing with each other for the coolest new technology, there is no denying that cell phones have permanently changed the way people interact. The study was conducted by academic Dr. Sadie Plant, who was recently named one of Time magazine's "People to Watch." Dr. Plant traveled to nine cities around the world to conduct research for On the Mobile: Chicago, Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Peshawar, Dubai, London and Birmingham. Using a combination of personal interviews, field studies and observation, Dr. Plant identified a variety of behaviors that demonstrate the dramatic impact that cell phones are making as accessories to conduct life, love and work. "Whatever it is called and however it is used, the cell phone alters the possibilities and practicalities of many aspects of everyday life," Plant said. "The cell phone changes the nature of communication, and affects identities and relationships. It affects the development of social structures and economic activities, and has a considerable bearing on its users' perceptions of themselves and the world." Some of the major findings from On the Mobile include:Personal Power: Cell phones have given people a new-found personal power, enabling unprecedented mobility and allowing them to conduct their business wherever they go. Gender Differences: Females tend to value their cell phone as a means of expression and social communication, while males tend to use it as an interactive toy. However, evidence suggests that males are becoming far more chatty and communicative as a result of cell phone use.Male Status Symbols: Men have a tendency to display their cell phones more proudly, using them to display their aggression in front of other men, and almost like a mating ritual in front of women.Stereotypes: Dr. Plant identified six distinctive types of cell phone users based upon common traits and characteristics, and compared these types with six different kinds of birds. "Owls," for example, tend to keep their cell phone use to a minimum, making and taking only necessary calls, while "starlings" tend to be more aggressive, pushing their way through crowds while talking loudly on their cell phones.Innies and Outies: There are two distinct types of cell phone users -- "innies" are quiet, discreet and unobtrusive with their mobile conversations, while "outies" are louder and less concerned with the perceptions of people around them.Secret Phones: Many cell phone users keep a secret second phone to conduct love affairs or clandestine business deals, or even just as a hotline between friends.The Thumb Generation: Texting has had a profound effect on the way teenagers use their thumbs in some regions. Because they are used to tapping out numbers and messages with their thumbs, they now point and even ring doorbells with their thumb instead of their forefinger. As a brand that has been involved in the mobile technology revolution, Motorola says it commissioned this study to learn how people around the world are exploiting this technology and how it has changed their lives. "Attitudes about cell phones are different in different cultures," said Helen Normoyle, senior director of Consumer Insights for Motorola's Personal Communications Sector. "The cell phone is helping people to cross borders - both physical and cultural. The ever-evolving changes in the way it is used may tell us much about the changing nature of the world and its cultures in the future." Mobile technology, specifically the use of cell phones, has become an integral part of modern life and business around the world. On the Mobile provides a detailed look at how this technology has influenced human behavior.
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