|Universität Zürich||Soziologisches Institut der Universität Zürich||Prof. Dr. Hans Geser|
the Mobile Phone
Towards a Sociological Theory of the Mobile Phone
University of Zürich March 2004 (Release 3.0)
1. The innovative potential of cell phone technology in an evolutionary perspective
Since its inception billions of years ago, the evolution of life on earth has been shaped by two highly consistent physical constraints:
The first of these conditions implies that the diversification of living forms and behavior takes place mainly as a differentiation within physical space. In operational terms, this means that tight correlations exist between spatial location and the prevalence of particular ecosystems, species and breeds. On the human level, this is reflected in racial, ethnic-linguistic and many other differences along geographical lines - as well as in the high salience of face-to-face gatherings for the maintenance of social collectivities and institutions and for the satisfaction of (physiological and psychological) individual needs.
The second constraint can be easily substantiated by the empirical regularity that more advanced levels of interdependence and organization are only found among organisms that co-exist for longer periods at the same physical locations. Of course, widespread interaction also occurs within moving herds of antelopes, swarms of birds or schools of fish, but they tend to result in rather simple segmentary structures - not to be compared with the elaborated societies realized by stationary bees, ants or primate apes. On the level of human societies, the same regularity can be convincingly demonstrated by comparing nomadic and sedentary populations. Evidently, the increasing stability of settlements made possible by horticulture in the Neolithic period created favourable conditions for the emergence of more complex organizational structures and differentiated occupational roles, and the evolution of sedentary farming patterns in irrigated valleys (Egypt, Mesopotamia, India) was certainly a precondition for the emergence of higher-level civilizations (Lenski/Nolan/Lenski 1995; Coulborn 1959).
In more recent times, the crucial importance of tightly organized factories and densely populated urban areas for the development of industrialized societies has again demonstrated that the achievement of higher levels of societal complexity (and economic production) is still based the physical proximity of many human individuals in very stable locations.
The restraining effects of these two physical factors seem to increase in the course of biological and socio-cultural evolution, because they collide more and more with some other outcomes of this same evolution: the increase of spatial mobility on the one hand and the growing capacities for communication on the other. Thus, animals are much more affected than plants, because they can communicate among each other, and because the need to be physically near and stationary clashes with another most valuable capacity for survival and active adaptation: locomotion.
In fact, the functional significance of locomotion is much degraded by the fact that
As a consequence of this serious dilemma, painful compromises have to be made, for example by ensuring that
On the human level, such incompatibilities are amplified insofar as in comparison to animals:
Thus, while the increase in population density has certainly facilitated primary interpersonal communications (by furthering spatial proximities), increments in locomotion have again reduced it, because whenever individuals are walking on streets, driving on roads, cruising on ships or flying in planes, they are trapped in public traffic orders characterized by highly restricted and standardized codes of communication. (Goffman 1971).
Evidently, the unavailability of translocal communication has not prevented human beings from establishing interpersonal bonds of solidarity and cooperation between geographically distant local groups (e.g. by exogamy). And more advanced cultures have a manifold of “alocal” social components based on personal membership rather than on territorial factors (e.g. sodalities, tribes, ethnic groupings, feudal elites, professions or religious movements). However, the interaction and internal development of all these translocal aggregations could not be based on the primary medium on which all social life is based: ongoing interpersonal interaction. It had instead to be based on two other foundations: either on the highly internalized psychological dispositions of their participants (e.g. subjective faith or feelings of love, belongingness or identification), or on highly externalized material objects or written documentations (e.g. emblems of worship or legally binding membership declarations) (see: Geser 1996: chapter 3).
In modern societies individuals are highly accustomed to leading lives characterized by constant painful discrepancies between spatial and social distance. On the one hand, they have to tolerate extreme spatial proximity with masses of totally indifferent others (e.g. in crowded cities, stores and buses); and on the other hand, they have to accept extreme spatial distance to their most significant partners: the loved ones at home or their most congenial, but distant professional colleagues. Certainly, the landline phone has eliminated the prerequisite of physical proximity, but on the other hand it has preserved (or even reinforced) the need to stay at specific places. While there are conditions under which individuals on the move are at least able to continue face-to-face interaction (e.g. by sitting in the same train compartment), they have to remain at home or at the office in order to be reached by remote callers.
Thus, the main function of fixed telephones was to reinforce the social integration of stable sedentary settings like cities or bureaucratic organizations: helping them to grow into dimensions far beyond the integrative of potential of primary social interactions:
Wireless technologies are certainly at the root of all innovations that make communication compatible with spatial mobility. Remarkably, this portability was first realized for receiving-only devices, while transmission technologies (e.g. radio or TV stations) have remained stationary and under the control of very few elitist actors (especially economic enterprises or governmental regimes).
Seen in this very broad evolutionary perspective, the significance of the mobile phone lies in empowering people to engage in communication, which is at the same time free from the constraints of physical proximity and spatial immobility. 
As it responds to such deeply ingrained and universal social needs, it is no surprise to see the mobile phone expanding worldwide at breath-taking speed. In fact, there are reasons to assume that it would have been equally welcome in all human societies and cultures in the past: that is, under all imaginable specific cultural or socio-economic conditions. At the same time, however, this emancipation from physical constraints has to be paid for (1) with an almost exclusive limitation to bilateral contacts, and (2) with increased uncertainties about the current subjective states and environmental conditions of the contacted partners.
2. The Expansion of cell phone usage as a multidimensional challenge for sociological theory and research
Since its inception in the late 19th century until recent years, the telephone has received very meager attention from sociology and the media sciences (Lasen 2002a: 31). In particular, no considerable efforts have been made to gain a synopsis of its multifaceted impacts on various fields of social life, and no integrated theory has evolved concerning the specific functions and consequences of phone communication (vis-à-vis face-to-face interaction, on the one hand, and written communication on the other). This deficit only illustrates the larger tendency to ignore the impact of technologies on the unspectacular aspects of everyday life. Even Erving Goffman, while focusing completely on everyday life, has almost ignored the telephone: portraying the life of modern individuals in an old-fashioned way as a sequence of face-to-face-encounters (Katz/Aakhus 2002:3/10).
Evidently, the cell phone seems to evoke much less intellectual enthusiasm and scientific research endeavors than the World Wide Web. In the theoretical perspective of Manuel Castells (1996), for instance, only the Internet is given the status of a Mega-Innovation that really counts, while mobile communication facilities are almost totally neglected. Such views ignore the basic facts that in comparison with PC’s and Net technologies, cell phones are used nowadays by broader strata of the population all over the world, and that for many users, they have stronger impacts on social life , so that most of them are ready to spend much larger sums of money on monthly phone bills than on Internet provider services.
“The advent of inexpensive mass-produced mobile communications in particular, has avoided scholarly attention, perhaps because it seems pedestrian compared to the nebulous depths of cyberspace. Yet the cellular telephone, merely the first wave of an imminent invasion of portable digital communications tools to come, will undoubtedly lead to fundamental transformations in individuals’ perceptions of self and the world, and consequently the way they collectively construct that world.” (Townsend 2000).
Due to the rapid increase in cell phone technology, the total number of phones worldwide has for the first time surpassed the number of TV-Sets in 2001. (Katz/Aakhus 2002:4). This diffusion has occurred worldwide, rather independently of different cultural habits, values and norms. Thus, cell phones have become popular even in rather "technophobic" contexts like Italy, where computers and other modern technologies have a difficult stand (Fortunati 53), and especially in Scandinavian countries where people traditionally are introverted and silence in talk is highly valued (Puro 2002).
One major impact of the cell phone stems from its capacity to include partly illiterate mass populations in less developed countries in the southern hemisphere, who will never have the means to buy a computer and who hitherto were not even connected to the traditional networks of landline phones (Townsend 2000). A recent empirical study by the International Telecommunication Union provides striking evidence of how the cell phone has contributed to narrowing the century-old gap in telephone usage between highly developed and less developed countries. It shows that in 2001 about 100 nations (among them many African) had more mobile than landline phones in service and that cell phone technology is far more potent than computer technology in connecting less privileged populations to the sphere of digitalized information. (World Telecommunication Development Report 2002).
Within the sphere of developed countries, the geographical diffusion and evolution of cell phone technology contrasts sharply with the habitual patterns reigning in most other technological branches. Thus, “Japan is typically a year and a half ahead of Europe in wireless adoption, and Europe is again a year and a half or so ahead of the U.S.” (Harrow 2000).
There is wide agreement that hand-held phone sets can substitute stationary PC’s or mobile laptops to a considerable degree, because they are in the course of becoming multimedia devices able to transport voice, text messages, pictures, musical sound, software programs and anything else coded in digital format  More than that, these multimedia functionalities are combined with significantly reduced size, weight, energy needs and buying prices, as well as by a much simpler, user-friendlier interface, which makes it possible to be used by younger children, illiterate or handicapped people.
These tendencies toward lower thresholds of access are all the more remarkable when it is considered that, during the first hundred years of its history, the phone was a rather exclusive means of communication, which was not readily accessible to lower classes, women, farmers and younger age groups. In America, as well as in Europe, this restrictive usage was mainly caused by the public or private monopolies, which succeeded in maintaining prohibitively high prices, especially for longer-distance calls (Roos 1993).
In its early stages the cell phone was an even more elitist device, which was mainly used by middle- and higher-class males for instrumental (especially professional) purposes (Roos 1993). As late as 1996 European surveys showed that less than 14% of users reported using their mobile for private, intimate conversation (Fortunati 2002: 51).
But under the combined influence of technological progress on the one hand and economic deregulation on the other, the prices for landline phone calls have dramatically diminished, becoming almost independent of geographical distance, and the cell phone has become one of the most ubiquitous communicative devices. Thus, it is projected that as soon as 2005 the total number of cell phones in use worldwide will be higher than the number of computers or TV sets (Smith 2000).
The history of the telephone vividly illustrates the large role of unintended and completely nonanticipated adoption patterns in the diffusion of modern technologies: The traditional phone as well as the modern cell phone have mainly been designed for business and professional purposes. But in he first case, the largest user segment were rural women using the new technology for gossiping, while today, the industry relies heavily on adolescents exchanging SMS as well as audio messages (Lasen 2001a: 7;24). Likewise, history shows that communication technologies are typically highly polyvalent tools that can change their major functions completely during time. Thus, the phone was originally primarily used as a broadcasting device, not at as medium of bilateral communication:
After 1920, telephones have been used almost exclusively for bilateral talking: until these years where the arrival of the WAP and 3G-phone sets again the stage for using the phone as a broadcasting tool: e.g. for a very rapid, wide and cheap distribution of public information. (Lasen 2002a: 6).
As they are used literally by everybody, cell phones create a new aspect in which all human beings are equal, i.e. irrespective of age, gender, cultural background, wealth, income or hierarchical position. For instance, Norwegian studies show that cell phones are equally adopted by both genders and by kids from all social backgrounds, and that penetration of younger age cohorts is nearly complete. (Puro/2002: 20/21). 
Thus, the mobile phone is a technology with highly generalized integrative functions: By leveling, for instance, differences between boys and girls, cell phones differ from most other technologies (e.g. motorcycles) which tend to accentuate rather than to minimize differences between genders, and by being adopted irrespective of education and family background, the cell phone bridges at least some gaps between different social classes.
Nevertheless, while the possession of cell phones may become ubiquitous and homogeneous over all population segments (so that their value as status symbols disappears), cell phones may still accentuate social inequalities insofar as their factual usage patterns are tightly correlated with the various purposes of social actions, as well as with different situations, social relationships and social roles.
On the theoretical level, this situation calls for the development of highly elaborated analytical concepts and typologies suited for grasping the major differences in usage patterns, as well as the various symbolic meanings attributed to mobile phones, messages and users; on the methodological level, it implies the need for survey studies, as well as ethnographic approaches, for assessing such variables empirically in quantitative as well as qualitative ways.
In a quantitative perspective, the simple concept “amount of cell phone usage” results in a multidimensional construct unfolding on at least three independent axes:
In sharp contrast to PC's, TV-Sets and most other electronic equipment, cell phones lend themselves to "personalization": e.g. by choosing individual colors, ring tones, display images etc. In particular, they support gender-related identity profiles: by giving rise to a technology-centered "hard style usage" typical for males and a female "soft style" adaptation where aesthetic and interactional features are emphasized (Skog 2002: 255ff.). As the empirical evidence hitherto gathered by systematic quantitative studies is rather limited (and of questionable relevance for the (even shirt-term) future, theory building at the moment has to rely heavily on the much more numerous studies based on qualitative (mostly ethnographic) methods, and even more on impressionistic essays which provide plausible hypothesis (often anchored exclusively in suggestive anecdotal illustrations).
Nevertheless, a preliminary synthesis of this amorphous material seems fruitful in order to develop more generalized theoretical argumentations and hypotheses to be tested in future empirical research.
As in the case of other current technologies which rather widen then constrain the range of alternative options, the cell phone also cannot be seen primarily as a factor of causal determination, but rather as tool providing a set of specific functional capacities which may be more, less or not at all exploited under various socio-cultural or psychological conditions. Thus, theory-building has to focus not primarily on "causal impacts" or "determinate consequences" of cell phone usage, but more generally on its "implications": i.e. its specific functional capacities to facilitate or inhibit various modes of social behavior, interactions and relationships, and to create new environmental conditions under which conventional social systems have to operate.
In the following, a few of these implications on the following levels are addressed:
3. Implications for human individuals
3.1 The immanent functional expansion of phone usages
Many studies show that cell phone usage is subject to functional expansion, because users gradually change habits and learn to apply the new technology for a growing variety of purposes and in a widening range of situations. In their diachronic study of 19 new cell phone users, for instance, Palen/Salzman and Youngs (2001) have found that subjects typically start with rather narrow conceptions of why they need a mobile, but then considerably enlarge the range of uses with evolving time.
Typically, there seem to be broad trends towards expanding usage from mere emergency to routine cases and from specific instrumental to more diffuse expressive communications.
As a primary motive for adopting a cell phone, most individuals refer to instrumental functions: e.g. the possibility of getting reassuring information about the well-being of loved-ones, or the chance to call for help in emergency cases (e.g. street accidents) (Ling/Yttri 1999; Palen/Salzman/Youngs 2001).
In particular, many initial users imagine they will use the phone only in special non-routine situations, not as a ubiquitous instrument in their daily life.
In the course of time, however, typical changes in cell phone usage can be observed:
In a general way, it is very common that users are unable to anticipate their own future usage patterns correctly.
The spread of the landline telephone at the end of the 19th century has followed quite similar patterns. Thus, Fischer found that the initial adoption of landline telephony was mainly justified by instrumental (safety- and business-related) reasons, not by any social uses. However, the telephone was widely used for purposes of sociability as early as 1910 (Fischer 1992). Nevertheless, the supportive functions of many cell phone calls differ sharply from the traditional use of fixed phones, where most calls are still based on the motive that some unsolved problems have to be discussed, an unpredicted change in schedule has to be announced announced or some crucial, maybe even disastrous, information to be communicated (Goldensohn 2000).
Given the ubiquitous availability of the cell phone for sending and receiving calls, it can be expected that its impact will make phone conversation more similar to offline face-to-face communication, where highly expressive gestures and “grooming talks” are very common: communication not primarily aiming at conveying specific information or inducing recipients to specific actions, but just for the purposes of expressing affection and confirming that the relationships exists and will continue in the future.
To receive a call may in itself be considered to be a sign that one has not fallen into complete oblivion, regardless of what is actually communicated (Stuedahl 1999; Licoppe/Heurtin 2002: 106).
Thus, much cell phone talk is neatly embedded in encompassing communication processes which include face-to-face talk, phone calls, SMS, email and maybe other channels at different points of time.
3.2 Accentuated differences between socially integrated and socially marginal individuals
Under traditional no-tech conditions, the difference between socially integrated and socially isolated individuals is leveled by the fact that even very highly integrated individuals are "lonely" during certain times: e.g. when they are on the move or physically distant from their kin and friends. Today, mobile phones allow these well-integrated people to display their social contacts even under such conditions of mobility and absence: standing thus out against socially isolated, marginal individuals at all times and places. In other words, mobile phones amplify pre-existing differences in social participation and integration, rather than attenuating them (Puro 2002: 28).
The reason why so much cell phone activity goes on in public may well stem from the symbolic status display functions associated with the availability and actual usage of this new technology: "status" not in the sense of higher wealth or education, but in terms of intense social integration:
3.3 The emancipation from local settings
Long before the invention of mobile phones, books, radios, TV sets, VCR’s, computers and other gadgets opened the way for individuals to free themselves (functionally as well as psychologically) from their immediate social surroundings by empowering them to fulfill many material and psychological needs without relating to any others in their vicinity. Reading a book, for instance, implies that one is absorbed by thoughts and feelings normally not shared by other individuals currently present in the same room, building or community, thus reducing the capacity to relate to the others by living through common experiences or by finding common topics of discussion (Gergen 2002: 227ff.). Likewise, people in urban settings can more easily evade any interaction with surrounding strangers. Reading a newspaper, using a walkman with a headset and also engaging in telephone calls are all visible activities that can be used to communicate to bystanders: “I’m not currently available for any approach or talk”.
As "symbolic bodyguards" (Lasen 2002b:27), mobile phones also contribute to the strategy of individuals to defend a minimal private space and the right to enjoy “civil inattention”  within areas densely populated with - potentially intruding and irritating - unknown strangers (Haddon 2000; Cooper 2000). As Goffman has remarked, women especially often don’t like to show themselves alone in public places, because this may indicate that they are without relationship: a condition which (1) provides a bad impression of their social status and (2) leaves them in an unprotected situation which is often exploited by foreign males. For mitigating these consequences, the cell phone is quite useful, because it can carry the message: "I’m physically alone, but not isolated and lonesome, because I’m still embedded in my social setting." (Plant 2000).
Compared with reading newspapers or listening to Walkman music, however, using mobile phones is a rather "offensive" way of disengagement, insofar as one’s own conversations are apt to disturb the privacy of others nearby, especially under conditions where these others have no freedom to withdraw (e.g. in restaurants or buses).
Among collocal interaction partners, answering cell phone calls can signal that they are not significant enough to deserve exclusive attention, or that the meeting is not considered important enough to shield oneself from incoming calls, and that EGO has far more important acquaintances and role duties.
On the other hand, switching off the cell phone is a new way to show deference to present partners or to articulate the “dignity of the occasion”. 
One implication of this is that people may be more prone to tolerate the physical nearness of people with whom they have no (or negative) relationships, because the salience of such strains is reduced by the ever-present opportunity of “virtual emigration”. This function is especially crucial for individuals disposed to cultivating dense networks of social interaction systematically incongruent with their current spatial locations. For instance, adolescents are especially prone to using the phone in all human cultures, because they are in the course of generating ever more extensive networks of acquaintances that transcend the boundaries of the family within which they have been born and raised.
On a methodological level, it has to be concluded that the cell phone lowers the degree to which any causal relationships between spatial allocation and social relationships can be expected. For instance: to see 3000 scientists participating in a big congress may not tell us anything about the probability and prevalence of mutual interaction among them, because most of them may be absorbed by phone calls most of the time. Or observing five million people migrating to a huge city may not allow any conclusions about the likely emergence of any kind of “urban mentality” and “urban culture”, when it is known that most of these new inhabitants remain firmly embedded in their original ethnic setting by daily phone contact with their relatives left behind in rural regions.
3.4 Opportunities for complexity avoidance and regressive social insulation
its technical capacity to make each
individual immediately accessible to each other, the landline phone has
nevertheless contributed to strengthen the ties among people already
familiar to each other (e. g. in the neighborhood or community), while its
contribution to larger social networking has been rather modest.
"... people used the telephone to increase local ties much more than extralocal ones. Phone calling strengthened localities against homogenizing cultural forces, such as movies and radio." (Lasen 2002a: 25)
Mobile devices can even better be used to shield oneself from such unpredictable contingencies, by escaping into the narrower realm of highly familiar, predictable and self-controlled social relationships with close kin or friends (Fortunati 2000). Such tendencies are supported by the fact that in contrast to fixed phone numbers, which are usually publicized in phone books, cell phone numbers are usually only communicated to a narrow circle of self-chosen friends and acquaintances, so that no calls from unpredictable new sources (including. insurance agents, survey institutions etc.) have to be expected.
Thus, mobile phones may support tendencies towards social closure rather than dispositions to open up to new acquaintances. This function is highlighted by the empirical regularity that in Finland, owners of mobile phones are most frequent among members of two or three-person households (Puro 2002: 20), not among singles, and that in Italy, usage is highest among individuals who maintain close contacts with their kin (Fortunati 2002: 56). Such empirical regularities strongly suggest that mobile phones are very often used to strengthen already existing intimate relationships, not to enlarge social interaction to wider circles.
As Fox vividly describes, the cell phone can function as a powerful tool for re-establishing the fluid, casual modes of informal communication typical for traditional community settîngs - thus counteracting the losses of communalistic social integration caused by traditional media as well as the depersonalizations of modern urban life.
Evidently, the cell phone opens a way of perpetuating highly traditional communalistic relationships under modern conditions of high geographic mobility and dispersion.
While the intrusion of strangers can be reduced, circles of established friendships can be deepened because a higher density of communication within such circles can be maintained: - irrespective of time and place:
other words: the cell phone helps to stay permanently within the closed
social field of familiar others: thus reinforcing a unified, coherent
individual identity because the same personality traits and behavioral
patterns can be acted out within a familiar communal setting:
dominance exerted by such communalistic ties is illustrated by the
regularity that whenever a phone call occurs, it's the casual
relationship with bystanders which is momentarily broken in
favour of the intruding distant kin or friend. (Gergen 2002: 238).
Given this affinity to
"communalistic" social circles, the cell phone can well engender
conflict in the case loyalties to competing circles are evoked, because in
contrast to specific and universalistic commitments, diffuse and particularistic
loyalties tend toward mutual exclusion: one cannot be a member
of different highly absorbing communities at the same time Traditional space-bound communities
have the advantage of being compatible with this exclusion principle
because only one communal group is "here" at a specific time. By
contrast, cell phones can become to bases of serious role conflicts and
conflicting loyalties, whenever loyalties to two or more particularistic
social settings coexist: because these different social bonds can easily
become salient at the same time and place. This is certainly the case for
an adolescent who feels ambivalent about the call phone when peer group
members and parents use it
for reinforcing their social controls.
As users can decide themselves to whom they make their phone numbers known, they possess a new means of controlling the access to their inner circle of “closer friends” and of symbolically expressing closeness or distance to specific acquaintances:
Given their capacity to support primary social relationships over distance, the use of cell phones can well go along with regressive psychological tendencies: e.g. with the need to cushion the traumatic experiences in foreign environments by remaining tightly connected to the loved ones at home. Thus, the mobile can function as a “pacifier for adults” which reduces feelings of loneliness and unprotectedness at any place and any time. 
Another, similar metaphor conceptualizes the cell phone as an “umbilical cord”, making social emancipation processes more gradual and less traumatic by allowing parents and children to retain a permanent channel of communication in times of spatial distance (Palen/Salzman/Youngs 2001). Thus, when growing children increase their range of independent locomotion and their times of absence from home, the cell phone can help to cushion these emancipative processes: making them more gradual and less traumatic by keeping children connected to their parents by a communicative link - however sporadically it may be used. As a consequence, individuals may well become less prone to develop more sophisticated social competencies: e.g. skills to react adaptively to unpredictable encounters, to participate in conversations with unforeseen topics, to form a quick impression and judgment about new acquaintances, or to learn quickly how to behave conformably in new collocal gatherings and groups.
Given the constant availability of external communication partners (as sources of opinion and advice), individuals may easily unlearn to rely upon their own judgment, memory and reflection: thus regressing to a state of infantile dependency from always the same narrow circle of “significant others” - even in cases where they happen to be 10,000 miles away.
The same restraining impacts of cell phones on social environments become visible when they are seen as a new technological device for filling unoccupied stretches of time.
Further studies will have to show whether such changes reduce the probability that individuals can be reached by information from the wider world (political news or commercial advertisements), because they are increasingly absorbed by communicating with their nearest friends.
Considering the high potential of cell phones to support rather segregated, self-controlled social networks, it is not astonishing that they can catalyze the emergence of subcultural segregations. Hitherto, such cleavages were mainly visible between age groups: with adults concentrating on voice calls, while young people embraced text mails characterized by group-specific linguistic habits and codes:
Contrary to the fixed phone, which promoted the establishment of highly generalized linguistic forms (e.g. answering formats like “Hallo”, “Pronto” etc.), the cell phone may facilitate the emergence of linguistic habits peculiar to particular families or friendship circles. Considering the (still) rather elevated time-based fees for audio-connections on the one hand and the very low bandwidth of SMS on the other, it is evident that cell phones are not very useful when highly complex, elaborate communication has to be activated. Because the maximum size of text messages is strictly limited, there is an extensive use of homophones, cognates and abbreviations that are understood only within rather small groups consisting of intimate members who have developed a common code during a rather long time of interaction (Ling/Yttri 2002: 162).
This is most dramatically shown in contexts where a rather “restricted code” can be used, as for instance
The itinerant Somali traders portrayed in Sadie Plant's transcontinental study vividly illustrate the first of these conditions:
Thus, the “conservative” bias of cell phones is again shown in the regularity that they have a special affinity to highly institutionalized or traditionalized social settings where rather stable and routinized communicative patterns prevail. Paradoxically then, the new mobile technology will be much less useful in informalized and innovative settings, that have to rely on broadband channels (especially face-to-face gatherings) in order to clarify and negotiate meanings.
3.5 Role-integrative functions
In two highly different ways, cell phones help individuals to reduce role strains and role fragmentation, typically generated by highly complex social environments and societal conditions.
1. By increasing the capacity to accumulate and coordinate diverse (simultaneous) roles
According to Georg Simmel (1908:305ff), modern societies are characterized by individuals who combine a multitude of different roles, and individualization grows to the degree that each person realizes his own idiosyncratic role set and his specific trajectory of role shifts over time. Insofar as each role demands one's physical presence at a specific place (workplace, private apartment, church, school etc.), reconciling different roles usually means: sequencing role involvements diachronically and taking the burden of frequent time-consuming locomotion.
By providing the opportunity for flexible role switching without changing location, cell phones facilitate the harmonization of different role duties, because diachronic role change can be substituted by (almost) synchronous roles involvements, and because frictional costs associated with time-consuming locomotional activities can be avoided (Gillard 1996). Thus, women can engage in “remote mothering” at work or “remote work” at home:
simultaneously... women are now working "parallel shifts" rather than what has been described as the "double shift"' (Rakow and Navarro, 1993: 153).
Paradoxically, the cell phone could make it easier to perpetuate (rather than to eliminate) traditional forms of labor division between the genders, because the husbands of successful “remote mothers” may feel more legitimated to evade family duties.
The separation between work and personal life as well as between public and private sphere are modern concepts that have constantly expanding since the 18th century, G. Grant and Kiesler have remarked, mobile technologies partially reinstore a premodern state of social life where the boundary between work and personal life was less distinct (Grant/Kiesler 2001: 121), In contrast to the cinema and other media which force individuals to involve themselves during a certain time span into a single absorbing role, it may therefore not the surplus, but rather the shortage of leisure time which predisposes people to use the cellular phone intensively (Gillard 1996).
It is important to note that this capacity to play different roles simultaneously is paradoxically based on certain limitations of cell phone technology. First of all, the neat separation of local and remote role-playing is much facilitated when only the recipient (not the bystanders) can hear the voice of the caller. And secondly, the capacity to perpetuate local offline roles would be seriously hampered if cell phone calls became multimedia events involving visual channels of communication as well:
Thus, insofar as such role-compatibilization effects are the main rationale for cell phone adoption, it might be concluded that customer demands for broadband phone transmission could be considerably lower than many optimistic telecommunication strategists are currently assuming.
2. By increasing the capacity to maintain “pervasive roles” (which demand unlimited involvement)
Cell phones can be instrumentalized for preserving diffuse, pervasive roles which demand that the incumbent is available almost all the time, because such encompassing availability can be upheld even at times individuals are highly mobile and involved in other social or private activities. Thus, mothers can use mobile phones as “umbilical cords” to their children, so that they are in contact with them the whole day even when they are at work or on travel. And traditional family doctors can be available to their patients whenever needed, even if he/she is at a dinner party or some other private location. Similarly, managers can preserve a traditional patriarchal leadership role, which demands their availability around the clock. They can thus inhibit processes of organizational reforms by remaining remain themselves “on duty” all the time instead of delegating responsibility to subordinates.
3.6 The need to control and limit accessibility
From the receivers’ point of view, it would be unbearable to expose themselves to all calls at all times. For them, it is crucial that they can maintain certain control over their accessibility
This last option is made possible by the caller identification function which for instance
(Ling / Helmersen 2000).
A useful compromise strategy is provided by the capacity of digital phones to store the numbers of incoming calls: allowing one to leave calls unanswered in the first place in order to respond to them later at a self-chosen time. Another escape route is to switch to text-based messages (SMS): thus leaving it to receivers whether and when to respond, and especially giving them time to design their response carefully. In the future, we may well see phones which give users the capacity to signal their varying "coefficient of accessibility” (e.g. on a scale between zero and 100), so that callers can verify first to what degree a recipient is currently disposed to answer it (or even to get involved in a lengthier talk):
3.7 The simultaneous increase of individual empowerment, personal responsibility and social controls
Many recently emerging technologies are “empowering” in the sense that they increase the range of alternative actions available to individuals or social groups. But in all cases, such gains in freedom and autonomy go along with countervailing increases in social responsibility and social control, because individuals face more social expectations to make active use of these new options, and more demands for legitimizing and justifying what they do or omit.
Thus, one significant downside of cell phones is that they expose individuals to additional attributions of personal responsibility, because they reduce the availability of excuses of the sort: “I surely wanted to call you, but I was not able to because I didn’t find a public phone”.
In a study of Finnish teens, it was found that answers to short text messages are usually expected within 15 to 30 minutes; later reactions have to be sent with an excuse (Kasesniemi / Rautiainen 2002: 186.). In fact,
Thus, the freedoms gained by being able to connect to anybody from anywhere at any time is at least partially counteracted by the increasing duties to answer incoming calls and to “keep in touch” with kin and friends who expect to be contacted. Weekends, vacations as well a sick leaves are no longer time periods completely free from occupational contacts and duties, because it is assumed that one is still reachable (at home, or even in the hospital or on the Maldives; Bachen 2001). Thus.
As a consequence, highly traditional asymmetries of social power and control may again be accentuated: e.g. the authority parents exercise over their children, or the vulnerability of women vis-à-vis the dominance of males. In a Finnish study, for example, it has been found that males are more prone to evade social control by switching the mobile phone off at certain hours, while women leave it on even at night (Puro 2002: 23). This highlights important differences still reigning between the genders: women being more expected to be reachable all the times (e.g. by their kids in cases of sudden need). Similarly, women show a higher tendency to phone in order to give their location (Fortunati 2002: 51).
3.8 The lost advantages of temporary non-connection
Typical social relationships unfold in alternating phases of manifest interactions and latency where the separated partners may simply memorize past interactions, imagine what they may be currently doing and thinking, and preparing themselves for future encounters. Such interruptions may be necessary when time for reflection or time for cooling out emotions is crucial, so that over-spontaneous reactions (with possibly irreversible consequences) can be avoided.
Human existence is certainly enriched by feelings of longing or homesickness, by experiences of anxious insecurity about what others may be doing, by sadness when a loved one leaves and joy when he/she finally comes back.
Cell phones tend to level out such emotional oscillations: e.g., by making farewells less dramatic because we can always “keep in touch”, and by dissipating the thrill and bliss connected with seeing each other again, because the void created by long absence has been filled with Emails, cell phone calls, SMS and various other translocal communications.
Like all additional communication media, cell phones complicate the social world of individuals by creating many new decision dilemmas associated with "availability management": e.g. by pondering at what time to turn their phone on or off, and whether an incoming call shall be answered immediately, kept on or off, or sent to the voicemail system (Licoppe/Heurtin 2002: 102).
In the future, "leisure time" may well become synonymous with the scarce moments where one is legitimately "incommunicado": so that no such micro-decison problems have to be mulled over.
4. Implications on the level of interpersonal interaction
4.1 The enlargement of peripheral relationships and weak social ties
As a result of their empirical studies undertaken in the late eighties, the Australian researchers Cox and Leonard have come to the conclusion that instead of just functioning as a (rather imperfect) substitute for face-to-face relationships, the telephone factually enlarges the social networks of individuals by adding communication that otherwise would not occur. For instance, the phone helps to keep in contact with rather distant (or even disliked) relatives one would not like to see, or to secondary acquaintances who would never be visited or invited (Cox/Leonard 1990). Thus, the cell phone can help to enlarge the most peripheral layers of social relationships: the realm of “weak ties” which are activated only under highly specific circumstances (e.g. when searching for a job or an apartment; Granovetter 1973; Ling 2000c). To use David Riesman’s famous terminology, this capacity makes cell phones especially useful for “other-directed” persons who
The phone also facilitates contacts during time when individuals don’t feel disposed to present themselves visually (e.g. on Sunday mornings when f2f partners would notice their hangover and their disordered hair). Such possibilities to engage in “minimal contact” while keeping distance are based on the low bandwidth of telephone communication: on the low quality of audio transmission on the one hand and the complete lack of visual transmission on the other. Again, we thus reach the conclusion that broadband telephone connections may be less embraced than optimistic investors are expecting, because they would eliminate exactly these functionalities to reduce the need for personal disclosure.
4.2 The reinforcement and "empowerment" of primary interaction systems
In contrast to mass media contacts, which typically originate outside the boundaries of primary social relationships, most phone contacts originate within preceding face-to-face interactions. In fact, the phone can be can seen as a technology that empowers such microsocial systems by allowing primary bonds to be continuated during periods of spatial separation. (Gergen 2002: 237). This same complementarity is also seen in the use of SMS as "trailers" for gossip: by announcing a topic that is later more expanded during a personal encounter (Fox 2001).
While (usually infrequent, but lengthy) calls by fixed phones are often functioning as a full substitute for face-to-face meetings (Licoppe/Heurtin 2002: 106), the mobile phone is more often used for frequent shorter talks connecting people who also meet each other physically on a regular basis. Such contacts are not meant to make gatherings unnecessary, but to support and complement them in various ways. Typically, such calls can be reduced to the barest essentials because the partners know each other so intimately that they can use very shorthand ways of communication.
In other words: the mobile phone has the effect of "deritualizing" oral communication in the same way as Email deritualizes written communication (by eliminating courtesies as they are still used in conventional letters).
While the phone as an audio device privileges the expressive support of bilateral relationships, text-based messages can also at least also support social chains: by transmitting the same message from A to B, from B to C etc- or from A to B, C, D, E at the same time. But apart form that, chain messages can also spill over to accidental bystanders: e.g. by allowing them to read the received messages (cross-reading): thus giving insight into an aspect of his or her private life (Kasesniemi/Rautiainen 2002: 181f.). Correlatively, written messages are often designed by two or even more individuals despite the fact that there is always only one sender for pure technical reasons.
In addition, text messages can be stored ad libitum: thus adding to a growing stock of "culture" shared between a couple or sometimes also larger groupings.
4.3 SMS as a channel for low-threshold, non-intrusive contact initiation
It is easy to grasp why Short Message Services (SMS) are more closely associated with the mobile phone than with the fixed phone because mobile phone calls are often received in highly absorbing situations where immediate reactions are not possible: e.g. when driving a car or during talks with surrounding people. Thus the asynchronous mode is highly valued because it provides the opportunity of delaying the reception and the answering to a more appropriate time (Ling/Yttri 2002: 165). Of course, this same non-intrusiveness makes it easier for the new technology to enter all kinds of institutions despite dense social controls (e.g. schools or even prisons).
Consequently, there is a very low threshold for sending such messages, like merely trying out whether recipients take notice of them, answer them or even “escalate” the relationship by calling back orally (Ling/Yttry 1999).
More than that: it is relatively certain that the SMS will be received by the individual to which is sent, without somebody else taking notice. This privacy contrasts with oral calls, which can drop into completely unpredictable environments where unwelcome third parties may be present. Moreover, it contrasts with all other forms of writing (e.g. letters), which can easily be intercepted by intermediaries (Ling/Yttri 1999).
Another attractive feature of SMS is that the costs of message exchanges is shared by the two senders, while phone call costs have to be paid exclusively by the caller, regardless of how much the receiver contributes to the conversation. Thus, SMS allows for an equilibrated “economic exchange” which is highly preferred by partners not (yet) involved in an informal social relationship. By contrast, phone calls produce more “social exchanges” which are typical for already established relationships where exchange disequilibria are intentionally produced for reinforcing mutual interdependence (Blau 1964: 88ff.).
Finally, the need for extreme shortness makes it legitimate to use conventionalized forms of writing: so that even diffident people (or people from cultures which prohibit very subjective expressions) feel free to communicate because they do not have to expose themselves in a highly personalized way (Fox 2001). 
In particular, senders feel free to concentrate fully on the core message without fussing about ritualistic conventions:
As a consequence, SMS is highly functional for widening the social sphere by an ever-changing multitude of very peripheral relationships, mostly based on single accidental contacts, which may be a potential resource pool that can be tapped in the future. In some cases, it may also substitute closer relationships by providing an ever accessible reservoir of superficial contacts affording very little psychological effort and involvement.
4.4 The deregulation of agendas and social roles
Repeatedly used campfire sites established up to 500,000 years ago  testify to the skills of emerging hominids to reach agreement about convening at the same place at a specific hour (or day). Such capacities for planning are not known in subhuman species, because animals typically lack the conventional symbols for communicating about the future, as well as the concept of objective time (Kummer 1971:passim).
Today, people typically manage written agendas where they note future dates, so that they know in advance when they have duties, when they have to travel and to what places, and when they are “really free”. Thus, planning is very crucial for organizing personal life as well as for managing collective forms of behavior: e.g. for preparing a meeting known to take place within two hours from now, or for cooking a meal by knowing that exactly seven guests will knock at my door at about 7 p.m. On the other hand, planning can be cumbersome because I have to submit rigidly to predetermined dates even if I have fixed them myself; and disappointments are inevitable when definite dates are missed because of traffic jams or other unpredictable events.
Under conventional technological conditions, preplanning was inevitable because people had no means of communicating at later points in time. Especially when participants were already on the move, no opportunities existed for changing appointments.
From this perspective, it is evident that cell phones reduce the need for temporal pre-planning, insofar as rearrangements can be made at any moment, even very shortly before the agreed time. Thus, a new, more fluid culture of informal social interaction can emerge which is less based on ex-ante agreements, but more on current ad hoc coordination which allows people to adapt to unpredictable short-term changes in circumstances, opportunities, or subjective preferences and moods,
When fully used within a social collectivity, the cell phone effects a transformation of social systems from the “solid” state of rigid scheduling to a “liquid” state of permanently ongoing processes of dynamic coordination and renegotiations.
Such social settings are “real-time systems” where everything happening is conditioned by current situations, while the impact of the past (effected through rules and schedules) and of the future (impinging in the form of planning activities) decline. (Townsend 2000). In Sadie Plant’s worldwide qualitative study, for instance,
Thus, hosts occupied with precooking party meals are well advised to focus on food which can be prepared (or enlarged in quantity) very quickly because they don’t know exactly how many people will arrive or at what time. And many boring parties will face early mass emigration of frustrated participants who have meanwhile checked by phone where something more exciting is going on. Consequently, it may more demanding to stabilize collocal social gatherings, because other evasive options are available to all participants in case of dissatisfaction. Townsend may be right in arguing that the new „freedom from punctuality“ is felt by many individuals to be a major gain in empowerment, which quickly becomes so habitual that it’s almost unthinkable to return to the status quo ante:
The more fluid, spontaneous lifestyle made possible by mobile phoning is particularly akin to countries like South Korea where it has always been custom to call together "after-work parties" on very short notice - instead of organizing neatly planned, prescheduled parties like in the United States (Kim 2002: 70). In such contexts, the new technology makes social life highly volatile and unpredictable because gatherings are highly affected by short-term redispositions.
The very high penetration rate of the mobile in Italy seems to be associated with its support for a spontaneous, disorganized lifestyle that has always reigned among most of the country's population:
4.5 The evolutionary rise of “nomadic intimacy” and “nomadic social participation”
Compared to people walking the streets or riding on public buses who are physically unprotected from intrusions of others, automobile drivers enjoy a kind of “ambulant privacy” by carrying with them a closed moving box which allows them to listen to personalized music or engage in private conversations with close family members riding in the same car.
The cell phone can be seen as a device that amplifies this trend, by empowering moving individuals to connect to any distant partners at any point in time, regardless of location and speed. Thus, one of their major social functions is to provide a “nomadic intimacy” (Fortunati 2000) by making it possible for people on the move to remain embedded in their personal social networks.
First of all, more communicative contacts between moving and non-moving individuals can be established. In the era of fixed phones, moving people could use public phones to connect with stationary individuals, but they themselves could not be contacted. Consequently, moving people were very isolated from new incoming information, so that they could not participate in social actions that demanded very rapid communication (e.g. vertical communication between stable organizational centers and moving peripheral employees). By using cell phones and other devices of mobile translocal communications, there is a greater degree of freedom for combining stationary and moving cooperation units without losses in transmission speed and reaction time.
Secondly, higher communicative connectivity among moving actors can be achieved.
Thus, rigid time scheduling can be substituted by processes of “gradual approaches”: so that time and place of gatherings are fixed only just before they occur.
It is also possible to keep the composition of meeting participants open to change: e.g. by phoning around to additional individuals who may be ready to participate because they happen to be in the region.
On a most general level, it can be argued that the cell phone eliminates at least some of the advantages of sedentary life styles, which are responsible for the constant decline of nomadism since the rise of higher human civilization. In fact, modern mobile technologies may facilitate the emergence of new segments of “high tech nomads” (e.g. venture capitalists, global traders, business consultants, itinerant journalists etc.) who feel sufficiently integrated into society without possessing fixed addresses and any stationary resources. (Garreau 2000). On the other hand, many reasons for nomadic activities evaporate, because “since they can communicate from anywhere, why do they bother moving around at all?” (Garreau 2000).
Similarly, cell phones can reduce the marginality of many traditional ethnic groupings (like Bedouins, gypsies etc.) characterized by constant movement through geographical space.
5. Implications for face-to-face gatherings
5.1 The unpredictable, uneasy intrusion of distant others
The usage of the telephone as a communication medium is generally hampered by the fact that phone calls tend to intrude at unpredictable moments, forcing them to redirect their attention to the caller even in unfavorable circumstances: e.g. when unexpected (and unwelcome) third parties are present, or when they are occupied by other rather absorbing activities. Thus, phone communication generally strains the capacity of individuals to switch roles and to redirect attention very rapidly at any unforeseen moment: a well-known source of irritating psychological stress. The cell phone accentuates these contingencies because in comparison with the fixed phone at home, calls can hit receivers in a much broader range of different mental states, social circumstances and environmental conditions (for instance while being exposed to eavesdropping in a cafeteria or while driving a car).
For several reasons, then, cell phone calls have a highly negative, destabilizing influence on ongoing face-to-face interactions:
First, the calls typically occur at unpredictable times, so that they cannot be anticipated and integrated into the local discourse.
Secondly, deeply anchored norms and habits usually demand that calls are answered at the moment they come in, so that local interactions are disrupted even at highly critical moments.
As a consequence, even the mere presence of a cell phone in a collocal group can produce irritation, because “just the knowledge that a call might intervene tends to divert attention from those present at the time.” (Plant 2000:30).
Third, when an individual is answering a call, he or she gets involved in a bilateral communication process completely segregated from the local interaction field for purely technical reasons, because other bystanders cannot see who is calling and cannot hear the caller speaking. Therefore, all possible reactions to incoming calls are likely to disrupt the ongoing social interactions:
In all cases, a situation of normlessness and insecurity is created, which tends to increase when the conversation endures and its total length cannot be anticipated.
Reinforcing these technical conditions, there is another deep-seated habit to focus attention completely on the communication with the caller (e.g. because calling time costs precious money and therefore has precedence). Thus, answering a phone call means disengaging oneself psychologically from the face-to-face discourse at least on the level of verbal communication.
While Erving Goffman could still maintain that the major allegiances of human beings ‘belong to collocal gatherings and encounters’, electronic communication tends to shift this center of social life to the level of translocal communications.
5.2 Simultaneous role playing on two very different “front stages”
While people at home are often in a relaxed “backstage” situation which allows them to give absolute priority to the incoming call, recipients of cell phone calls are often hit at moments when they are engaged in front stage performances: obliging them to take part in two highly demanding (and usually conflictive) front stage activities at once. (Goffman 1971; Ling/Yttri 1999).
The mere fact of showing different faces to the present and the absent interaction partners
In other words, the simultaneous, visible acting out of different roles makes it easier to recognize that individuals actually play roles (instead of just displaying their personality). Consequently, bystanders will be more prone to attribute individual behavior to factors of external influence, while the attribution to stable personality traits becomes more difficult because such attributions have to be consistent with all the divergent forms of behavior observed. Therefore, individuals become more absorbed by the highly difficult task of managing role conflicts and discrepant strategies of self-presentation at the same time.
Very often, therefore, phone users experience situations of normlessness, insofar as there are no standing rules prescribing how such contradictions can be reconciliated:
Thus, a very broad spectrum of factors co-determines how receivers react to a specific call, how elaborated or intimate their verbal utterances are, what kind of topics they try to evade etc.- and callers may quickly feel uneasy, disappointed or helpless because they lack knowledge about these influential conditions.
The impact of the collocal field on phone calls is dramatically seen in cases of „stage phoning“, where callers use phone communication to make a specific impression on the bystanders: e.g. the impression that they are acquainted with important personalities, that they are urgently needed for help or advice, o r that they are in a position to make big business contracts, to give important orders or to make far-reaching final decisions. Such impression management behavior reaches its culmination when fake talks are simulated (Plant 2000). The reverse strategy consists in focusing exclusively on the phone call, so that the local audience is temporarily left suspended in an uneasy “backstage position”. Typically, this decision has to be paid for with uneasy moments of anomie after finishing the call, when the interactions with the original bystander(s) have to be resumed (Ling 1997). In fact, the cell phone has generated the new role of the “hanging bystander” who has to engage in a “waiting strategy” during the call and to think about whether and how he/she will continue the original interaction when it has ended. (Ling 1997).
As Lasen has observed in his ethnographic three-city study, role conflicts arising between the two frontstages (phone call and face-to-face meeting) are handled differently in various countries:
5.3 The increasing segregation of verbal cues and visual gesturing
Cell phone calls contrast with ongoing face-to-face interactions because role performances have to be exclusively based on verbal communication. This usually implies that conversation has to be rather loud and highly articulated, so that the remote recipient can understand it clearly. In addition, the complete absence of visual cues (and the poverty of paralinguistic expressions) implies that practically all communication (including metacommunicative transmissions designed to create context and to define the relationship between the speakers) has to be based on linguistic articulations.
As a consequence, cell phone speakers often have no other choice than to engage in highly elaborated forms of verbal behavior: thus increasing the risk that involuntary eavesdroppers become uneasy about overhearing what they are not supposed to hear. In order to reduce such irritations, it is to be expected that partners intensify communication on the nonverbal level (e.g. by engaging in more “facework” and amplifying the frequency and lengths of mutual gazes).
Such compensative nonverbal communication can have two signalling functions, communicating to the bystanders:
Risks of "interactional overheating" are associated with the fact that interactions by phone are based completely on verbal exchange. In face to face gatherings, conversation can easily be intermittent because the mere togetherness in the same location assures that the relationship is seen as continuing even when there are long periods of silence. In some cultures (e.g. in Finland or Norway), people have developed such non-talking habits: e.g. guided by the premise that, whoever talks, should have some real information to convey (Puro 2002: 24ff.).In the case of telephone calls, however, talk has to flow continuously from beginning to end, because any interruption leads to high insecurity whether the other one is still "on the line" (or still willing to continue the contact at all). In the Finnish case, for instance, this results frequently in very brief mobile phone talks focusing exclusively on "real information" (especially about time and place of future meetings).
6. Consequences on the meso-level of groups, organizations and markets
6.1 Decentralization and bilateralization of intrasystemic communication
As fixed telephones belong to specific locations rather than to specific individuals, they support rather depersonalized and collectivized communication structures, as found mainly in bureaucratic organizations as well as in many less formalized settings (e.g. dormitories or traditional family households).
Formal organizations in particular have become highly sophisticated in using landline phone systems for designing communication channels in accordance with their formal structure.
For instance, traditional police communication is characterized by radial communication flows: itinerant policemen phoning in to a central radio dispatcher who then automatically has an overview over what is going on. Nowadays when all peripheral policemen can contact each other directly by cell phone, they can easily circumvent this centralized relay station: substituting it by direct horizontal communication and coordination.
On the one hand, such short-circuiting is functional for abridging unproductive red tape and for accelerating the speed of reaction, but, on the other hand, it can challenge the structures and processes of formal organization in three ways:
Similar changes occur in households where the singular fixed phone has become a supportive element of a collectivized communication structure with the function of mediating between incoming phone calls and individual recipients. Thus, the ethnographic study of Sawhney and Gomez about the communicative interaction pattern of recent immigrants to the U.S. has shown that wives acted as real “information hubs” by maintaining two-way relationships to all other family members:
By contrast, a common aspect of Email, SMS and cell phone calls is that they all promote segregated bilateral relationships, because mutual two-way communications cannot usually be watched by third parties. In many cases, this has a “democratizing” effect on local social systems, because even younger children and employees at a lower hierarchical level now have their own personal phone connection, while in the era of fixed phones they were invisible co-users of a telephone set maintained and controlled by the respective “head” (e.g. the father of a family or the owner of a firm).
As a consequence, the family as a social system is weakened on a normative as well as on a cognitive level. First, the normative influence of the family on personal communications declines. In the past, personal bilateral communications have often been heavily influenced by the presence of other family members during these communications. Today, such influences are less likely to occur. Secondly, there is a decline in mutual cognitive transparency, because each member cultivates his/her own interaction patterns unobservable by anybody else.
At this point, it seems rewarding to reflect about the “latent functions” of “unsuccessful calls” which don’t reach the targeted person. Fixed phone calls produce high numbers of unintended recipients because any member living in the same household, workplace or institution can answer the call. These unintended recipients may be a nuisance to callers who want to deliver their message directly to a specific person - especially it is highly confidential, or when others should not even know that the contact has taken place.
In many other circumstances, however, unplanned recipients have positive effects:
By eliminating the “risk” of unintended answerers, the cell phone also eliminates these unintended functions of unplanned third-party recipients. Again, it is evident how cell phones tend to reduce interpersonal communication to the range of preplanned, well-intended interactions: thus also diminishing the chances of involving “third parties” which may be useful for integrating bilateral communications into more extended, multilateral relationships and groups.
In conclusion, the following hypotheses can be made:
In Georg Simmel’s terms, the family is increasingly strained by “crossing circles” (“Kreuzung sozialer Kreise”): so that it has to preserve its cohesion against powerful forces of centrifugal fragmentation stemming from the highly divergent communication spheres of its different members (Simmel 1908: 305ff.).
Given these strong bilateralizing impacts, the conclusion seems unavoidable that mobile phones cannot be potent instruments for the quick build-up of large-scale collectivities and collective actions - except under highly specific circumstances, when many group members assume the role of active propagators.
Such conditions hold, for instance, in “pyramidal structures” in which every recipient acts as a multiplier:
Only when such broad, active participation is ensured, can a snowball effect take place, which leads to a rapidly growing base of activated members or sympathizers.
In addition, oral communication demands that messages are extremely simple, so that they don’t get distorted in this process of multi-stage diffusion.
With text-based messages like SMS, distortions are minimized because they can be reproduced and distributed in identical form. Thus, the chances of quick and extensive collective activation accrues to groups with a high absolute number of activists functioning as transmission relays in such network systems.
Whenever this precondition is fulfilled, informal factions of any kind and size can successfully challenge centralized communication channels, thus lowering the capacity of overall formal organizations to reach or maintain internal consensus and centralized leadership (Ling 2000b).
6.2 Shrinking spheres of individual responsibility and individual decisions
Within organizations, much need for the delegation of responsibility and for taking individual decisions arises from lack of communication. For instance, when a service worker sent to a customer (or a social worker sent to a client) meets an unexpected or new kind of problem situation, he has to decide on the spot how to proceed: thus also carrying the responsibility for possible failures. Similarly, paramedics called to an emergency patient have to take measures on the spot, without consultation with a doctor. In many cases, such delegation of autonomy leads to strains and deficits of performance because these peripheral agents have rather low qualifications. This problem is vividly illustrated in the case of policemen who have to exercise very high discretion when confronted with cases of group violence, civil disobedience or public unrest, despite the fact that they occupy very inferior hierarchical positions.
For many organizations, this usually means that their ambulant members have to be equipped with detailed instructions and specific rules, so that they know exactly what to do in most (probable and even less probable) circumstances. For instance, life insurance companies have to fix rigid conditions for contracts, so that their agents are not able to adapt the conditions to each specific customer.
The cell phone can ease such discrepancies between low formal and high factual discretion by providing the inferior employees with a means to contact their superiors as well as colleagues or specialized experts, in order to get information and advice, but, especially, to legitimize their decision by reaching consensus and mobilize support. This may be particularly functional for novices who are not yet so experienced. Even beginners with rather low knowledge can be sent to do peripheral service tasks, because whenever an unfamiliar problem arises, they can contact more experienced collaborators who tell them what to do. Such “just-in-time”-consultations can substitute traditional forms of supervision and instruction that usually rely on preplanned meetings and instructional courses.
6.3 Shifts from supraindividual and intraindividual to interindividual determinants of social action
When individuals are interacting, they are likely to be heavily influenced by the specific conditions of the microsocial setting: e.g. by the idiosyncratic subjective moods and preferences of their particular partners, and by the situational conditions they are currently experiencing. When they are alone, their actions are more likely to be conditioned by subjective psychological factors on the one hand and supraindividual (or cultural) factors on the other: e.g. by internalized norms and values they share with others of their collectivity (e.g. their peer culture or ethnic group). In fact, temporary suspension of interaction may be necessary for such cultural patterns to be acted out without “disturbance” from the presence of “significant others” who may easily exert various impacts of “social facilitation”: e.g. by “seducing” EGO to perform nonhabitual or even delinquent actions (e.g. Zajonc 1965; Simmel/Hoppe/Milton 1968; Cressey 1960).
By increasing the amount of time and by enlarging the range of situations where individuals interact with others rather than act on their own, cell phones are likely to heighten the impact of particular current conditions on individual action (=”other-direction”), while reducing the salience of more firmly established patterns like cultural traditions and internalized norms (“inner-direction”). For instance, children may be less prone to develop an autonomous personality (guided by internalized conscience) when they are constantly communicating with monitoring parents.  Similarly, we may well see that cell phone communication promotes “social facilitation” to a similar degree that face-to-face interaction does: thus increasing the probability that two or more individuals agree to do something not compatible with superordinate normative rules. In formal organizations, for instance, the anarchic ubiquity of cell phone contacts makes it likely that employees reach agreement on practices that are not covered by formal standards and not welcomed by (uninformed) supervisors. And communities hitherto tightly integrated by consensual traditions may find themselves suddenly fragmented into subgroups which develop their own (mutually opaque) “microcultures”.
Following the terminology of Barry Wellman, it could be stated that the cell phone
Despite the basic bilaterality of its communication channels, the mobile phone can eventually act as a catalyzer of collectivization, at least in situations where many receivers are ready to forward the message, to one or few other persons, so that they spread in a tree-like fashion. This has happened in the protest actions against president Estrada in the Philippines, where the mobile phone net was successfully used first by agitators to propagate hostile slogans and jokes, and afterwards by protest leaders to redirect the demonstrating crowds. (Katz/Aakhus 2002: 2/3).
6.4 Higher interactional integration of "translocal elites" and “place-independent communities”
Since very early stages, human societies have always possessed many population segments which have not been bound to specific territorial locations: e.g. moving collectivities like herdsmen, migrant merchants and artisans, hobos or itinerant students and monks, or stationary, but translocally distributed aggregates like feudal families or professional groups (Wellman 2001). In modern societies, the last category especially has grown to unprecedented dimensions. Physicians, lawyers, scientists, architects, nurses and journalists are cultivating occupational solidarities, knowledge bases, ethical standards, linguistic conventions and behavioral standards that extend over wide geographical regions: thus cross-cutting local organizations like enterprises, universities or hospitals where the individual professional members are typically employed.
The whole spectrum of new translocational communication media helps to strengthen such communities by facilitating the communication among members, irrespective of their current location and movements. As a consequence, they can improve their capacities to maintain homogeneous patterns of knowledge and norms, and to diffuse new patterns very swiftly. Furthermore, all members have better opportunities to influence and consult each other, not only on the sphere of general professional principles, but on the much more tactical and technical levels of everyday occupational practice. Given that the new media facilitate all kind of translocal communication, it is to be expected that they are disproportionately used by those social strata which have always been disposed to cultivate widespread contacts over wider geographical areas. For instance, national politicians may make more use of them than local politicians mainly involved in intracommunal face-to-face interactions; and locally minded high school teachers may see less need for usage than cosmopolitan academic scientists who have always been involved in scientific communities spreading over the whole globe. The professions in general will be highly disposed to use digital media because they find them useful for reinforcing the interaction between their widespread members and the autonomy of their group-specific values, norms and practices vis-à-vis local employers. As such translocal orientations are highly correlated with occupational prestige, it is no surprise to find that incumbents of reputational occupations and professions show higher usage intensities - even when covariating factors like education and income are controlled (Davied et al 1999).
6.5 Speeding up and intensifying system-environment interactions
Many institutions like police, fire departments, ambulances etc. are designed to become externally activated in emergencies that can happen anywhere, anytime and anyhow. Thus, their functionality depends critically on factors they cannot control: e.g. that external informants are available who call the service without delay and who provide the precise information necessary for deploying adequate resources.
The cell phone can be extremely useful for interconnecting emergency agencies with their environment, by increasing the likelihood that somebody watching an emergency event has a phone and is disposed to make a call.
In particular, cell phones can shorten considerably the time span for the arrival of institutional helpers like ambulances, fire workers or policemen: so that they have better chances for effective intervention: e.g. keeping the heart attack patient from dying, preventing the fire from spreading or intercepting flying burglars. Of course, such notifications are especially crucial in sparsely populated countries like Finland, Norway or Australia, where observers of street accidents, criminal acts or fires have a good the to be the first and only ones calling for intervention. Australian studies in particular have showed that considerable percentages of all cell phone users have already made such calls. (Chapman/Schofield 1998). Under these conditions, there is ample room for "cellular samaritans": volunteers creating unpaid public services by regularly notifying radio or TV stations about traffic congestions, weather hazards or other developments of widespread interest:
Evidently, this presupposes that emergency services are (a) activated very quickly and (b) are often contacted by different callers, so that they are able to gather more precise information and ensure that they are not the victims of mere hoaxes.
The more cell phones become ubiquitous, the more important it is that certain “civic duties” are instilled in all citizens alike: e.g. the duty to know the emergency numbers by heart, to take time for such calls even when in a hurry, and to provide well-elaborated information based on precise empirical observation (or on the testimony of other informants). Evidently, such civic duties are especially relevant in sparsely populated rural areas, where it is to be expected that I may be the only bystander able to call for help. This may at least partially explain the very high use of the cell phone in the Nordic countries (Finland, Norway, Sweden) with their extensive system of herding, fishing and agriculture. In more crowdy areas like metropolitan suburbs, however, cell phones are likely to affect emergency institutions negatively insofar as they cause information overflows:
6.6 Facilitation of exchange processes and increase in the transactional efficiency within social systems
All increases in communication capacities facilitate the efficient usage of all kinds of resources. For instance, firms don’t have to buy and store rarely-used raw materials or technologies (which may become obsolescent without being used) when they have the opportunity of procuring them “just-in-time” from other corporations in case of urgent need; two or three individuals are better able to share a single car when they can coordinate its usage by phone; and housewives can easily call their husbands to stop on their way home to buy some items in the store, so that unnecessary journeys can be spared.
The cell phone is especially functional for making short-term just-in-time adaptations to unpredictable changes in needs. Thus, each phone user is empowered to make more efficient use of his or her "social capital". Under conventional conditions, individuals have usually to be satisfied with the support of bystanders for fulfilling their current needs (e.g. asking them for information or counseling). Mobile phone users instead are prone to "choose the person who most closely satisfies their preferences at any given moment." (Kopomaa 2000: 124).
For analogous reasons, the “metabolism rate” of markets, cities and other decentralized social systems will be elevated:
By increasing the rate of decentralized interactions (between a multitude of different actors), the cell phone makes it even more improbable that any centralized agencies still have the capacity to preplan, steer and control collective actions - despite the undeniable fact that capacities for centralized data gathering are also increased.
As mobile phone systems are tightly knit cellular structures based on a fine distribution of local antennas, the geographic location of every cell phone user can be rather precisely assessed at any moment, except at periods when his phone set is shut down. For the same reason, it is also easy for local broadcasters to reach all users located within a specified area, and for all users present in a specific territory to gather relevant local information (e.g. about best product buys in a city). Currently (2004), such functionalities are just beginning to be exploited by emerging “location-based services” which allow us to call the closest taxi-driver, to identify the address of the nearest pub or liquor store, or to verify the momentaneous whereabouts of one’s closest friends. Of course, such capacities can be better exploited by text-based SMS messages than by audio-calls, because SMS makes it possible to send identical messages simultaneously to a potentially unlimited number of receivers.
In the future, this feature is very likely to be exploited for the purpose of influencing local and regional populations: e.g. by distributing information about sales outlets for cheap umbrellas in regions where it is currently raining, or in inviting all people in a city to participate in a specific public demonstration. Locally oriented political campaigns may become more vigorous because parties use cell phone systems to target electoral propaganda to the populations of precincts or counties; local churches may inform neighbourhoods about their services; and regional drugstores, hospitals, schools or welfare institutions may inform their relevant public (e.g. about new services, prices, changes in opening hours etc.). Thus, SMS may become a major tool for creating or reinforcing social integration on a territorial basis: e.g. providing information about or reinforcing solidarity with local or regional institutions. Similarly, large festivals with different simultaneous stage productions can be organized in a more flexible fashion because visitors can be notified very rapidly when new performances are going to start in specific places (Nilsson et. al. 2001)
For highly mobile individuals unacquainted with the environment in which they are currently located, such SMS services are especially useful for finding out where the next Pizzeria, dentist, police station, or flower shop is located. For them, the cell phone is another “urban navigational tool” substituting or complementing street maps, city guides, public information offices etc.;Townsend 2000). By lowering the costs of acquiring information even in highly complex urban environments, individuals are better able to make efficient use of everything a big city has to offer, so that the attractiveness and competitiveness of big cities (and the sprawling agglomerations surrounding them) may be considerably increased. By such chains of causality, the cell phone may well contribute to a vigorous increase in urban concentration (Townsend 2000).
7. Implications on the macro-level of interorganizational systems and societal institutions
7.1 The deregulation of intersystemic boundary controls and the shift from location-based to person-based social systems
By building factories, churches, opera houses, schools or psychiatric institutions and by organizing congresses or meetings, highly stable, visible and neatly circumscribed social systems are created by anchoring them physical space.
Especially under traditional conditions where primary no-tech communications prevail, such anchoring has the double function of:
On the acoustical level, for instance, this implies the existence of a scheme of causal interpretations, which allows all manifestations of noise to be attributed to endogenous sources within the system. A case in point is the classical theater, where the multitude of different noises does not diminish but instead augment, the degree to which it is a unitary, integrated whole:
On the visual level, the unity of the social system is supported by its physical architecture that defines a specific mapping of places and activities:
According to Foucault (1984), this linkage between architecture and social institutions is a primary basis of social power, because by constructing buildings and designing physical technologies, societal elites have powerful media at hand for implementing their (class-specific) values and norms.
Usually, the power to define and maintain system boundaries accrues to the elites who found and manage these organizations and arrangements: e.g. by controlling gates so that only members have access to the buildings or gatherings, or so that employees do not leave their workplace at any self-chosen time.
In the course of societal evolution, such processes of “authoritative segregation” have been crucial because, by insulating social systems from their general social environment, the preconditions have been created for subjecting them to processes of systematic (e.g. technological and organizational) development and specialization.
Thus, modern economic systems are heavily based on industrial organizations which have separated work processes from their traditional embedment in family households or other (e.g. religious) institutional settings; and modern medicine would be unthinkable without the hospital where patients are spatially concentrated for systematic diagnosis and treatment.
Conventional theories of modernization usually give much weight to such achievements of interinstitutional segregation: like the physical segregation of workplace and family households as well as the separation between private and public spheres. 
While designed for talking at a distance, landline phones have paradoxically also facilitated dense aggregations of people in space, for example by supporting the communication within large-size firms:
Similarly, the fixed phone had a stabilizing impact on families, because households, not individual members, were the units between which it created communicative connections. Thus, it still fundamentally belongs to the historical era of "place-to-place networks”. As people had to go somewhere to meet someone, they also had to phone somewhere in order to communicate with a specific person (Wellman 2001).
By articulating differences in location, fixed landline phones have even contributed to more pronounced segregation between different social spheres. For example, the widespread traditional habit of juxtaposing private numbers and office numbers (e.g. on personal cards) has certainly reinforced the structural segregation between work and family: e.g. by facilitating the establishment of different normative expectations about when (and for what purposes) the one or the other of these phone lines should be used. (Laurier 2000).
Evidently, fixed phones are adapted to a society primarily structured in terms of stable location-based social systems: like households, offices, and firms. They are most functional when the purpose is to reach such locational units, irrespective of the people who are present there at the moment. When a specific, but momentarily absent, individual is sought, the premise is that any other person answering the incoming call is not only acquainted with the targeted person, but will reliably inform him or her about the call or even transmit a message.
This premise is certainly fulfilled in the case of stable families inhabiting the same apartment or among employees of the same firm.  However, the use of place-specific communication technologies is rather dysfunctional when the individuals inhabiting the same place have quite loose connections or no relationships at all (e.g. in the case of student dormitories where phones are located on each floor, or in hospital rooms where several patients are sharing the same phone). In such cases, cell phones are more useful, because they help to reach specific individuals directly, thus circumventing any need for intermediary messengers located at the same place.
This functionality is particularly crucial in the case of divorced parents: providing the absent father with the potential of reaching his kids directly, without interference from the divorced mother:
An analogous emancipative effect is found in the case of prostitutes for whom cell phones open the way for individual arrangements with their customers: thus promoting their independence from any hierarchical controls and organized exploitation (Plant 2000:59).
Seen in a more generalized perspective, various electronic means of communication have the capacity to undermine such segregation by increasing the permeability between hitherto strictly separated contexts of social life. At many workplaces, for instance, PC users are free to switch between private and professional computer usage back and forth at any moment of time; and work may extend into private life when office calls are received during evenings, weekends or vacation. Under such new circumstances, centralized institutional control of system boundaries is more difficult to maintain, because it is no longer achieved as a simple correlate of physical walls or spatial distances, but has to be actively upheld by constant controlling procedures (e.g. by preventing employees from using PC’s and mobile phones for private purposes).
It is empirically easy to see many circumstances under which such centralized control is inexistent (or ineffective), so that control shifts downwards to the level of individual users. Especially professionals like doctors or lawyers, managers, social welfare workers etc. are quite free to decide at which time periods they are open to calls from their clients or collaborators. And scientists at a congress or workshop nowadays have the choice as to whether they give priority to conference presentations or to engaging in more fruitful long distance calls. The integration of informal private gatherings is similarly becoming precarious because it depends on the behavior of each participant as to whether intrusions from outside communications occur. For instance, when three friends come together for dinner, each of them has to decide whether the hours spent together will remain undisturbed from any incoming calls.
Finally, the cell phone can subvert traditional rules which demand that certain individuals should be spatially separated during specific periods in order to inhibit communicative contact and social relationships: for instance when brides and bridegrooms are not allowed to see each other before marriage in certain traditional (e.g. Islamic) settings, when monks isolate themselves in monasteries in order to facilitate a segregated life style characterized by prayer, chastity and contemplation; or when prison inmates or psychiatric patients are locked up in closed institutions so that they cannot do any harm.
Cell phones undermine the basic notion that physical and communicative isolation are tightly correlated, so that measures on the “hardware” level of physical allocation and transportation are no longer sufficient to produce parallel effects in the loftier “software” sphere of interpersonal communication. For instance, while the traditional practice of keeping couples separated before marriage may still prevent the girls from becoming pregnant, it may no longer be effective to inhibit deeper intimacy based on private interpersonal communication.
In her intercultural ethnographic study commissioned by Motorola, Sadie Plant has for instance found that
The loss of centralized control is particularly manifest in the fact that organizers of meetings have diminishing power to decide about the size and composition of participants, because everybody can easily call others to join the gathering.
Thus, while the hosts who organize the gatherings may control the initial composition (by sending personal invitations), afterwards they lose control over the composition of the group. This is critical in the case of many street demonstrations where the organizers face the risk that these will degenerate into violent riots because uninvited additional groupings mobilized by cell phones “take the lead” (Geser 2001; CSIS 2000).
In a very general way, cell phones introduce an element of entropy into all groups and institutions based on places or territories, because they permeate them with communicative relationships that transcend system boundaries in highly heterogeneous and unpredictable ways. Thus, the cell phone "can connect a theater-goer to anyone at all: an employer, a reporter, a dental office administrator, or a fellow club member, among many others" (Agre 2001). In theoretical terms, this means that the conventional unity of the locational systems is eroding under the intrusion of many uncoordinated "person-based systems". These are mostly bilateral microsocial relationships, which produce "chaos" mainly because they occur independently of each other and are opaque insofar as they cannot be observed (or even controlled) by any centralized agency. Thus, "the mapping between activities and places will dissolve, and everyplace will be for everything all the time." (Agre 2001).
Homes, churches or school buildings will of course continue to symbolize the unity of families, parishes or schools as organizations and institutions, but they may become "empty shells" without much determinative influence on what is "really going on" on the level of social communication and cooperation. As a consequence, the highly salient question arises: how can the stability of social institutions be guaranteed when it can no longer be anchored on the secure basis of immovable physical structures? It seems evident that hardware factors have to be substituted by much softer media which allow for more fluid definitions and re-definitions of social resources, status distinctions, cooperation practices and normative structures:
It is reasonable to assume that these developments will have an increasing impact on future architectural designs. First of all, architecture will become freed from many institutional constraints, so that buildings can be designed to satisfy non-institutional (e.g. aesthetic or psychological) values and needs. Secondly, rooms will have to be designed to meet the needs of cell phone users (e.g. by creating many small niches where individuals can phone undisturbed). Third, architects will have to provide for individual activities related to other roles and institutions (e.g. for work activities in private apartments). In short: "Physical places and things will become more plastic, and thus more capable of playing roles in a wide variety of institutionally organized activities." (Agre 2001). And fourth, buildings as well as settlements and whole urban structures will increasingly be designed to fulfill those "residual functions" which still demand spatial proximity and technically unmediated primary communication.
To summarize, the mobile phone empowers individuals to decide on their own about the modalities of segregation or permeability between different institutional settings, social systems, interindividual relationships and individual roles. As a consequence, such boundaries are likely to become much more fluid, modifiable and unpredictable than in the past and, especially, much more a matter of intentional decisions which risk being controversial (and therefore have to be justified and legitimated) among the different individual actors.
Analytically, the borders between institutional spheres (e.g. work and home) are likely to change in three ways by becoming (1) more permeable, insofar as components of one sphere can more easily enter the other, (2) more flexible to the degree that the extension of different spheres can be varied according to current situations and needs; and (3) more interpenetrating (or “blending”), insofar as role activities may expand and belong to different domains at the same time (Geisler et. al. 2001). Of course, it might be hypothesized that such an “anomic” state of individualism is a transitory phenomenon, characteristic of these first stages of “cell phone society” in which transindividual (or institutional) norms about phone usage have not yet been established. But we might as well assume that such “normlessness” is likely to continue in the future because each individual is eager to preserve autonomy in managing his or her own idiosyncratic set of roles.
Evidently, equal access to cell phone
usage is highly incompatible with relatively closed and centrally controlled
social structures which limit the privilege of unimpeded outside
communication to a few elite members or even one single individual. In
traditional families and heterosexual partnerships, for example, it is
traditionally the prerogative of the male head to maintain such external
connections, while the females are more oriented toward system-internal
tasks. In accordance with such deeply-anchored role patterns, studies of
mixed pairs (e.g. sitting in a restaurant) have shown that cell phone use is
most frequently restricted to males (Plant 2000: 21).
7.2 The "colonization" of public space and institutional settings by private communication
The aforementioned deregulation of system boundaries is most vividly manifested in the new uneasy relationship between private, semi-private and public spaces which is caused by the hardly controllable intrusiveness of mobile phone ringing and conversation. Conventional communication media (mass media as well as the fixed phone) primarily had the capacity of empowering public agencies to intrude into private spheres.
Thus, norms had to be implemented in order to protect telephone subscribers from unsolicited (e.g. commercially motivated) calls.
Modern technologies like the internet and especially the cell phone have reversed this tendency by empowering individuals to carry their private messages into public space. As a consequence, the public sphere tends to become a “common living room” (Kopomaa 2000) and there is now the contrary problem of protecting the public from the uncontrolled intrusion of privacies (e.g. by regulating or prohibiting cell phone use in public places) (Fischer 1992).
Contrary to a long term trend where public space increasingly became an empty container mainly used for (private) traffic purposes, the cell phone leads again to a more intensive use of public space for informal social interaction ("third places"). Restaurants, hotel lobbies, railway stations airports, supermarkets, and many other "polyvalent" places not committed to specific purposes become enriched with communicative behavior - to the disadvantage of offices and other spaces traditionally dedicated to specific social interactions (Lasen 2002a: 39f.). In other words: communication is more and more dislocated to "nonplaces" which have no intrinsic relationship to the messages and messengers involved: so that their content is exclusively determined by the participating subjects, not by their setting in which the interaction takes place.(Augé 1995). Among other consequences, this implies that verbal messages not only fail to go along with nonverbal gestures, but also to be embedded in any "scenery" or "stage" contributing to their meanings and effects.
Given the lack of any facilitating and supporting environmental framework, making private calls in public presupposes a rather high tolerance
The maintenance of privacy falls at
least partially on the “involuntary eavesdroppers” who have to abstain
from focusing their full attention on what they actually hear. Using Erving Goffman’s terminology (Goffman
1963, 85-86), it could be argued that the cell phone creates the demand for
an augmented form of “civil inattention” which is particularly difficult
to secure. The traditional mode of civil
inattention is primarily defined in a visual sense: by not starring
deliberately at another person. Such visual distancing is highly viable for
The mobile phone forces bystanders to enlarge the sphere of civil inattention to the audio level: by not listening to bystander's talks. Evidently, this is more difficult to implement because it is not under my control to "keep from listening" as it is to "keep from gazing", and because even very forceful trials of non-listening will not be adequately perceived and rewarded by others, as it does not give rise to any manifest outward behavior. Nevertheless, traditional norms of "sociofugality" provide individuals in public places with enough leeway to engage in undisturbed talks similar to those in one's own apartment:
The reluctance to engage in highly intimate talk in public is certainly least when talkers can be certain that all bystanders are unacquainted and unrelated, so that there is no risk that anybody listens too carefully or even tells to third people what he has overheard. Thus, we should expect high reluctance in smaller, densely-knit communities where such risks are much higher then in larger, completely anonymous urban settings (Fortunati 2002: 50).
It is no surprise to find that during cell phone calls, individuals reinforce their social distance to others by various visible nonverbal gestures (Murtagh 2001: 85f; Puro 2002: 23):
Symmetrically, bystanders "look away, avoid eye contact with the phone user and pretend not to listen, even when the user asks them something related to the phone conversation." (Lasen 2002b: 23).
An interesting development is the emergence of circumscribes public places where especially strict norms of "acoustic civil inattention" are in rule:
Western culture is rather well disposed to cell phone usage, insofar as social norms do not forbid people to display private behavior in public. For instance, couples are not discouraged to kiss each other in public places. In addition, the rigid norms of civil inattention (especially in Anglo-Saxon countries) may also create a need for using the phone: in order to fight the loneliness people feel in modern urban settings when they find themselves in an anonymous crowd. As public life demands to keep distance to others (e.g. by not opening casual talks), even individuals highly eager to gossip remain basically alone: so that the cell phone may be their only channel for contacting others.
Thus, ethnographic observations have shown that "on the English commuter trains where the observations were undertaken, you are more likely to hear phone conversations than face to face conversations." (Lasen 2002b: 31).
Evidently, the blurring between public and private sphere is not accepted alike in all cultural settings.
Even within Western Europe, there are pronounced differences in public use of cell phones: the French being more reluctant about making private calls in the public than people in England or in Spain (Lasen 2002b: 7). In Japan, which is Western by many standards, cell phone use in public places is subject to rather rigid restrictions, because norms of mutual non-intrusion demand that a rather low noise level is maintained:
On the other hand, the cell phone fits nicely into the traditions of Southern countries where much of daily living has always proceeded under the open sky. Thus, lengthy cell phone talks are quite common in Paris and Madrid where streets are typically used for idle strolling, while they are rare in London where pedestrians use public spaces only for efficient locomotion (Lasen 2002b: 15).It may be speculated that high urban density and multiculturalism will promote restrictions of public cell phone usage in the future, because risks are increasing that at least some minorities will feel disturbed. Thus, in contrast to most other (e.g. industrial) technologies, norms related to the relationship between privacy and public sphere seem to be even more decisive for cell phone use than economic factors.
On a more general level, it might be hypothesized that in the longer run, cell phone use will be subjected to similar tendencies of tightening social controls like many other innovations in public individual behavior (e.g. smoking or the parking of cars). Typically, such new forms of behavior are well tolerated in the beginning, because their use is not yet so ubiquitous, because political actions for rule making and rule enforcement are in the initial stages, or because their negative impacts (e.g. “passive smoking”) are not yet completely known. As time goes on, however, complaints accumulate and take the more formal character of court suits or legislative procedures, while on an informal level new standards of morality and politeness emerge which make it rather easy to enforce formal rules.
The impact of cell phone use on environments is very much reduced when text-based messages (SMS) instead of audio calls are used. A major advantage of SMS lies in the fact that messages can be sent and received in a highly unobtrusive way, even when bystanders are quite close. In addition, SMS is compatible with conditions where phone calls are totally impossible: either (a) with high levels of noise or (b) when total silence is to be maintained, so that even “sotto voce” phone conversations would be angrily classified as disturbances (e.g. in school classes or during musical performances).
While public places are easily invaded by private communication because no consistent social controls are applied in order to keep privacy out, the same is not true for “semi-public places” like formal organizations or other institutional settings, where centralized and formalized control structures are effective for maintaining specialized roles and forms of social cooperation (Kopomaa 2000). Cell phones tend to weaken the control of all formal institutions over their members’ behavior, because they open the opportunity for all members to reduce or interrupt their formal role involvements by engaging in alternative role behavior and completely private interactions anywhere and anytime: e.g. during office hours, school lessons or military duties and when driving a car or piloting a plane. Thus, schools come under pressure to allow kids to use cell phones, because their parents are eager to keep in touch at any time whenever needed (Mathews 2001).
While in the past, communicative isolation during school hours was easy to maintain because technology made external calls difficult anyway, such isolation now has to be actively produced and legitimated by providing convincing reasons, by exercising authority and by implementing (potentially disputed) measures of social control.
While audio calls may readily be repressed because they can be easily observed, it is much harder to prevent kids from receiving SMS messages during school hours (Ling 2000a). In fact, Norwegian researchers have reached the conclusion that cell phone technology “has become part of the classroom context” (Ling 2000). Institutions lacking sufficient authority and controls will easily be destabilized by such waves of role diversion and informalization, so that their members can no longer be supposed to be focusing their full attention on formal role duties during the whole time of their physical presence in the institution. On the other hand, institutions may draw on inputs from members not currently on duty: e.g. by reaching them during evening hours, at weekends or on vacation.
This implies that it will be less and less viable to measure individual work inputs by simply verifying the time of physical presence; rather, companies must ensure that employees don’t use working time for private online activities and personal calls.
An interesting study for testing the impact of formality has been made in London and Birmingham, where cell phone behavior in more formal restaurant settings (with tablecloth and table service) and in an informal cafeteria environment (without tablecloth and self-service) was compared. It was shown that in the formal environment, cell phone use is much more inhibited than in the informal settings:
It is highly interesting to note that such differences in behavior are based exclusively on implicit norms that are neither explicitly stated in terms of written rules nor discussed or negotiated among the participants of social systems.
Generally, the intrusive effects of cell phone calls are more akin to lower class culture settings (e.g. proletarian restaurants) where it is usually found appropriate to rearrange the allocation of private spaces according to changing circumstances. On the other hand, they collide very much with middle and higher-class settings (e.g. high-level dining rooms) in which territorial spaces are more highly respected and more rigidly fixed (Mars/Nicod 1987; Ling 1997).
8. Some preliminary conclusions
The most general function of cell phones is to lessen the degree to which social relationships and social systems are anchored in space, and to increase the degree to which they are anchored in particular persons.
From the point of view of individual users, the cell phone provides opportunities:
From the point of view of social systems the cell phone will:
Confronting the two lists, it can well be argued that cell phones have a certain "subversive" capacity to shift the weights from dominant to the less powerful individuals and from formal institutions to informal social systems:
In a very general way, mobile phones undermine traditional mechanisms which have secured the segregation of social system levels from the level of individual members, as well as the segregation between different social systems. Instead, each individual now is burdened with the task of maintaining a difference between personal behavior and social roles, and with regulating the boundaries between different social relationships, groupings, organizations or institutions. Therefore, the demand for social control will rise, because in a world where social differentiation can no longer be based on spatial segregation, it has to be increasingly secured by controlling individual behavior.
Such control can be realized in three forms:
Will the mobile phone change
This versatility has the implication that mere hardware possession is not a very informative indicator, because it doesn’t tell us anything about the extent and the ways these instruments are in fact used. This is certainly different in the case of older media like television, where the number of installed receivers is a good measure of the degree to which this technology has penetrated society and individual life. By contrast, when technologies like cellular phones become ubiquitous, no certain conclusions referring to the actual changes in human communications patterns can be drawn. Instead, much extensive and sophisticated research is necessary in order to assess how they are actually used, how they affect various kinds of social relationships, and how they become embedded in the ever more complex sphere of all other communication media. Of course, these indeterminacies increase to the degree that cellular phones assimilate more and more different functions: e.g. the capacity to send alphanumeric messages, to hook up to the WWW or to use the GPS for determining geographical locations.
Another implication is that as individuals have a broader range of behavioral options at hand, the impact of psychological, social and cultural factors on such behavior is likely to be increased (Davied et. al 1999). In other words: while behavior in low-tech environments is predominantly shaped by “hard” physical factors (e.g. apartment walls, loudness of voice, spatial proximities and distances, physical means of transportation), behavior in high-tech settings will be more determined by “soft” factors like subjective preferences and motivations, informal or formalized role expectations, cultural customs and habits or purely functional needs.
Given the almost ubiquitous adoption of cell phones within and across current human societies and cultures, the most important question to ask is whether this universal diffusion is causing worldwide convergences and homogenization. Most probably, the right answer is rather negative, because by supporting rather traditional and particularistic social settings, cell phones are more likely to accentuate differences rather than communalities between various population segments, social institutions or ethnic cultures.
As studies on the level of family and kin networks have shown, the cell phone becomes readily assimilated by almost every collectivity without effecting any significant longer-term change on the level of structures or cultural patterns.
Understandably, social and cultural factors have more impact on the interactional and social-institutional uses of the new media, while the psychological variables are important in shaping the more private uses. This regularity is vividly illustrated by the empirical study of Davied et al, which shows that social class factors are much better able to explain the business-related uses of new media than the uses in the realm of entertainment. Or expressed in a third way: New communication technologies make it easier to translate psycho-sociocultural dispositions directly into overt behavior, by reducing - or even eliminating - many obstacles and distortions which have hitherto contributed to a weakening of these empirical relations.
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 The potential to remain in contact while moving is still highly restricted, insofar as traffic conditions demand high attention. The lower phone use in the United States may well be explained by the fact that most Americans move by driving cars, while Europeans (and even more Japanese) tend to use buses and trains for commuting. Especially when riding on trains for longer spans of time, individuals are quite free (and motivated) to use various new technologies for filling out their time: Thus, Lasen observes that “Mobile phone use gives new meanings to dead times and transitional spaces allowing escape from boredom. Texting seems to be one of the main activities of commuters in and around London when waiting on platforms.” (Lasen, 2002b: 27/30).
 In an Irish study where young respondents were asked what kind of technological gadget they would prefer when stranded on an isolated island, 52 voted for the mobile phone and only 18% for the TV. (Hession 2001).
On the other hand, empirical
studies show that email and phone are considered as media with completely
different functions. Even intensive email contact does not lead to a reduction
of aural communication. One reason is that voice contacts have more capacity to
articulate personal emotions - which explains the high relevance of phone
contacts with absent family members (Sawhney / Gomez 2000).
the very rapid ubiquitous diffusion of cell phones, they have lost almost
completely their capacity to be used as "status symbols". To the
contrary, highly educated individuals characterized by high self-esteem and
controlling large amounts of "cultural capital" tend to make less use
of it than members of the working class (Skog 2002: 267ff.).
regularity that mobile phone usage spreads to an ever wider range of functions
holds especially for women, who normally use the phone sets for all kinds of
social purposes, for keeping in touch with kids, friends and family members
(Kopomaa . 2000), and for purposes of security and care (Puro 2002).
 For a discussion of this concept, see Goffman, E. 1963: 83ff.
 This is equivalent with saying that the use of cell phones will be strongly governed by institutional and cultural norms, which are still anchored also in modern Western societies. In a survey by SBC Communications, for instance, 98 percent of respondents found it inappropriate to use a mobile phone at a funeral, 86 percent say phones should not be used in a restaurant, and 96 percent are against its use in a theatre (Terrell/Hammel, 1999).
 See: Maira, Kalman: the president of M & Co (a Manhattan product and graphic design group) in: Louis 1999.
 This is another illustration for the capacity of cell phones to transform dichotomous role switches into more gradual changes (“greying of the social world”).
 Given the restricted size of messages as well as the tedious typing, there is a premium of writing in English because words and sentences are be shorter than in most other languages (e.g. Finnish or French) (Kasesniemi / Rautiainen 2002: 184.)
 See for instance: Mustafayev 1996.
 Dr. Abramowitz in: Goldensohn, 2000.
 Among many other examples, consult Parsons/Smelser 1956.
 As a consequence, traditional white collars working permanently in the same offices at the same desks show a rather low need for mobile communication (Palen/Salzman/Youngs 2001).
Last Update 11.04.2014