R&D N 7/2000
Norwegian teens, mobile telephony and SMS use in school
The analysis presented here examines the use of mobile telephones among Norwegian teens. It is based on the survey of 1006 teens who were between 13 and 20 years old. It was carried out in November of 1999. There were several interesting things that arose from that material including the continued adoption of the mobile telephone by younger teens, the erasure of the gender difference when considering ownership of the mobile telephone and the presence of SMS in various social contexts. The data shows that two-thirds of teens in Norway have a mobile telephone. It also shows that, for the first time, girls and boys consume the device at the same levels, that is an equal percentages of each gender have access to a mobile telephone. Finally, the material indicates that a preponderance of all teen-aged mobile telephone owners have used the device in school for the sending and receiving of text messages. These results are documented and examined in this report.
1 Introduction and method *
2 Analysis of the material *
2.1 Ownership and access to mobile telephones *
2.2 The use of SMS *
2.3 The use of SMS in school *
3 Discussion and summary *
1 Introduction and method
This paper is an analysis of the consumption and use of mobile telephones among teens in Norway. In addition, it examines the use of short messages system (SMS) communication for teens both on a general basis and within the context of school. This analysis is a continuation of the analyses of teen mobile telephone use that have been carried out by Telenor FoU since 1997. These analyses have included both qualitative and quantitative approaches and have attempted to examine the adoption of the technology among adolescents. We have been fortunate to follow along with the general penetration of this technology from early in its adoption cycle to the current situation wherein the preponderance of teens own and use a mobile telephone.
In broad strokes the material here indicates that the mobile telephone has been adopted by ever-higher numbers of teens in Norway. In some age groups there penetration is nearly complete. It may well be that only those teens that have a strong ideological opposition to the device do not own one. Further, this data may suggest that the mobile telephone is becoming more of a personal item and not an item that is used communally by various members of the household.
In addition, the data here shows that, for the first time, girls and boys consume the device at the same levels, that is an equal percentages of each gender have access to a mobile telephone. Since the material here is based on a simple survey carried out in November of 1999, we were unable to explore different types of use between the genders. Other material, however, indicates that the mobile telephone has a different position in the lives of the two groups. None-the-less, it is important to note that girls have come up to par with boys when one examines ownership of the mobile telephone.
Looking at the information from a slightly different perspective, there are clear age based differences in the data. Where the mobile telephone is almost ubiquitous among the 18 to 20 year-olds, it is less so among the youngest teens. This is not to say that the 13-year-olds do not own mobile telephones. On the contrary, the data here indicates that as many as 60% of the teens in this age group are mobile telephone owners. There is a rather large increase in the number of teens who own a mobile telephone as one moves from the 13 to the 15-year-olds.
Another trend made obvious in the data is that SMS has arrived on the scene. It is used in many situations and in many ways. The material here indicates that about half of teens with access to a mobile telephone are regular users of SMS. The material also indicates that there are about four messages sent and a similar number that are received by these active users per day. The use, however is not only carried out during free time. The material here indicates that there are a significant number of teens that send and receive SMS messages during class time in school.
The report will take the reader through a short discussion of the methods used and follow this with an analysis of the results and a discussion of the material.
The approach used to gather the information was the simple polling of respondents over the telephone. A short questionnaire was developed for use in this analysis. The questionnaire contained several questions that had been used in earlier studies. In this way we were assured comparability with previous work and hence the ability to examine the development of trends in the data.
During the last week of November 1999 slightly more than 1000 Norwegian teens (13 to 20 years of age) were polled regarding their use of mobile telephony and the SMS. It is the data from this survey that forms the basis of this analysis.
The completed database was cleaned and examined using standard statistical analyses.
2 Analysis of the material
2.1 Ownership and access to mobile telephones
Turning first to ownership, the data shows that about two thirds of the teens "owned" a mobile telephone. We place the word owned in quotes since it is sometimes the case that the individual had a telephone that was previously used by their parents or had a telephone on a type of permanent loan. In order to deal with these vagaries we asked the respondents if they owned or had the exclusive use of a mobile telephone. Further, we asked those respondents who did not own or permanently dispose of a mobile telephone if they were able to loan a mobile telephone on a regular basis or, if they were able to loan one on an occasional basis.
In Table 1, the reader sees the results of this analysis when compared to earlier surveys of teen mobile telephone ownership in Norway. The table shows that the present of teens that own has risen dramatically from the previous year. Where about one third of the teens asked in 1998 said that they owned a mobile telephone, the 1999 data shows that about twice as many said the same. The numbers are not as dramatic as they may first appear; however, when one sees that the percent of teens that can loan a mobile telephone on either a regular or a semi-regular basis has tapered off. The percent of those who can regularly loan a mobile telephone has be roughly halved and the percent of those who can loan on an occasional basis has been more than halved.
The table also shows that there has also been a reduction in the percent of non-owners. However, those who do not have access to a mobile telephone has dropped less than for the two "loaning" categories. Thus, the increase in ownership has been, to a large degree, counterweighted by a reduction in the loaning of the mobile telephone. The non-owners seem to be cooking down to a core of persons that do not want a mobile telephone for one or another reason.
Table 2 is a comparison of the total number of teens with some form of access to the mobile telephone in 1998 and 1999 by the age of the respondent. Thus, for the purposes of this table we summed into one group those who own, those who can borrow on a regular basis and those who can loan a mobile telephone occasionally. The table shows that where in 1998 about 40% of 13 year olds had access to a mobile telephone this had risen by about 20% in 1999. In addition, where 80% of the 20-year-olds had access to a mobile telephone this had crept up amount 10% to over 90% in 1999. Above all, one is struck with the parallels between the two years. The profiles of the curves are quite similar for both years. The major difference is that the data for 1999 has shifted up 10 - 20% in relation to the previous year. The data shows that the mobile telephone is being adopted by younger teens.
Table 3 provides a slightly more detailed picture of this situation. In this table the ownership/borrowing responses of the respondents is seen according to their age. The figure shows that among the youngest age group that about 40% of the respondents, owned a mobile telephone and an equal number did not. These two categories diverged dramatically for the 14 - 17 year old age groups. By the time, that one arrives at the 17-year-old group the reader can see that a plateau of ownership has been reached. For those respondents over the age of 15, the adoption rate ranges roughly between 70 and 80%.
The other part of the picture here is that the loaning behavior becomes less and less common as one moves from the youngest to the oldest interviewees. It seems that the ability to regularly loan the mobile telephone of another never rises much over seven percent of the individuals. The percent of individuals who can loan a mobile telephone on an occasional basis has a slightly different profile. This is highest among the youngest group but falls below the 10% level among the 15-year-olds.
While one of the main findings of the analysis is that ever-higher numbers of teens are adopting the mobile telephone, the other major finding is that there is no longer a difference between the genders. In the previous discussion we pointed out that in previous work we have found that girls were more likely to loan a mobile telephone. This trend has fallen off and we can see in Table 4 that regardless of age, one is not able to point to any major ownership differences between the genders.
While the absolute percentages of boys and girls who own a mobile telephone may be similar, there is reason to wonder if the meaning of the devices and the methods in which the system is being used vary by gender.
2.2 The use of SMS
Another aspect of the mobile telephone phenomena among teens in Norway is the rise of SMS. Traffic statistics from Telenor show that in December 1999 there were 51 million messages or about 1,6 million messages a day.
Our data shows that the vast majority of teens with access to a mobile telephone had sent or received an SMS message. Almost 95% of the teens indicated that at one time or another they had used SMS.
Table 5 shows that more than 55% of all teens, and more than 70% of the mobile telephone owning teens were active SMS users. The data shows that more than 30% of all teens had sent an SMS message the day of the interview and another 25% had sent a message during the previous 2 - 3 days. The data also shows that about 75% of all teens had either sent or received an SMS message at some time.
We were interested in determining the total SMS traffic. To this end we asked the respondents how many SMS messages they had sent and received during the previous day. The data indicates that those with access to a mobile telephone sent a mean of 3,82 messages per day and also received 4,11 messages. Comparing this to data gathered in 1998, this is roughly a doubling in the use of SMS in one year. The data in shows that there was wide variation among the in the number of messages the informants reported sending and receiving. The highest estimates were more than 10 standard deviations over the mean.
Table 6 examines the number of messages sent and received per day by age and gender. The data shows that the 13 year olds were sent and received relatively few messages. This situation, however, quickly changes. The 15-year-old girls reported receiving a mean of more than five messages per day and sending almost as many. The boys were not significantly different here.
While there are some small differences between the genders in the number of messages that they send and receive, none of them reach the level of being statistically significant.
2.3 The use of SMS in school
The last area that we will examine is the use of the mobile telephone in school. Discussion surrounding the use of the mobile telephone among teens has often focused on how it disturbs the class situation. While there has been much discussion on this topic there is little analysis of its actual presence.
The data here indicates that 28% of all students reported that they had either sent or received an SMS message during class time between the beginning of school in the fall of 1999 and the end of November. The data also shows that 18% of all students had either made or received a voice mobile telephone call in class during the same time period.
Further, the data shows that slightly more than 8% of the mobile telephone owning respondents said that they had received an SMS message in class during the day previous to the interview. Further, about 3% said that they had sent an SMS message during the same time period.
3 Discussion and summary
There were several interesting things that arose from that material. Among these is the continued adoption of the mobile telephone by younger and younger teens, the second is the erasing of the gender difference when considering ownership of the mobile telephone and the third is the presence of SMS in various social contexts.
Looking first at the adoption of the mobile telephone, the penetration is, in certain age groups, nearly ubiquitous. The use of mobile telephones among teens has been a part of the scene since about 1997. The attraction of the device has been aided by the growth of pre-paid subscriptions. This type of subscription is popular since the parents of the teen avoid the possibility unexpectedly large telephone bills. While material covering this was not gathered in the November 1999 survey, previous analysis shows that the pre-paid subscriptions are quite popular, particularly among the youngest users.
Taking first the high penetration rates and also the drop in the loaning of the mobile telephone, one can interpret these findings by suggesting that the mobile telephone is becoming increasingly a personal rather than a communal device. The data here points to the idea that one has a mobile telephone of their own and is less and less likely to borrow other's. Other analysis shows that the style, design and vintage of the mobile telephone is increasingly important among the teens. This further underscores this finding in that the device is personalized and the teens place an important on being able to distinguish between their mobile telephones and those of their parents.
Looking, for a moment at the non-owners, this group is becoming smaller. It may well be that there is a core of teens who have an ideological resistance to the adoption of the mobile telephone. It may be that this group has, in effect, integrated this into a portion of their identity.
One is also prompted to ask if there is a logical, lower limit, to the adoption age for mobile telephones. The recent history in Norway shows that the penetration rates for the youngest teens has risen, albeit in the wake of the older teens. The material here, however, is not able to point to a drop in adoption that points to the lower age limit for the adoption and use of mobile telephony. That would require other data.
This is the first time that females have had the same adoption rate as males. Previous to this, they have always lagged slightly behind. Analyses done in previous years has indicated that boys were perhaps more fascinated with the technology than girls. The boys were quick to adopt the mobile telephone and there are some indications that they continue to be consuming the mobile telephone (read: the terminal device) in a more intense fashion. Thus, it may be possible to assert that the focus on the technology has been maintained among the boys. Never the less, girls have caught up with the boys in terms of the total percent who own a mobile telephone. Previous research has shown that girls report speaking longer on the mobile telephone than boys. In addition, there are also some indications that girls are more frequent users of SMS messages.
There are slight, but not significant gender based differences between the number of SMS messages that are being sent and received. This is, however, simply the number of messages being sent and received. Another theme that is beyond the scope of this material is the content of the messages. If the communication follows that one finds in telephone traffic then one would be lead to assert that the messages of boys are shorter and more concerned with coordination and organization. By contrast, the communications of girls are more nuanced in their use of language and more focused on interpersonal relationships. Again, the data here is not able to expand on this point. There is, however some qualitative material pointing to this difference.
Finally, there is the issue of the use of SMS in schools. It is clear from the data that the system is being used in this milieu, a behavior that is not within the traditional definition of the activities there. The material here does not examine the content of the traffic in this context. Indeed, given the illicit nature of this activity, it is doubtful that it is possible for a survey instrument to gather this type of information. Non-the-less, the types of messages can range between simple social interaction to exchanging answers to exam questions. The material here shows that this phenomenon exists. It is clear that it exists generally outside the purview of the authorities in the school. Its use and legitimacy are only now being established. It remains to me seen how widespread and how problematic the use of SMS will be in schools.
In summary then, this analysis has shown that the adoption of mobile telephony continues among teens in Norway. Girls are now on parity with the boys and finally the use of SMS has grown and the data here shows that this technology is a part of the classroom context.