Monday, October 20, 2008

love taps: wireless ties that bind

recently i overheard two (older) people talking on the subway about how foolish most teenaged mobile phone conversations are. what are they talking about? according to the social commentators of the subway - not a whole lot. a little "whatzup" here and "whachadoin' - not much", there. sometimes the odd gossip in short form. in fact, the majority of 17-22 year old participants in my study claim to idly pass time on their mobile phones about 50% of the time they are on them.

well, what a waste. yet, is it a waste? in a recent PEW Internet report by Wellman and Kennedy (see here) the mobile phone is one of the technologies that may be binding us together. In a US poll of 2,252 people, they found that one in four people felt that using mobile phones and the Internet make them feel closer as a family. Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, calls these silly phone calls "love taps" - just checking-in on each others well-being. in Communications Studies this is considered phatic communication which is more about social grooming than conveying information in the traditional sense.

in my study on mobile phone use among 1st year undergrads i found that participants were subliminally conscious of who called/texed them the most and likewise those whom they mainly reached out to. thus, reciprocity features highly in these "love taps" and in turn contributes to how close young people feel to each other.

so next time you amble past an airy-fairy mobile chat, smile and share the glow tap-tapping its way through the airwaves and heartstrings.

c u l8r allig8r, R

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