Dr. Richard Ling
On the social impact of the telephone
Richard Ling is a sociologist and senior researcher for Telenor's research and development division. (external link) Telenor is the former Norwegian Telephone, Norway's state run telephone company, now partly privatized. His writing and research concentrates on how people use and relate to different aspects of mobile telephony.
His new book is The Mobile Connection: The cell phone's impact on society (external link to Amazon.com), due out in early April, 2004. As the publisher, Morgan Kauffman (external link) puts it, "[T]his book will be important to the designers, information designers, social psychologists, and others who will have an impact on the development of the various new third generation of mobile telephones." True enough. But I think it will also interest technology historians, futurists, and anyone questioning how new information technologies change people and society. The article below illustrates how Ling writes on these topics.
Ling and Yttri's article, "Control, emancipation and status: The mobile telephone in the teens parental and peer group control relationships" (internal link in Word .doc format) may sound like dry academic writing until you read it. It's actually a fascinating look at how parents and teenagers get along with each other from a wireless communication point of view. Wireless doesn't dominate the paper or the relation between parent and child, it's in the background, but is now a very important part of that landscape. A few quotes:
Part of An Introduction . . .
"The informants described how the exclusive individualized access provided by the mobile telephone was preferred to that of the traditional house telephone as it provided new possibilities for peer group interaction. [Our paper] describes the teens radically different way of organizing social interaction when compared to that of their parents generation. The discipline imposed by a common family telephone -- and the accompanying irritation of a parent whose child would receive a call in the middle of the night -- has in the last half decade been replaced by a communication technology controlled by the adolescents themselves. Indeed, in a recent survey of teens made by the authors we found that more than 20% of teens say that they send SMS messages between 24:00 and 06:00 at least once a week."
Part of Mobile telephony as a fashion statement . . .
"The mobile telephone, as a physical object, is also a way in which one can display their knowledge of current fashion and thus garner status and influence. The device is a type of jewelry that, beyond its functional aspects, communicates to others the owners competence in the purchase and display."
"When asked in the context of a focus group to show their mobile telephones, several of the respondents demurred. Upon further prodding their said that they were somewhat embarrassed by the vintage, size or style of their mobile telephones. Thus, they were conversant with the prevailing fashion and knew that their devices were not parallel with that standard."
"According to Goffman, (1967) reading embarrassment allows one to read the situation. He notes that embarrassment is catching one out of character; that is catching one out of the character that they wish to portray. "
"Thus, the informants embarrassment was an indication of the degree to which the façade they wished to communicate would be threatened were the style of their mobile telephone become known. The need to carry out a type of repair work on their facade undermines their ability to legitimately claim status and influence since, in effect, all can see that they are not as able to control and manipulate symbols as they would let one on to believe."
^^top of page^^
Typical teenagers! Good reading and great references. Here's more information on the book:
Publisher's Book Description
Can the cell phone forever change the way people communicate? The mobile phone is more than simply a technical innovation or a social fad, more than just an intrusion on polite society. This book, based on worldwide research involving tens of thousands of interviews and contextual observations, looks into the impact of the phone on our daily lives, including changes in our accessibility, safety and security, coordination, and use of public places.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction