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The Mobile Phone Is Ubiquitous

The smartphone has become the must-have essential for teenagers, outweighing all other gadgets, devices and toys. Should that surprise anyone?

Almost any TV news coverage of a defendant leaving a court, will show that person with a mobile phone clamped to his or her face. It is as if it’s a cover, or comfort blanket, which also prevents having to answer questions called out by journalists.

Psychologists have often speculated that there is nobody on the end of the call. It’s simply being used as a prop.

As far back as 2006, David Smith wrote in The Observer that when a woman clamps a mobile to her ear or sits ostentatiously texting, the real message to men is ‘to stay away’. It’s a barrier signal or ‘personal bodyguard’. He was citing a report Mobile Life, a comprehensive study into British mobile use, published by Carphone Warehouse.

The Hidden Signals from a Mobile Phone

It suggested women would scroll down reading apparent messages, send texts or actually pretend to talk. The background to the report was how the mobile phone was changing social interaction. 54% of women under 25 used mobiles to deter people approaching them. 82% felt safer in public carrying a mobile.

One young woman was quoted as saying: ‘there are real people in there, you could call or text if you want to’. It was reassuring just to have it to hand, a social network of friends and family ‘inside’ the device. The idea that the phone was for emergencies, quickly grew into ‘social communication emergencies’; ‘what are you wearing tonight?’ ‘did you see them together?’

Smith said ‘the British obsession with mobile phones shows no signs of waning’. In 2004 the number of handsets ‘outstripped the population’ of the UK. Since then, it has only increased.

With the widespread adoption of smartphones, they are the ways into networking, shopping, talking, messaging, media and filming, banking… there is almost no limit now. They remain contentious in terms of driving and using them, the high price of them and the crime magnets they can be.

Despite all the problems, the march of the mobile is relentless. An October 2011 survey by Ofcom, says that nearly 3 out of 10 teenagers would miss their mobiles most in the world, with 18% missing their television most and 25% missing the internet.

That’s still the perfect marketing opportunity. The social, cultural implications can come later.


The Observer, David Smith, Women use mobiles to deter chat ups.
Photo: Gil Abrantes