More Than Just Talk on the Move: Uses and Gratifications of the Cellular Phone

Article excerpt

Mobility, immediacy, and instrumentality are found the strongest instrumental motives in predicting the use of cellular phones, followed by intrinsic factors such as affection/sociability. Subscription to functionally enhanced services such as call transfers and caller ID appears to be important predictors for overall cellular phone use, especially for those who are on the go. As expected, the use of cellular phones on buses, cars, and trains or in malls and restaurants is strongly linked to mobility and immediate access gratifications. Further, young and less educated women tend to talk longer on each call. Finally, talking to co-workers and business partners via cellular phones appears to be for instrumental reasons, while talking to immediate family members is for mobility and showing affection.

The on-going technological revolution in telephone gains momentum with the rapid diffusion of cellular phones' worldwide.2 Wireless technology expands telephone applications by empowering people on the go to use it anywhere and anytime. It thus assumes an increasingly important role in interpersonal and social communications. Nevertheless, as several scholars 3 argue, empirical research on the telephone in contemporary society has been conspicuously rare, falling far behind advances in telephone technology. New generations of the cellular phone (such as PCS-Personal Communications Systems) have evolved from a mobile talking device into a multipurpose communication medium that is capable of transmitting and disseminating voice, text, graphics, data, and even video. Thus, new empirical studies are called for to examine this converged technology that mixes interpersonal and mass communications. Some intriguing questions surface: How do people use the cellular phone? Do they use it differently from the old wired and land-based telephone? If so, how does it affect their telephone behavior? These questions raise broad theoretical inquiries about the motivations, uses, and psychological needs and satisfaction concerning the use of new communication technologies.

Theoretically motivated, this study attempts to address these broad questions with empirical data collected through a cross-sectional survey using a probability sample. The goal is to develop a uses and gratifications perspective that will foster a better understanding of how people use the uniquely converged mobile telephony technology. Findings of the study should help establish a research agenda for examining the far-reaching social implications of the new cellular phone as an emerging mixed or hybrid medium, which maximizes freedom of movement and provides speedy access around the clock.

Review of Previous Research

Telephony was initially categorized as interpersonal mediated communication,4 that is, interactive person-to-person communication that transcends the limitations of time and space. Others viewed it as a mass mediumthat provides informational and entertainment services comparable to established electronic media. Dimmick, Sikand, and Patterson6 further argued that this long familiar medium integrated interpersonal and mass communication. As a new medium, the cellular phone unmistakably possesses elements characteristic of both unmediated interpersonal communication and mediated mass communications. On the one hand, it fulfills the basic function similar to the land-based phone in providing point-to-point interactive communication between two parties; on the other hand, it overcomes mobility barriers of the conventional land-based phone. At the same time, it expands telephone services from an unmediated common carrier to multipurpose content services including paging, voice mail, fax, data transmission, news and weather updates, stock information, and Internet access, among others. Accordingly, previous research on the conventional landbased telephone serves as a departure point for grounding the present study in existing theory. In addition to establish a theoretical framework of analysis, this study also integrates recent studies on uses of new telephony technologies such as the pager. …