Computers, Phones, and the Internet: Domesticating Information Technology

By Robert Kraut; Malcolm Brynin et al. | Go to book overview

15
Control, Emancipation,
and Status

The Mobile Telephone in Teens'
Parental and Peer Relationships

Rich Ling

Brigitte Yttri

During a recent series of group interviews with teens, we recorded the following sequence:

Kai (15):1 You can't call your friends at one
o'clock at night you know; that'd really piss
off their parents.

Moderator: One o'clock at night? By then I'm
already in bed and asleep for a couple of
hours.

Harald (15): But it's way better at night, being on
your mobile phone under the covers, instead
of sitting in the middle of the living room.

Ola (14): My cell phone's always on. I just turn off
the sound. It's OK if you get an important call.

The informants describe how they prefer the exclusive individualized access that mobile telephones provide, compared to the traditional house telephone, because the mobile telephone provides new possibilities for peer group interaction. In this exchange, adolescents describe radically different ways of organizing social interaction compared to those of their parents' generation. The discipline imposed by a common family telephone—and the accompanying irritation of a parent whose child receives a call in the middle of the night—has in the last 5 years been replaced by a communication technology that adolescents themselves control. Indeed, in our recent survey of adolescents, we found that more than 20% say that they send short message system (SMS) messages at least once a week between midnight and 6:00 A.M.2

Today's adolescents in Norway hardly limit their interaction to a specific location or traditional business hours. As the sequence above shows, they carry out social interactions in a variety of new and unanticipated settings. Teens don't hide under the covers just for reading with a flashlight any more— they also send and receive SMS messages that might or might not meet with parents' approval. The same data cited above show that the mobile telephone is an easily accessible, nearly ubiquitous accessory for contemporary Norwegian adolescents. Owning one presents no major barriers. Indeed, from the mid1990s to 2001, Norwegian adolescents have broadly adopted the mobile telephone. Between 1997 and 2001, mobile phone adoption rates went from approximately 15% to over 90% for those in their midteen years (see fig. 15.1).

This new form of social interaction points to a change in the functioning of the family and in how adolescents develop and maintain peer group interactions. In this chapter, we examine how mobile

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