Young adults and minorities are leading a revolution in how Americans use their cell phones, according to a new survey with important implications for education.
People ages 18 to 29 and minorities are more likely to use their cell phones as personal computers, digital music players, cameras, and more–a phenomenon that school leaders and content providers should consider when developing programs aimed at students and young staff members or parents.
“We’ve got everything on my phone,” said Mark Madsen, a 24-year-old college student from Chattanooga, Tenn. “I use it mostly for the phone, but I also play video games and use the MP3 player. I pretty much use it all the time.”
Almost two-thirds of young adults use their phones to send text messages. More than half use them to take pictures and almost half to play games. They use these features, as well as internet connections, about twice as often as cell phone users overall.
Minorities were far more likely than whites to use the phones to take pictures, send text messages, and use the internet, though the minority rates were influenced by enthusiasm among Hispanics–who tend to be a younger population, the poll found.
“We think of them as mobile phones, but the personal computer, mobile phone, and the internet are merging into some new medium like the personal computer in the 1980s or the internet in the 1990s,” said Howard Rheingold, an author who has taught at Stanford University and written extensively about the effects of technology.
Most cell phone owners prize the devices for traditional purposes like staying in touch with family and friends and helping in an emergency. Two-thirds say they would really miss their cell phones if they didn’t have them. Even more, three-fourths of cell phone users say they’ve used them in an emergency and it really helped.
“When I’m driving to my appointments, everybody calls me on my cell phone,” said 26-year-old Abel Yanez of San Jose, Calif, who works in a landscaping business. “When I’m in my office, I use my cell phone because if I need to leave, I just leave. I have the office phone so I can dial up on the internet.”
One-quarter of respondents say they can’t imagine life without their cell phones.
“My cell phone is pretty much a necessity–sometimes a pain, but a necessity,” said Sandra Moore of Colorado Springs, Colo. “I have children, and the cell phone gives me the freedom to be places I need to be. It’s easier to communicate with people; you can reach them almost any time.
“But that means people can reach me anytime,” she grumbled. “Sometimes, I just turn the ringer off.”
Almost one-fourth of those polled say too many people try to get in touch with them on their cell phones–just one of many headaches balanced against the devices’ advantages.
The poll also found:
More than a fourth, 28 percent, said they sometimes don’t drive as safely as they should because they are using a cell phone.
More than a third, 36 percent, said they are sometimes shocked at the size of their service bill.
Cell-phone users in this country are just starting to catch up with people in many European and Asian countries in using cell-phone features such as text messaging, said Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University.
“Cell phones came into use as talking instruments,” Baron said. “In this country, people take a call [in public] and just start chatting away. They feel we have the right to talk; if other people don’t want to listen, they can leave.”
Almost 90 percent of cell-phone users say they encounter others using those phones in an annoying way. Only 8 percent of cell users acknowledge their own use of cell phones is sometimes rude.
“People tend to talk louder on the phone. That’s quite irritating,” said Pamela Sorenson, a 57-year-old resident of Bellingham, Wash. “I often hear young people, mostly college age, talking about dating and personal things I don’t want to know about.”
The survey results suggest that maybe it’s time for schools to address cell-phone etiquette with their students, in much the same way schools now teach internet safety and proper “netiquette.”
A joint effort of the Associated Press, AOL, and the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the poll of 1,503 adults included 1,286 cell-phone users and was conducted March 8-26. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. About half of the interviews, 752, were conducted by dialing landlines, and 751 were conducted by dialing cell phones.
Pew Internet and American Life Project