Mobile Phones

“I would feel irritable, tense, restless and anxious when I could not use my mobile phone. When I couldn’t communicate with my friends, I felt so lonely, as if I was in a small cage in a solitary island.” — China


  1. Mobile Phones – this generation’s Swiss Army Knife: To judge by the responses to this study, the world IS getting flatter – and mobile phones are the technology that literally everyone, in every country in this study, owns. Around the world, students wrote that if there is one tool they can’t do without, it’s their cell phones. Without their “hand-helds,” the students reported that they felt cut off not only from media, but from all that mattered to them.

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  2. Cell phones are habit-forming: Students reported wanting and needing all the functionalities of their hand-helds, but they also repeatedly noted how the mere presence of their phones was soothing to them.

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  3. Different ways of communicating, to reach different types of people: Students reported that they reached out in different ways: they called their mothers, they texted close friends, they Facebooked with their social group, they emailed their professors and employers. And increasingly they are doing all that off their mobile phones.

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“I felt curious and impotent because I could not use it even for a few minutes to check if there was some important message. I went to have lunch with my family and in order to avoid temptation, I left my phone at home. It is noteworthy that during the meal, as I was seeing most of the people there using their cell phones, I began to feel stress and despair for having left mine for the first time and on purpose.” – Mexico

Mobile Phones – Not just for communication: It became clear in the hundreds of thousands of words the students wrote, that mobile phones are at the center of students’ lives.

Not only are they the main way students in this study across all five continents communicate with their friends and family, phones are the main way in which students plan their lives. Students text, handle their email, and surf to Facebook (or other social networking sites) all via their phones.

  • USA: “I’m so obsessed with checking my cell phone and my Facebook and the New York Times Web site, that I lose track of the people who are physically with me sometimes.”
  • Lebanon: “Throughout the conversation we kept on referring to information that was only found on our smart phones.”
  • Slovakia: “I don’t write down notes on the paper, I don’t have a paper calendar, I don’t even have a grocery list on paper.  Everything is in my phone.”
  • Chile: “It is 7:30 am and my day started. For today I used an old alarm clock that I found at home, its sound was really annoying. I was used to a soft sound that emerged from my cell phone.”
  • UK: “I usually use my iPhone as an alarm clock – so after remembering the assignment I rummaged through my belongings to find an old watch. It occurred to me that I rely on technology for things I hadn’t even realized before.  And without my iPhone to organize me, I felt quite vulnerable.”

“I have a Blackberry phone that rings too many times a day – not just for phone calls or SMS but also for my two email accounts, Facebook and Twitter.” — Argentina

In almost every country, not being able to use a phone was a struggle – and not only to communicate with people. As one student from Chongqing University noted, “My mobile phone plays an important role in my life. It even has become one of the most indispensable things in one sense: I usually use it as communication tool, watch, dictionary and web browser.”

Self-Soothing: Mobile Phones as a Security Blanket: Phones offered connection and comfort. Still others referred to their relationship to their mobile devices as beyond comfort – they were addicted. No matter what time of day or circumstances, students felt the need to check their mobile phones. Students self-reported feeling as though they were in withdrawal.  They reported on how they managed their “habit.”  They documented being taken in by phantom ringing of their phones or overcome with an unbearable urge to play with these mobile devices.

  • USA: My phone is my only source of comfort, whether its just a text message asking where the new batteries to the remote are hiding, or my mom calling me so my four-year-old sister can ramble in my ears half-constructed sentences about her first day at preschool. I need that.”
  • China: “I just liked touching with cell phone with my hands, which made me feel full – so now I did not feel full, but a bit distraught. Forced to give up a habit, it was really painful.
  • Mexico: “I had left it in the car; I had the feeling that something was vibrating and I thought it was my cell and I began to search for it, and found nothing.”
  • Lebanon: Most of the the day consisted of me telling myself ‘I will not play Fruit Ninja [on my iPhone]. I will not play Fruit Ninja. I will not play Fruit Ninja…’ Luckily, I did not play Fruit Ninja.”
  • Chile: “I really wanted to do something like text a friend or play one of my cell phone games.  They were one of the longest 15 minutes of my life.”
  • UK: “Whether I am incessantly scrolling through the updates on Facebook, chatting to my friends back in my home-town, or even just playing with it because I am bored and then putting it straight back in my pocket again, I know for a fact that I am a Blackberry addict..”
  • USA: “I realize that the term “crackberry” may actually be true and I may be a victim of being addicted to these devices.

“At about 10 pm I caved in. I’d spoken to my Mum everyday by phone or Skype since being away at university and not having a phone call made me feel so disconnected from the world.” — UK

Must Phone Home: As the previous study, 24 Hours: Unplugged, observed, men and women both reported that they text their friends, but tended to call their parents. Students spoke of missing their frequent phone contact with their family – they missed sharing news and getting advice – and they noted that their mothers would worry if they didn’t call to check in.

  • Argentina: “I had to tell my friends and family of the project to not alarm anyone because, for example, it is very common for my family to call me or send a text message to my cell to see where I am.”
  • Slovakia: It was ridiculous when I bought new shoes and I cannot phone my mom to say how beautiful they were.”

Quotes may have been edited to regularize spelling and grammar.