Cellphones in public: Social interactions in a wireless era.

Humphreys, L.

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Humphreys, L. (2005). Cellphones in public: Social interactions in a wireless era. New Media & Society, 7(6), 810–833. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444805058164

Cellphones , Cross Talk , Mobile Phones , Public Space , Social Interaction , Wireless Technologies

Cellphones provide a unique opportunity to examine how new media both reflect and affect the social world. This study suggests that people map their understanding of common social rules and dilemmas onto new technologies. Over time, these interactions create and reflect a new social landscape. Based upon a year-long observational field study and in-depth interviews, this article examines cellphone usage from two main perspectives: how social norms of interaction in public spaces change and remain the same; and how cellphones become markers for social relations and reflect tacit pre-existing power relations. Informed by Goffman's concept of cross talk and Hopper's caller hegemony, the article analyzes the modifications, innovations and violations of cellphone usage on tacit codes of social interactions.

Main finding
Drawing upon observational data, this study finds that patterns of mobile phone use in public spaces demonstrate both conformity to, and transformation of, social conventions around social interactions in public space. For example, among pairs in public, when one answered a mobile phone call, the response behavior of the other often falls into one of four categories: (a) engaging in diversions to becoming/appearing otherwise engaged, (b) listening in, (c) dual front interactions [conversing with the other person while they are also on the phone], and (d) three-way interactions.

Description of method used in the article
Field observation periods focused on mobile phone use of one to three hours in 2002 and 2003 at various locations in Philadelphia, PA; New York City, NY; and Raleigh, NC. Locations included restaurants, cafes, theaters, bars, parks, libraries, student centers, airports, train stations, and public streets. Observations were also done outside areas where mobile phone use is typically prohibited: theaters and lecture halls. Observations included photography. Interviews with 12 participants from an undergraduate communications course.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Field Observations Interviews
Physical types
Geographic locations