Cross-cultural patterns in mobile-phone use: public space and reachability in Sweden, the USA and Japan

Baron, N. S., & Segerstad, Y. H. af.

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Baron, N. S., & Segerstad, Y. H. af. (2010). Cross-cultural patterns in mobile-phone use: public space and reachability in Sweden, the USA and Japan. New Media & Society, 12(1), 13–34.

Culture , Japan , Mobile Phone , Public Space , Reachability , Self-expression , Sweden , USA

Contemporary mobile-phone technology is becoming increasingly similar around the world. However, cultural differences between countries may also shape mobile-phone practices. This study examines a group of variables connected to mobile-phone use among university students in Sweden, the USA and Japan. Key cultural issues addressed are attitudes towards quiet in public space, personal use of public space and tolerance of self-expression. Measures include the appropriateness of using mobiles in various social contexts and judgments of what respondents like most and like least about having a mobile phone. Analysis revealed a number of culturally associated differences, as well as a shared conflicting attitude towards the advantages and disadvantages of reachability by mobile phone.

Main finding
This study is a cross-cultural (Japan, Sweden, and the United States) analysis of self-reported mobile phone use norms conducted via online survey. While mobile phone use is becoming increasingly ubiquitous worldwide, survey results reveal cultural difference with regard to frequency of use (e.g., Americans talk more than Japanese and Swedes; Japanese text the most) and appropriate places to talk/text (e.g., Swedes are more comfortable talking on the phone in the presence of others; Japanese are reticent to talk on public transportation). There are also differences related to mobile phone use in public space related to quietness (e.g., Swedes and Japanese have expectations of quietness in public space; Americans less so), and self-expression (e.g., Swedes approve of talking on mobile phones at home at dinner; whereas Americans only text but do not talk, and Japanese approve of some of both, so long as social order is not disrupted).

Description of method used in the article
Online survey about mobile phone use and perceptions among college students (N = 1,223, ages 18-24) in Sweden (n = 171), USA (n = 523), and Japan (n = 529). The survey consisted of 54 quantitative, one word association, and five open-ended items. Sections of the survey related to frequency of use, appropriate places to talk, loudness, communication issues, and reachability. Analysis of mobile phone use in public space relates to: (a) quietness in public space, (b) public space used for personal use, and (c) tolerance of self-expression.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Digital Device Engagement Performance/Cultural Expression
Physical types
Geographic locations