Mobile Phone Beeping

Mobile Phone Beeping

Rotimi Taiwo, Ebuka Igwebuike
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch006
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Beeping (also known as “flashing”, “missed call” or “buzzing”) is a behavior associated with mobile phone users, typically in the developing world. It is a behavior that involves a user dialing the number of another user, allowing the phone to ring a few times, but quickly canceling the call before the other person can answer. Despite being a common and established mobile phone human practice, beeping has not received adequate attention from scholars as some other behaviors associated with digital technologies, such as cyberbullying, mobile phone addiction, sexting, phone-sharing, and usage while driving. This article, therefore, offers a historical and analytical overview of existing research on the use of a beeping system as a cost-reduction strategy opposed to SMS/text messaging. It provides a solid empirical basis for an informed discussion of the social uses and social effects of the practice of beeping in no-cost communication, especially in developing countries.
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In most parts of the developing world, beeping or “flashing” is an established behavior in which a mobile phone users makes a call but hangs the phone after one, two or three rings, before the call is answered, mostly because they do not have enough pre-paid credit to pay for a call. Beeping is a common practice among people who have probably run out of credit as it enables the person who has missed a call to see who called and rings the person back. The central aim of beeping is to elicit a call back from the person beeped as well as to communicate for free. Hence, it often comes with “fast”, “sudden” or “instant” covert message, which could be ‘I’ve arrived’, ‘Hi, I’m thinking of you’, or a request to call back immediately such as ‘please call me back’, etc. The mobile’s call log and address book functions signal who called, and when. That is, when one sees a number on the missed call log, one uses his/her knowledge of the relational context and the meaning of past beeps to determine which beeps “mean” what. In most cases, senders and receivers distinguish among beeps using their knowledge of the situation and the people involved in the exchange. Hence, the meaning of missed call is sometimes negotiated by the group and is indicative of social practices developed by people around the use of mobile phone’s technology (Donner, 2007)

In some countries, especially in Asia and Africa, the person who beeps is technically called a “beeper” or “flasher” while the person that received the beeping has been “beeped” or “flashed”. People sometimes exchange beeps with relatives. This practice of calling a number and hanging up before the mobile’s owner can pick up the call is old, with roots in landline behaviors, but it has grown tremendously, particularly in the developing world. Jonathan Donner, an India-based researcher for Microsoft, observes that the goal of a beeper is to save money. To Donner (2005), the practice of beeping is simply a means of taking the fullest advantage of the technological features of mobile phones (call logs and address books) and payment systems (‘calling party pays’).

This practice is common in the general population in Africa, South Asia and South America as it is free for both the caller and the receiver. It has different names in different countries, including “beeping”, “missed calling”, “flashing”, “pranking”, “lost calling”, “buzzing”, and “fishing’” (Donner, 2008). Beeping allows people to communicate in various ways without having to speak or use any airtime, as network service providers do not charge for missed calls. It is a totally established mode of communication in places where airtime is still precious, most notably Africa and Asia. According to Donner (2007), two important factors which may have contributed to the wide and extensive use of beeping/missed calling are changes in the user-base of mobile phones and changes in billing structures and technology.

The objectives of this chapter are to describe the nature of beeping; identify the characteristics and reasons why people beep. In addition, the chapter examines the implications of this behavior for mobile phone culture, especially in the parts of the world where it is prevalent. Finally, the chapter will suggest future research directions in the research on mobile phone beeping specifically and mobile phone behaviors in general.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Service Provider: A mobile network operator that provides wireless mobile operation services to users of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs.

Beeping: A behavior associated with mobile phone users, typically in the developing world in which a user dials another user and allows the phone to ring a couple of times, but quickly cancels the call before the person picks it.

Flashing Credit: The minimum airtime required to generate a voice call, and by extension, to generate a missed call.

“Call-Me-Back” Service: A service provided by mobile service provider which allows subscribers who do not have sufficient airtime to make calls or send text messages on their mobile phones to send free messages to contacts to call them back.

Mobile Phone: A portable device also known as cellular phone (cell phone) or hand phone with services that enable users to make and receive calls and send and receive text messages. Some mobile phones also have a number of additional features, such as Web browsers and multimedia facilities, such as camera, voice and video recorder and players, navigational systems as well as games.

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