Using Mobile Phones to Control Social Interactions

Using Mobile Phones to Control Social Interactions

Dominic Madell (University of Auckland, New Zealand) and Matt Boyd (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch011


‘Cues-filtered-out' models of computer-mediated communication (CMC) imply that mobile phone use can inhibit the formation of social relationships by limiting transmission of non-verbal or non-textual cues. However, social information processing theory suggests that, to limit such effects, users unconsciously adapt their communication styles. This article agrees with that conclusion, and further notes that technology generally is adopted in a manner consistent with existing social contexts. This article also argues that people use mobile phone technology to deliberately control social interactions, effecting such control through choices relating to conversational synchronicity, continuous connection, and selective self-presentation. Finally, this article argues that the evolution of mobile phone behaviour may have an impact on human minds and social norms.
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First we consider how, historically, the lack of non-verbal and non-textual cues transmitted by CMC was viewed as having a somewhat negative impact on relationship formation. We then discuss more recent theories which suggest that this lack of transmitted cues is not necessarily detrimental to relationship development, as people accommodate with adapted communication styles. We further argue that mobile phone use can actually contribute positively to relationship formation, and that existing social contexts are unlikely to be completely disrupted by the infiltration of a new communication medium. Next, we consider how people use the synchronous and asynchronous features of mobile phones to meet the specific needs of their interactions, and highlight that people may be biologically predisposed to prefer synchronous communications where these are possible. We further suggest that the asynchronous features of mobile phones allow people to manage and maintain other relationships that are a necessary part of modern life. We go on to describe how mobile phones facilitate observations of the social interactions of others through ‘warranting’ and argue that the social behaviour associated with mobile phone use evolves and impacts on the social cognition and norms of users. Finally, we introduce cognitive niche construction theory and suggest that in controlling how we communicate and represent ourselves through mobile phone use, we are building a new niche of social interactions that may impact on the development of subsequent generations. Pioneering scholars in this field of study included Culnan and Markus (1987), Short, Williams, and Christie (1976), Siegel, Dubrovsky, Kiesler, and McGuire (1986), Daft and Lengel (1986), Lea and Spears (1991), and Walther (1992). Current leading researchers include: Professor Joseph B Walther at Michigan State University (Walther, 2011), Professor Naomi Baron at American University in Washington (Baron, 2008), Alex S Taylor at Microsoft Research in Cambridge (Taylor & Harper, 2003), Mizuko Ito at the University of California (Ito, 2003), and Yoram Kalman at the University of Haifa (Kalman & Rafaeli, 2007).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Information Processing Theory: A theory suggesting that people adapt their communication styles when using media with reduced bandwidth, through the use of language, style, timing of messages and emoticons.

Selective Self-Presentation: The process of creating a digital artefact which is a carefully chosen representation or expression of one’s real world self.

Cues-Filtered Out Theories: A group of theories suggesting that communication media that have a low capacity for transmitting non-verbal or non-textual cues (or ‘low bandwidth’) inhibit social relationship formation.

Pervasive Awareness: Short asynchronous exchanges via computer-mediated communication that are ‘ambient’ and integrated into daily life.

Synchronicity: The rate of exchange of information between users of communication media.

Computer-Mediated Communication: An exchange of information between two or more people using electronic devices.

Mobile Phone: A phone that can make and receive telephone calls over a radio system without a physical connection to a network, while moving around a wide geographic area.

Evolution: Changes occurring in the way that communication devices are used to control human social interactions across time: for example, new technologies provide affordances for new strategic uses and innovations in communication behaviour.

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