[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 11:28 GMT
Mobiles 'let you control your life'
BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online technology staff in Cannes

Mobile phones are used by people to decide how and when they communicate with the rest of the world, say researchers.

The findings are the result of a three-year study into the evolution of consumer mobile behaviour, entitled Me, My Mobile and I, by a team at Lancaster University in the UK.

The report, presented at 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, suggest that mobile devices are increasingly offering people a way to control their relationships, location and self-image.

This idea likely to provoke mixed feelings of fear and excitement in operators determined to exploit the potential of mobiles by offering a wide variety of services.

Reality TV to go

The UK study looked at how people actually used their mobiles and how this could be built upon for future phones.

Man on mobile
The mobile: An essential bit of kit
Researchers found that mobile phones are primarily devices of control and censorship, allowing people to decide the time and context with which they communicate with the rest of the world.

"The mobile phone is our own form of reality TV, the single most important device to let people control their relationship with others and to self author their image and lives," said Michael Hulme, Research Fellow at Lancaster University and Chairman of the Teleconomy Group.

Young women told researchers that mobile phones allowed them to take control over events such as walking home late at night, offering them the comfort of a friendly voice in the dark.

Older women said their mobiles allowed them to keep track of their husbands, while students told researchers that texting provided the perfect solution to a boring lecture.

Children used their mobile phones to ask their friends for advice. They also tended to have strict views on the use of mobile, seeing parents using text messaging as inappropriate.

Controlling spam

This double sense of control and censorship is likely to increase with the advent of multi-media messaging, offering people the ability to demand photographic proof of another's location.

Losing your mobile seems to equate to losing control
Michael Hume, Lancaster University
"There will be increased surveillance of others while we become more elusive ourselves," said Mr Hulme.

The context of mobile use is crucial if operators want to provide services that people will actually want, said Mr Hulme.

There is a particularly important lesson for the burgeoning industry of mobile spam - sending unsolicited text messages to promote a variety of services.

It can work but it is crucial that such messages are sent in the right context and getting this balance right is extremely difficult, said Mr Hulme.

"There is an ever-growing acceptance of push content but this acceptability is linked to context and if the context is wrong the message will not be returned to", he warned.

Better tools to allow people to sort content and separate spam from their personal text messages will be important in the future, he said.

Essential device

Another key finding of the study was that text messaging was not the emotional form of communication that operators assume it to be.

"The evidence shows that texting is a form of emotional censorship because they are composed and clearly structured," said Mr Hulme.

For operators just beginning to sell multi-media messaging as a new way of expressing emotion, the message is clear - voice is still the most emotive form of communication.

But the good news for the mobile industry is that mobile phones are likely to remain and increasingly become the one device people are unwilling to live without.

"Losing your mobile seems to equate to losing control," concluded Mr Hulme.



Bus ride to the future
03 Dec 01 |  Science/Nature
Turning mobiles into objects of desire
26 Apr 02 |  Science/Nature
Photo messaging tries to rival txt
13 Feb 03 |  Technology
Phone users become picture savvy
12 Feb 03 |  Business

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific