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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 July, 2004, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
City dwellers 'cuddle' mobiles
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online technology staff

Woman chatting on phone in Paris side-street
Parisians prefer to be private when chatting
Londoners create invisible mobile phone booths, while Parisians talk in the middle of the pavement and people from Madrid share their phone with friends.

These are some of the findings from a Surrey university study into mobile phone use in three European cities.

Despite differences of approach, all of them had one thing in common, they all loved their mobile phones.

"You cannot live in a modern city without one," said Dr Amparo Lasen, who led the research.

Cuddly phone

She found that urbanites in the three contrasting cities liked to maintain a close relationship with their mobiles.

"People have a physical relationship with their phone and more and more people are keeping their phones in their hand when they aren't using them," she told the BBC's Go Digital programme.

"Like a rosary, the mobile has this function of keeping the mind busy. People are cuddling their phones because it promotes well-being from touching a familiar object," she said.

Woman holds up mobile phone
We are using them to send loving messages or to flirt with others
Dr Amparo Lasen, University of Surrey

Dr Lasen, currently on a Vodafone scholarship at Surrey University, set out to discover the relationship people have with their mobile in public places.

In Paris and Madrid users are happy to stand in the street and talk. But Londoners prefer to create a temporary phone zone where several users, unaware of each other, stop to speak in the same place.

Both Londoners and Parisians tend to be more reluctant to use their mobile phone if they are in company.

But in Madrid, the priority is to be always available and users attempt to include their companions in any mobile phone conversation they have.

"The Spanish don't tend to use voice mail," said Dr Lasen.

"They feel it is impolite and will answer the phone, even if they are in a meeting, and tell people to call back later," she said.

British reserve

In Paris, mobile users are more concerned about the idea of having a private conversation in a public place than their peers in London and Madrid.

And while Londoners maintain typical British reserve when someone nearby is having a mobile conversation, Parisians have no such scruples.

They will openly complain when phone users are annoying them.

In a series of interviews with city dwellers, Dr Lasen found that people in London, Spain and Paris could not contemplate living without their mobile phones.

In some cases, people who had left their phone at home would rather return to collect it and make themselves late than face a day without mobile communication.

One of the reasons people have become so close to their phones is because they mediate our private relationships she said.

"We are using them to send loving messages or to flirt with others," said Dr Lasen.

The phone book has become one of our most treasured possessions.

"It is very important as are certain text messages so people get really miserable when their phone is lost or stolen. And the anxiety goes beyond the value of the phone," said Dr Lasen.

Uniting cultures?

Technology expert Bill Thomson confesses that he has a fail-safe way of making sure treasured text messages do not get lost.

"I actually copy text messages on to my computer," he told Go Digital.

And he thinks the study proves that mobile phones can play a role in uniting seemingly difference European cultures.

"There is more commonality between phone users than there are social and cultural differences between London, Paris and Madrid," he said.

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