mobiles in the family

The main reason I gave my daughter a mobile phone was so I could contact her directly (especially when she was staying at her father’s house). For 18 months she has demonstrated incredible responsibility by consistently remaining under her monthly budget limit. Well, more recently she graduated from mild use of the mobile to exponential and extravagant use of the device!

A few weekends ago I experienced a teenager that was not very present to me (her mother). We did things together, but she was otherwise pre-occupied, keeping her mobile phone in very close proximity. This from a girl who only a few weeks ago, completely neglected to bring her phone with her on our outings! My experience was that she was with me, but not with me – physically present, but otherwise engaged – co-located to friends via the mobile phone (and very absent to me)! I knew this day would come – but it felt like it came out of the blue! No fore-warning of the instant messaging storm brewing. I felt like one of those annoying mother’s.. “what are you doing?… who are you texting now?…. Are you texting the same person again?…” All the while my daughter was trying to be as surreptitious about her activities as possible – but a mother KNOWS when actions are being cloaked – there is an inbuilt sensor, like when you know she is checking her emails while you are talking with her on the telephone. The veiled quality in her tone gives away her emotional absence to our conversation. She reluctantly agreed to stop messaging for the next 3 hours while we prepared dinner, ate, and enjoyed watching a DVD together. But I could sense an underlying anxiety within her to check her phone.

So – how excessive was her mobile use? Her texting went from an average of 100 per month to 150 in ten days. Current media attention has produced headlines such as: “‘Textiety’ among new disorders, says researcher” (Daily Telegraph, June 30, 2010), “Are kids becoming phone addicts?” (theage.com.au, April 26, 2009); “Teenagers text the love” (brisbanetimes.com.au July 1 2010); “Teenagers and technology: ‘I’d rather give up my kidney than my phone’” (guardian.co.uk, 16 July 2010). The news stories disclose that teenagers can send up to 2,000 text messages per month (or more depending on the story) – what kind of phone plan do they have? In that context – is my daughter’s use excessive? I guess that will depend on whether she maintains the contact! But in the scheme of things, it would appear that her use was not excessive in relative terms.

What actually happened in my daughter’s case? Why these sudden bursts of dexterous thumb activity via the mobile phone? What was different from all of the previous months? While many theories come to mind (not all of them would achieve my daughter’s stamp of approval) – the fact remains that she did go over her credit limit for the month, and there were consequences for the transgression.

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Author: connectedfamilybytes

I am PhD candidate researching how Australian (Melbourne) families interact with each other using the Internet, mobile phones and television. My purpose is to gain understanding of how these technologies are used in the home, and to investigate the dynamic interplay between family members' and technology use in their everyday activities. The focus is on exploring how technologies facilitate the ways in which family members communicate and spend time with each other. This project is supported by the Smart Services Co-operative Research Centre, and is being conducted through RMIT University’s Graduate School of Business and Law.

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