Ruth kikin-Gil://
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My Masters degree thesis : Mediating social relationship through mobile communication within groups of teenage girls
A work in progress. Last updated March 30th 2005
The secret lives of teenagers
The theory behind the design. The social aspects and trends which informed and influenced the design
Making the teenagers part of the design
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tHEORETICAL FRAMEWORK : Adolescence, groups, behaviors, fashion and mobile communication

In this section I will describe my work assumptions and theoretical background which my design concepts are based upon. I will examine how new technologies were catalysts for social changes, explore the role of social groups in teenagers' lives, look at the importance of nonverbal and encoded communication among humans and see what is the connection between phones and fashion. I will then review some of the new trends which are relevant to my thesis. These trends emerged as the result of the dispersion of mobile technology, and influenced the teenage behavior.

: : Technology and social change

: : Adolescence and Groups

: : Coded Communication

: : Phones and fashion

: : Always on, full time intimate community

: : Demonstration of social networks

: : Digital valuables

: : References

Technology and social change

Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. A new technology does not merely add something; it changes everything
Neil Postmen, "Ten Principles of Technology" [15]

There has always been a connection between technological advancements and social change. For example, the discoveries of new materials like steel, and new forms of power like the steam engine, were the driving force behind the industrial revolution the 19 th century.
The social change these technologies caused was paramount: the work place has changed, factories were built and new economies emerged; the family structure was transformed accordingly, shrinking to the nuclear family that enabled better mobility. Religious Institutions lost power, while new forms of governance developed and new political movements came to life. [12] Society was shifting “from the small scale to the large, from the rural to the urban, from the socially cohesive to the individualized; from the local to the global.” [7]

Another relevant example is the Automobile. By enhancing mobility; it changed the perception of distance, and allowed businesses to move outside city centers and to people live, work, shop and worship in places distant from one another.

New industries and services were introduced: Road infrastructure was developed, gas and service stations popped up everywhere. Environmental issues were quickly to follow, as the atmosphere was polluted by gas fumes and the greenhouse effect increased.
The neighborhood lost its role as social context and “communities of interest” replaced “communities of propinquity”. The car liberated youth as it allowed them to interact and socialize through greater distances, which brought up the need for better coordination. [12]

When looking at computer and telecommunications technology from this perspective we can see that they lead to further spreading of the society, by detaching it not only from geographical limitations, but from temporal restriction as well, thus enabling people to create and sustain societies anytime and anywhere.

Researchers like Castells look at these new communities as existing only in terms of connections (or ‘information flows’) between remote individuals, [3] and Wellman defines community “as network of interpersonal ties that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging, and social identity. I do not limit my thinking about community to neighborhoods and villages. This is good advice for any epoch and especially pertinent for the twenty first century” [18]

A new form of community or “tribe” has emerged, based on contexts instead of locations. Sport, music, sex and brands are the new catalysts for creating communities, coupled with the need of being together. These Neo tribes are emotion-based, internally diverse and temporary.
The communities do not share place, but have strong social relationships based on mutual aid, conviviality, and professional support. Each community builds an ethics, which creates "ambiances" - atmospheres, life-styles, that distinguish one network from another. [14]

Mobile communication devices are the optimal vehicle to support these types of communities, as they provide a ubiquitous contact, both in social terms and in terms of access to information.
When the technology is coupled with a social need, a cultural shift is happening

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Adolescence and Groups

The noun “Adolescence” is rooted in the Latin Verb “Adolescere” which means “to grow” or “to grow towards maturity”.
From a sociological perspective, Adolescence is a transition period from the dependent childhood to the independent adulthood. Psychologically wise, it is a “borderline situation” within which one is adjusting oneself to distinguish between their child’s and adult’s behaviors within a defined society. Chronologically, this is the time span between the age of twelve or thirteen to the early twenties according to individual and cultural variants.

G. Stanly Hall (1884-19240), describes adolescence as a period of contradictions, a time of drastic shifts. The adolescent is torn between seeking solitude and finding herself involved in intense social activities.
At this time in her life, the influence of peers will be the strongest. According to Erikson, adolescence is the time in life to develop an identity. He defines identity as the ability of the self to estimate its value and weaknesses and decide accordingly how to operate and react.

When traditional structures of family and community existed, the adolescent often turned to the elderly in search for role models, but in modern society, when these structures have collapsed, the role of peers have become significantly more important in one’s search for identity. Adolescents are highly influenced by their peers’ impressions and evaluation of their character and behavior; fulfilling the expectations of their peers helps them to try on different social roles and find out what are the ones they feel comfortable in.

The peer group, the gang, and the lover, all help the teenager to find identity, by providing both the role models and the social feedback for his or her behavior.
An example for this special feedback can be found in the endless phone conversations teenagers tend to have which fulfill basic psychological needs.
The group offers “Motivation, belonging, loyalty, devotion empathy and resonance” (Bloss, 1967), but rebelling against the conformity model exposes the adolescent to scorn, rejection and disrespect from her peers.
Adolescence is a time of big changes and inner turbulences, where emotions are strong and need to find an outlet. Communicating with others is a way to release these tensions. [12]

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Coded Communication

“We feel the meaning of things before we think them. This is why empathic communication exists in all things”
Del Coats, Watches tell more than time p. 177

People communicate with each other directly in physical encounters or remotely by using mediating technologies. The communication can be verbal or non verbal. Nonverbal communication is comprised of all of the messages other than words that people use in interaction. [3] It includes body language and gestures, voice patterns, signs, symbols, and cultural and private codes.
For example, one‘s body gestures can hint that someone is welcomed, or imply that someone is being laughed at. Psychological approaches lend great importance to nonverbal communication, and its estimated share in a conversation ranges from 31% (Philpott 1983) to 93% (Mehrabian & Wiener, 1967).
When meeting face to face, the entire body is an active participant in the communication, while when communicating remotely, the body is absent and aids such as emoticons – icons and symbols that express emotions [7] - are used to replace the emotional and paralinguistic cues.

Codes are widely used in human communication as representations and shortcuts to meaning. Canfield defines them as “hidden set of rules or symbols, physical or social, which when interpreted give meaning to an event, body, behavior or activity”. Codes can reside in the symbolic level of words (use of group lingo), in body language (nodding means NO), in rituals performed (a wedding ceremony) and in objects which are involved in these rituals (wedding rings).
Their meaning is constructed arbitrarily, and can differ among cultures, social groups and even among individuals.

An example for a coded language was reported by A secret mobile-texting language emerged among Japanese girls. Its name is ‘gyaru-moji’ or ‘Girl’s talk’, and it is a mixture of Japanese syllables, numbers, mathematical symbols and Greek characters which resemble hieroglyphs and is only understood by the girls.
It is interesting to note that writing in this language is twice time-consuming than common texting. A Japanese teenager who was interviewed about ‘gyaru-moji’ explained why the effort was worthwhile:
"People who want to read over my shoulder cannot understand gyaru-moji, and in this way we keep our group language." [14]

To understand codes we should also look at the field of semiotics, which is the study of “how meaning is expressed in signs, the smallest element of meaning.
A symbol is a type of sign. Codes are sets of signs and rules. Assumptions about signs and codes lead to human action” [2].
Emotions are often displays in a coded way: a smile represents happiness and a red face may mean anger. Context also plays part in how signs or codes are interpreted as red face can also result from physical exertion.
The act of expressing one’s feelings is important. A study conducted for Italian children's rights group “Telefono Azzurro” noted that “Irritability and mood swings” caused frequent cell phone use among teenagers. [15]

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Phones and fashion

Fashion and being fashionable is important to teenagers. Fashion items, such as clothes, project the selected aspects people want to emphasize about themselves. Goffman calls it ‘putting on a face’.
Clothes and accessories contain a symbolic meaning which is expressed by the way people dress for different occasions. Fashion helps us establish a “front stage” where a deliberate façade is created and used in contact with the outer world. This façade is a projection of a particular image of ourselves, the way we want others to see us. [5]
Ling compares the mobile phone to clothes in the sense that both provide the observer a way to categorize the other person and contextualize them within the culture. Ling presents the sociologist Georg Simmel’s analysis of the social aspects of fashion. Simmel regards fashion as a mixture of two simultaneous and opposing dimensions; the one is isolation: the longing for individual statement and the other is union: the need to belong to a group. [11]

Fashion enables individual teenagers to make a statement about themselves as well as helps them to understand their own identity, [8] while teenager groups use symbols, codes and visual etiquette to define their boundaries and to create a “group Spirit” that all members are obliged to.

A phone is a status symbol; its model and novelty matter and reflect on the owner’s image in her friends’ eyes. Phone customization is also important and even not personalizing the phone is perceived as a statement.[6]
But fashion stretches also to the phone usage, and those who receive higher volumes of messages and calls have higher prestige. Hulme is referring to a study by Peter s. Alexander from 2000 who notes that the importance of the symbolic aspects of style and fashion as a catalyst for social interaction increases among teenagers as they feel uncomfortable to communicate verbally in certain social situations. To conclude, the mobile phone is a fashion item and a status symbol in its technological level, its appearance and its usage.

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The new communication tools and in particular mobile communication technologies are being adopted and re-appropriated by teenagers who use them to fulfill their personal and social needs.
As a result, some old behaviors have metamorphosed and new behaviors have emerged. Here are some representing examples:

Always on, full time intimate community

‘How many names do you have in your address book?
Sara,14, Italy: 120
How many of them do you call on a regular basis?
Sara: Mother, father, brother and four close friends…’

Misa Matsuda, the Japanese researcher coined the term “Always on, full-time intimate community” which refers to a small group of friends that is in continuous contact through phone messaging. The important aspect is that the community members are constantly aware of each other’s emotional and physical state and that the real content transmitted in these messages is intimacy. [9]
Ito and Okabe wrote about the fact that teenagers have loaded address books, but communicate regularly with up to 10 people.
They lubricate their relationship by sending small messages that don’t require specific answers such as ‘I am walking up the hill now’ and they use it as a way to affirm their intimacy and to evoke a feeling of ambient accessibility.

It’s a social space which is built and maintained as long as the communication keeps flowing, a ‘virtual peripheral vision’. This type of communication can sometime substitute the lack of private physical space, as in the case of teenage couples. Responses to the messages are expected to be received quickly, and if not, a social uneasiness is evoked. An apology for the delay is the appropriate thing to do as availability and presence are key to relationship. [10]

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Demonstration of social networks

Do you give your phone to other people to look at?
Marta, 15, Italy: No. I mean, friends like them (points at the other girls in the room) can read my phone. But I don’t like when people come and say “Can I look at your phone?” it has become a trend now, to look at other people’s phones.’

Having social connections is important at any age but it is essential as a teenager. It is not only important to have a social circle, it is also important to show your peers that you are in the right one.
Donath and Boyd’s point out that when people display their social connections they also expose information about themselves and their preferences.
Mutual social connections are often used as a means to build trust in a new relationship. Because social connections are so important, people look for ways to display them in order to gain prestige and to find other people’s connections so they will be able to evaluate these people’s status.
Signal theory, which is rooted both in biology and economics describes the relationship between a signal and the underlying quality it represents. In the social context, these signals enable one to assess the other person’s qualities and status, and decide if their company is desired. There are signals which are more reliable because they demand investment and effort. Those signals will be used in important cases and they are called honest or assessment signals.
An example for that in the social context might be inviting people to a dinner party. It is likely that the host and the guests really know each other.
For everyday use, it is more likely to use conventional signals, which rely on a set of assumption that already exist around the signal. Name dropping can be an example for that. The name dropper might or might not actually know the people mentioned, but a social control mechanism, in the form of reputation can prevent the name dropper from deceiving the listener. Bad reputation can be a harsh punishment in a closed social environment. [4]

Phone Swapping” is a common way of disclosing social status. Teenagers swap phones between themselves so others can see their phone’s content, read their SMSs, look at their pictures, play their games etc. Peeking inside someone else’s phone can reveal both types of signals:
The address book supply the viewer with conventional signal, assuming that the fact that you have someone’s phone number means you know them.
Looking at other people’s inbox and reading their incoming and outgoing messages gives an honest signal, since faking them takes a lot of intentional effort, and the risk of bad reputation is high.
The phone, and its content, has become a means to demonstrate the ties between social groupings and, occasionally, the status of friendships or possible rivalries. [1]

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Digital valuables

"I keep around 200 SMSs in my phone. I copy the nicest ones to my diary"
Sara, 14, Italy

Social capital is the currency of relationships. It describes the structure of expectations, reciprocity and trust that exists among people in a specific social network, and it affects the social actors’ relationship and position within this community. The more the participants can trust their peers, the better the group operates. Vocabularies and rituals of interaction are formed and distinct one group from the other and the group’s identity affects the member’s identity.
The advantages of society rich with social capital is the system of mutual help and support the members can use, the downside of it would be exclusion and rejection of outsiders and people who don’t conform to the status quo.

Gift-giving is generally described as the exchange of material objects that embody particular meanings. It is also viewed as subject to the obligations to give, receive and reciprocate, and available as a means to demonstrate social ties and allegiances.

Being part of a group is an important experience for the adolescent, and gaining the group’s appreciation is crucial. Advising, Communicating and offering emotional support are some of the ways to gain social capital. Ling says about mobile phones :
“It’s a technology that supports the intense, informal and local social interaction that is characteristic of the adolescent phase of life. The mobile telephone is also a totem for teens. It provides social integration at the symbolic level, and it provides the individual with a sense of self. In this way the mobile phone nurtures at least some forms of social capital”

Phones and, in particular, text messages are thus seen as sentimental objects with emotional and social value. They can be looked at as “Digital gifts”, and as with gifts, the value is not merely determined by the object’s material features but also through its presence in and contribution to social exchange. [11] Examples for digital gifts that are sent through the phone are good night messages, courting messages and pictures

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