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New technologies provide people with many opportunities to communicate and resolve everyday personal and business issues. Today, people often choose using cell phones in public places, and this new social trend can affect the nature of people’s interactions. Although the active use of cell phones in public places is the global tendency, people’s reactions to the public conversations depend on the country where the situation is observed (Campbell, 2007; Mak, Nickerson, & Isaac, 2009). The other important factor is age because students are more frequently observed using cell phones in public places than elderly persons, who can react to the cell phone use as the interrupting factor (Mak et al., 2009; Suki, 2013).
Researchers also state that the use of cell phones in public places affects not only the activities and attitudes of strangers but also the relations with friends and family members because of creating the social barrier and uncomfortable atmosphere (Humphreys, 2005). From this point, it is important to study how people react to the use of cell phones in public places and how social relations can be influenced by the use of these technologies. Using the naturalistic observation, this study aims to provide the discussion of how Americans use cell phones in public places and react to the other people’s use of technologies.
Method of Inquiry
The naturalistic observation of cell phone users and other persons, including friends, family members, and strangers, was conducted in Eastdale Mall, a shopping center situated in Montgomery, Alabama. The whole observation was completed during one hour. Thirty minutes were spent while observing people in food stores, fifteen minutes were spent to observe cell users in personal services salons, and fifteen minutes were spent to observe people in fashion stores. The focus was on observing cell phone users and those people who could hear the conversation from distance or being near the speaker.
The observed persons were aged between 18 and 60 years. It was important to focus on how cell phone users can react to phone calls, how they choose to interrupt or not their conversations and social interactions. Much attention was paid to the actions and behaviors of those persons who were close to the cell phone users (Humphreys, 2005, p. 828). Observed details on the people’s attitudes and behaviors were noted for the further analysis and interpretation (Berg & Lune, 2012, p. 112). The recorded qualitative data was coded and interpreted with the help of exploratory comments and analyzed with the focus on finding differences and similarities in the people’s reactions to the cell phones use in public places.
Findings and Interpretation
Focusing on the sensitizing concept of social interaction and ‘cross talk’ in the context of psychology of social relations, it is possible to predict that Americans often choose simultaneous interactions with the other people. The focus is on face-to-face communication channels and on using cell phones for ‘cross talk’. In this context, the witnesses of the other people’s ‘cross talk’ can demonstrate a range of negative reactions and emotions (Humphreys, 2005, p. 828).
It was found during the first fifteen minutes of the observation that two female persons aged between 27 and 30 years were inclined to use cell phones without ceasing their conversations with their friends and relatives. Young females responded to all phone calls during their shopping process, while visiting different fashion shops. Those persons who accompanied females during their shopping were inclined to call their own friends and relatives. Females also stopped their shopping to check their e-mails. From this point, one phone call can interrupt the whole social interaction, and cell phone users often choose to check their e-mail after ending the conversation.
Focusing on the observation near the food stores, it was found that two females aged between 20-25 years avoided looking at their friends when they were using cell phones. In contrast, strangers did not demonstrate any negative reactions to cell phone users in food stores. The facial expressions associated with disappointment were typical for females whose conversations were interrupted with their friends’ answers to phone calls. Such reactions are important to be noted because they explain the people’s feelings of discomfort and awkwardness associated with the cell phone use in public places.
Middle-aged males ignored phone calls or answered them shortly, interrupting social interactions for seconds. Young males were inclined to use cell phones in order to check messages and social media sites when their friends were answering phone calls during more than five minutes. Observing such reactions, it is possible to speak about the feeling of discomfort and boredom which are characteristic for the observers of the other people’s phone conversations.
Three types of behaviors were indentified with the help of the observation. The results of the naturalistic observation confirm the idea that many persons are inclined to simultaneously interact while using cell phones in public places. According to Humphreys, using cell phones in public places, people change the principles of their interaction (Humphreys, 2005, p. 811).
As a result, people choose to refer to the idea of the ‘cross talk’ in order to address the immediate necessities to answer phone calls in public places. According to Mak, Nickerson, and Isaac, these people “remain in place but removed from the social engagement” (Mak et al., 2009, p. 310). This behavior is typical for young females and males because of the active use of cell phone technologies by this category of Americans (Campbell, 2007, p. 745; Suki, 2013, p. 127).
The second type of behavior is the ignorance of the other people’s use of cell phones in public places. This type of the behavior was typical for strangers and for persons who accompanied cell phone users because of the felt discomfort, annoyance, and anger. Humphreys states that using cell phones in public places, persons provoke their friends and other individuals to use self-defense mechanisms in order to cope with the situation of listening to the other person’s conversation (Humphreys, 2005, p. 813). Moreover, the level of being “annoyed by the use of the mobile phones” or the level of experienced “disturbance and irritation” depends on the age of individuals and on the country where they live (Mak et al., 2009, p. 310). Thus, negative reactions seem to be hidden by persons in spite of the facial expression and the obvious body language.
The third type of the behavior is the use of cell phones by both participants of the social interaction in order to avoid boredom associated with waiting for the person. When a person answers the phone call, he or she can “move away from the social situation” while using a cell phone (Mak et al., 2009, p. 310).
The use of cell phones in public places provokes the other persons involved in the situation to demonstrate different negative attitudes to the problem, and they often choose to check e-mails and messages in order to remain involved in the social interaction, even virtual. The high level of dependence on smart phones can explain why students prefer to use cell phones in public places in spite of violating the norms of etiquette and other social rules (Suki, 2013, p. 127). The use of cell phones as a reaction to interruption of the conversation also serves as a self-defense mechanism in young individuals.
Following the naturalistic observation’s results, it is possible to speak about such behaviors associated with the people reactions to the use of cell phones in public places as the following ones: the active engagement in social interactions while using cell phones and referring to face-to-face speaking; ignorance as the reaction of observers of the ‘cross talk’; and engagement in using cell phones as the reaction to other people’s talks. The results of the observation can be used to explore the role of information technologies in modeling people’s reactions, behaviors, attitudes, and emotions.
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Berg, B. L., & Lune, H. (2012). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences. New York, NY: Pearson Education Inc.
Campbell, S. (2007). Perceptions of mobile phone use in public settings: A cross-cultural comparison. International Journal of Communication, 1(1), 738-757.
Humphreys, L. (2005). Cellphones in public: Social interactions in a wireless era. New Media & Society, 7(6), 810-833.
Mak, B., Nickerson, R., & Isaac, H. (2009). A model of attitudes towards the acceptance of mobile phone use in public places. International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management, 6(3), 305-326.
Suki, N. M. (2013). Students’ dependence on smart phones: The influence of social needs, social influences and convenience. CWIS, 30(2), 124-134.