The discovery of the mobile phone is one of the most interesting scientific innovations around the globe. Over the past two decades, a gradual change of technology from simple to high-tech communication gadgets has completely altered the initial role of the mobile phone. The first idea was to create a voice communication gadget to ease communication between people at far distances.
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However, inconceivable developments in cellular phone electronics and software engineering have tremendously evolved the use of mobile phones from making simple voice calls and sending text messages to other overwhelming services.
Such services include instant and email messaging, internet serving, listening to music, playing games, stocktaking, mobile banking and money transfer, remote control, car tracking, health determination, videography, and photographing among other services.
The modern-day handphone presents an all-around purpose gadget that can perform a broad range of tasks. The versatility of the cellular phone has equally influenced the way people interact with each other.
Nevertheless, its use has created both positive and negative impacts on people’s lives. However, its advantages overshadow the disadvantages in many undisputable ways. This paper reviews how cellular phones have changed our lives socially using structural, functional theory.
The structural-functional theory is a sociological concept that is based on a functionalist point of view. Advanced by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), this theory forms the basis of other sociological perspectives. The theory reveals the interdependence between the elements of society and how social structures work together harmoniously to create a self-balanced and self-sustaining society (Davis 1959).
The structural, functional theory enlightens people on how social institutions play an interactive role to create a well-balanced society. This theory is important because it shows how cellular phones have influenced society, both positively and negatively. Nevertheless, people cannot afford to keep them aside.
The harms and benefits balance in such a manner that creates socially stable communities where communication takes place in a fraction a second without involving much logistics in the process.
Impacts of Cellular Phones on Social Life
Cellular phones are essential communication tools in the twenty-first century. They have changed people’s social lives greatly. They have enabled us to reach anyone in any local or global geographic location by use of sophisticated wireless. Every generation of versatile gadgets leads to more foreseen benefits, which trigger enormous developments in the area of communication (Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008).
From modest to sophisticated technology, modern handphones have performed several computer functions. Technologists claim that mobile phones will soon replace the use of computers and related devices due to their versatile nature (Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008).
However, mobile phones have immensely influenced the way we socialize with each other. People hardly use old means of communication such as letter writing, posting, and faxing, among others. Nevertheless, functionalism holds that the use of the handphone has created an equilibrium society through the interaction of its good and bad aspects (Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008; Smith 2012).
The structural, functional approach tries to explain how cellular phones have influenced the interaction of people and assets around the globe. Accessibility is probably the principal advantage of the handphone. The use of mobile phones has eased the way people reach others, both locally and internationally, in several ways (Addo 2013). People do not have to travel long distances to communicate with other people.
Cellular phones have increased real-time availability of people substantially. The world has developed into a ‘small village’ where individuals can socialize online, send email and text messages, make phone calls, transfer money through online banking systems, and remotely monitor businesses and the behavior of other people.
With modern-day cellular phone technology, it is needless to move from one place to another to do something that someone else in that place can do with the same efficiency and expectations. A single phone call is enough to enable a person to issue pieces of instructions from his or her location (Addo 2013).
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Also, people can participate in debates, competitions, conferences, and other social functions without physical attendance. Cellular technology and the development of multipurpose gadgets with inbuilt cameras and sound receivers can place different individuals on the same platform and initiate a conversation between them without their physical interaction.
Impact on Social Relationships
The structural, functional theory also helps people evaluate the use of cellular phones and determine their impact on social relationships. The basic intended purpose for acquiring a handphone is communication. As the mobile industry expands its production of more and more sophisticated cellular phones, so is the increase of its customers and thirst for improved handphones for tech-savvy users.
The dynamism of technology has diversified the use of the cellular phone. Communication just makes a part of its major functions. The gadget helps people build interpersonal relationships, acquire real-time information, and keep in touch with their friends, loved ones, business partners, or colleagues at work (Addo 2013).
A survey conducted to examine why people attach so much meaning to cellular phones revealed that convenience is a major factor towards the purchase of a cellular phone. People make calls when they wish. They respond to urgent matters because communication takes place much easier. Besides, they read news and other information on the internet without necessarily purchasing a newspaper or magazine (Smith 2012).
Smith (2012) further conducted a survey that revealed how nine percent of the respondents confirmed to have purchased cellular phones because they can handle internet and email apps without necessarily having to own a personal computer or attend to a cyber café, whereas eight percent acquired cellular phones to enhance communication with family members.
Fifteen-percent of the women interviewed said that the cellular phone assures them security in case of an emergency. This advantage not only applies to women, but also men, children, and the larger society. Parents feel more secure when they know that their child can alert them or call the police via 911 in case of an emergency (Smith 2012).
Cellular phones have helped people enhance their relationships with friends both physically through phone call appointments and virtually through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Presently, many people arrange meetings and events through phone calls and text messages (Smith, 2012).
In this context, according to the structural, functional theory, the cellular phone does not interfere with the social setting but instead enhances the way people interact with each other by saving time and costs of traveling from one place to another (Smith 2012).
However, every credit comes with a discredit. Mobile phones also have a negative influence on social relationships amongst teenagers, lovers, families, or even friends. The use of mobile phones has nearly replaced face-to-face communication (Addo, 2013). Many people nowadays prefer sending text and chat messages through their mobile phone applications.
The trend in the use of mobile phones encourages distant relationships, which do not favor love and family relationships. It is an obvious assumption that the phone does everything by providing convenience where necessary, be it conversing wirelessly over long distances or even sending money through wireless money transfer services. As a result, parents hardly have time for their children.
This situation forces them to hire caretakers who in most cases, never have control of the children. Most of these children grow up to be half-baked adults due to the poor parenthood (Addo 2013; Smith 2012). Nevertheless, the sociological functionalism approach holds that society is composed of self-balancing structures and elements (Davis 1959).
Mobile phone Etiquette
Structural functionalism also helps people study the development of addictive behavior that is associated with the use of mobile phones and how society copes with such behavior knowingly or unknowingly. Mobile phones have completely become part of the lives of many people (Smith, 2012). An American survey that was steered by Smith (2012) suggested that many mobile phone users live in paranoia of missing a call, an email, or a text message.
As a result, they tap their phones regularly to check for text messages or missed calls when nobody has called or texted their mobile phones. The research also revealed how idle individuals tend to use the ‘scroll’ button of their phones, consciously or unconsciously, even when they are not doing any significant thing (Smith 2012; Addo 2013; Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008).
Also, many mobile phone users tend to spend too much time on their phones (Smith 2012; Addo 2013). In the survey above, most youths admitted that they spend a lot of time sending text messages, either chatting on social sites or browsing the internet (Smith 2012; Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008). Addo asserts that children extend this habit to dining and sitting rooms, even in the presence of their parents (2013).
Further research reveals that many youths and middle-aged people attach more sense of symbolism to their mobile phones than any other electronic gadget around their localities (Addo 2013). According to Smith (2012), children are more likely to use mobile phones for considerably longer hours as compared to their parents.
Students, including teens and youths, have a tendency of using slang language or shortened abbreviations amongst themselves. The use of acronyms while sending a text message has significant effects on the spoken language. In most cases, incorporation of such acronyms in spoken language gradually changes the language to colloquial speech, which is not acceptable in official or academic situations (Smith 2012).
Long-term use of slang impairs good communication with interviewers. It may lead a potential candidate to lose a foreseen job in an interview (Addo 2013). Interpersonal communication with adults becomes a problem for youths since they only prefer sending text messages.
An Australian University survey on the usage of mobile phones by students reveals that the mobile phone addicts can send over hundred text messages while normal users can send between forty and fifty text messages daily (Smith 2012).
Cheating on mobile phones is another issue of concern amongst users. Most mobile phone users, especially the youths, have a habit of telling lies over the phone through calls or text messages (Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008). Obvious lies entail predictable phrases such as, ‘my phone battery has no charge,’ ‘I was out of network,’ and ‘I wasn’t at the proximity of my phone’ among others.
Petty users will shamelessly terminate or hang on the call. They can terminate the call without a valid reason. To the extreme, a mischievous user may decide to switch off his or her mobile phones or put the caller’s line in the blacklist (Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008).
Generally, these tendencies have negative impacts on social life, particularly when they target a parent, child, and private relationships. Cheating also creates a potential source of stress amongst many mobile phone users. It is socially unacceptable.
From a functionalist perspective, the etiquette of using a mobile phone does not matter. How the phone is used remains functional and relevant in the creation of a self-sustaining society. The fact that youths use abbreviated language provides an even faster way of communicating with each other.
However, this strategy is only applicable to peer groups that can interpret their acronyms. Spending too much time on the mobile phone is practically haunting. However, theoretically, it plays an exclusively complex role in creating a balance between social institutions (Davis 1959).
Mobile phone Crime
Mobile phone crime is a growing topic of interest across continents. Swindling, fraud, and cybercrime constitute the most common mobile phone crimes that are led by a thirst for quick money (Longe 2009). Tech-savvy criminals defraud individuals and companies to make huge money transfers to anonymous bank accounts.
Being aware of the risks involved in this kind of crime, fraudsters use both old-technology mobile phones together with modern-day Smartphones to seek anonymity (Longe 2009). Unlimited access to internet connections through mobile subscriber companies facilitates their fraudulent business.
In addition to swindling, fraud, and cybercrime, other crimes include access to pornographic materials, prostitution, human, and child trafficking (Longe 2009). Mobile phone users can access pornographic URLs, read, and view sexual films (Smith, 2012; Longe, 2009). Pornographic materials are socially unacceptable because they lead individuals to emotional distress and hunger for sex.
This habit is not only harmful to teenagers but also married men and women. Mobile phone crimes depict a morally decaying society. Their negative elements have far-reaching effects that are transferable from one generation to the next (Longe 2009). Propagation of prostitution is common practice with the use of modern mobile phones.
Prostitutes access the internet through their mobile devices and send hundreds of fraud messages to people, locally and internationally. With the growing population of social sites, most prostitutes have many contacts at their disposal (Longe 2009). However, mobile phone crime is equally important from a functionalist sociological perspective.
Mobile phone crime remains useful as far as the interaction of social institutions is concerned. For instance, cybercrime and human trafficking has prompted governments to research and find suitable means of protecting their people from exploitation by mobile phone criminals (Longe 2009; Davis 1959)
Limited Cognitive Function
The functionalist sociological perspective enables people to explain how exposure to a mobile phone has led to limited cognitive functioning and the role in which social institutions play in effecting the ill-use of such high-tech gadgets. Performance, attendance, and abilities of a person go hand in hand with concentration.
However, studies have indicated that many individuals exhibit unethical behaviors due to addiction to mobile phones (Banjo, Hu, and Sundar, 2008). For instance, it is a common tendency of mobile phone users to send text messages or make phone calls while driving. This tendency is an evident cause of many accidents around the globe (Smith 2012).
A survey explicitly conducted to investigate the impact of mobile phone usage on drivers revealed that many drivers exhibit less control of their cars while making calls or sending text messages (Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008; Smith 2012). According to Banjo, Hu, and Sundar, majority of drivers do not strictly manage their vehicles on track while making phone calls, sending text messages, or surfing the internet using their mobile phones (2008).
Cellular phone use behind the steering wheel leads to multitasking, and hence loss of full concentration of the vehicle. This behavior leads to a high likelihood of swerving off the road, decelerating on accelerating lanes, or crossing lanes unintentionally.
Nevertheless, functionalists purport that this kind of recklessness while driving helps the government in terms of reinforcing traffic rules through establishing ways of punishing defiant drivers (Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008; Davis 1959; Addo 2013).
Cyclists and pedestrians who cross the roads while attending to their cellular phones have also caused accidents (Addo 2013). Establishment of traffic rules reassures the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, passengers, and drivers, thus creating a balance between phone usage and the occurrence of road accidents.
Another problem associated with mobile phones is the disruption of listening and cognitive abilities. This problem is common with university students. It is particularly noted during lecture lessons. Students have a common behavior of tapping their phones, filming or taking photographs in the course of a lesson (Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008).
Particularly, students are fond of browsing on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Google Talk among other social networks to post messages or check messages that have been sent on their walls by their friends.
This behavior disrupts their attention to the lecturer and consequently affects the students’ cognitive abilities (Smith 2012). Eventually, such lecture-room manners affect the students’ overall performance directly or indirectly. A lot of classroom work remains undone, thus leading to wastage of time while seeking notes from other students.
In some cases, such disruptive behaviors force lecturers to chase or suspend students from attending further classes due to the distraction of their attention and the attention of other students. Other influential attitudes may include cheating on examinations through browsing online sources to check information (Smith 2012).
Examinees who have cheating tendencies often tense because they develop paranoia of having an encounter with the supervisor. At times, this situation leads to examination cancellation, suspension, or expulsion from the college. According to the structural, functional theory, these situations initiate the establishment of rules within the school set up to control student behavior within the social institution (Davis 1959; Banjo, Hu, and Sundar 2008).
Structural functionalism is an ambiguous sociological perspective that helps people appreciate the importance of adopting cellular phones without embracing much criticism. The influence of cellular phone technology is practically enormous in a society that has embraced virtual communication.
Increase in mobile phone production and the increasing number of users mark further social influence. Owing to the ever innovative and dynamic communication industry, the future effects of cellular phones on the society and the role of functionalist theory to strike a balance between the behavior of human beings and social structures remain unknown.
Addo, Augustine. 2013. “The adoption of Cell phone: How has it changed us socially?” Issues in Business Management and Economics 1(3): 47-60.
Banjo, Omotayo, Yifeng Hu, and Shyam Sundar. 2008. “Cell phone Usage and Social Interaction with Proximate Others: Ringing in a Theoretical Model.” The Open Communication Journal 2: 127-135
Davis, Kingsley. 1959. American Sociological Review: The Myth of Functional Analysis as a Special Method in Sociology and Anthropology. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Longe, Olumide. 2009. “Criminal Uses of Information & Communication Technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa: Trends, Concerns and Perspectives.” Journal of Information Technology Impact 9(3): 155-172
Smith, Aaron. 2012. The Best (and Worst) of Mobile Connectivity: The Impact of Mobile Phones on People’s Lives. Retrieved April 26, 2014 (http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/11/30/part-iii-the-impact-of-mobile-phones-on-peoples-lives/).