A tethered generation: Exploring the role of mobile phones in the daily life of young people.

The increasing global ubiquity of mobile phones has called into question their efficacy as dynamic tools for engagement and participation in daily life. While there is little argument in their growth as primary communication tools, scholars have actively debated their role as conduits for dynamic and diverse, information flow. This study explores how an international cohort of university students uses mobile phones for daily communication and information needs. In spring 2012, 793 students from 8 universities on 3 continents participated in a 24-hour mobile tracking exercise and reflection to answer the questions: How are college students using mobile phones for daily communication and information needs? and, how do college students perceive of the role of mobile phones for communication and information needs in their daily lives? The findings point to a population tethered to their mobile devices primarily through social networking apps, to the extent that they find it increasingly difficult to distinguish relationships that exist in their pockets from those that exist in their physical surroundings. While the participants acknowledged the diverse and participatory capacity of mobile devices, their dependence on the phone for connecting to peers left them skeptical of the phone’s efficacy for productive connectivity, vibrant communication, and diverse information consumption in daily life. The study concludes with suggestions for more inclusive and active engagement in the dynamic potential of phones that are not necessitated by a response to large-scale political or civil injustices.

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