Conclusions and Insights

What have we learned about a generation increasingly tethered to mobile technology? Below are six key insights from A Tethered World. Click on the links to be taken to each insight.

1. Tethered to phones and people

2. Subconscious attachment

3. Content integrates in space and form

4. A constant anxiety of exclusion

5. Students perceive super communities

6. Mobile communities are homogenizing emerging citizens

This grid shows word associations stemming from the term “mobile phones” (charted by the word “is”)

Insight #1:Tethered to phones and people

Students aren’t doing much in a day…but can’t stop. The data showed an overwhelming amount of time spent with mobile phones, in all facets of daily life (school, work, friends, alone, etc). What’s more, students show a tethered disposition to their phones AND also to their communities.  As one student wrote:

The main contribution of mobile devices to society is [they] allow everyone to be connected and be able to share information faster than before.

While the heaviest users reported a diversity of information uses on mobile phones, there is ample room for a more full and diverse mobile phone relationship for more casual users.


Insight #2: Subconscious attachment

I find myself unconsciously picking up my phone, praying for a text message or mention on Twitter to take me to a virtual world where there are no math problems and there are hundreds of other people not paying attention in class.

Hearing false ringtones, pretending to look at the phone to avoid social awkwardness or feeling alone in public, and refreshing Twitter and Facebook were common themes among the participant base.  In the reflections, students mentioned an impaired ability to remain engaged in conversation. Wrote one participant:

Because I am on my phone I will not pay attention to the people around me or especially the traffic around me. I feel like my mobile device often takes me out of the real world and into a completely different one.

The mobile phone has created a true space in the physical and mental lives of youth. This poses great opportunities and challenges for the generation that is increasingly utilizing this technology for daily habits of inquiry. The presence of the phone is ubiquitous and omnipresent in all facets of their lives.


Insight #3: Content integrates in space and form

Students do not organize their lives around media, but organize media around their lives.  The following three quotes exemplify the extent to which this impacts students today:

  • When I wake up, the first thing that I do is grab my mobile and start to text or check my social networks.
  • I was shocked at how literally everything I do revolves around it and how often I go in my pocket to see if I have any new messages.
  • My phone and all of its features has become a social crutch – a mindless distraction.

That the phone has integrated so fully into the lives of students has also led to an integration of content types and platforms into singular spaces. Students habits reflected not a separation of information types (news, entertainment, etc.), platforms (video, audio,print, etc.), or industries (TV, radio, newspapers, etc.), but an integration of all types of information and media into social platforms that are accessible via mobile phone apps.  As a result, increasing amounts of information that they consume, and share, is based on peer-to-peer platforms, and curated from a variety of sources into a space that combines the personal and public.


Insight #4: A constant anxiety of exclusion

And to be without a phone at your fingertips is to make yourself socially unavailable and almost anti-social.

The ubiquitous presence of mobile phones in our lives has afforded great convenience for the wired generation. But this access comes with a price: the anxiety that students expressed as a result of being tethered to their devices 24 hours per day. The words anxiety and distraction were common across reflections (mentioned over 200 times combined). One participant reflected:

There are moments through the day when I feel sad or bored or anxious, and instinctively I look for my iPhone and start to tap anywhere, even re-checking applications twice in less than half an hour.

Wrote another:

I am very diligent about returning wall posts, tweets, comments and other feeds that are on my phone. Without this ability, I think it would stress me out or make me anxious about not knowing what is going on.

This anxiety is a global phenomenon of mobile technology, apparent across the entire sample.


Insight #5: Students perceive super communities!

Students are sharing content and expressing opinions multiple times per day, every day, all day.  The general sense of belonging and community that mobile technologies enable helps balance the negative implications of mobile use. Wrote one student:

My mobile device has definitely enhanced my life in the ways that I am a very social person, and so it allows me to keep up with everyone at a second’s notice, especially on Twitter and Facebook.

Most students were prone to sharing and commenting on others’ shared content. This shows a sustained interest in communicating with peers, friends, and family. The sheer amount of sharing and commenting reflects a need to be included in group dialog, however loosely defined. Wrote one participant:

Mobile Phones have changed how we go about our daily lives with an enhanced level of communication and knowledge of the world around us. They allow us to participate in areas of the media which we would otherwise be excluded from, and give us the chance to take part in the global conversation that is new media.

Insight #6: Mobile technologies are homogenizing emerging citizens

Lastly, this study revealed a general move towards a global mobile technology culture. Across 8 institutions, and over 50 nationalities, we saw little difference in the habits of the participants.  That there was little diversity in what they were doing with their phones, what platforms they were using, and the types of information uses they displayed shows a homogenization of information habits around mobile technologies.

The implications for this global clustering of habits are yet to be determined. Clearly, the ability to communicate in large scale ways across borders and cultures holds great implications for the future of global citizenship. Still, knowing that few organizations control the vast amount of online identities created via mobile information habits poses some challenges and threats for the future, as stated by a participant:

…our lives have become available to anyone who can access them, which is just about everyone everywhere in the world.