Reflections from the Tethered Generation

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.

Student Participant

In addition to the 24-hour mobile information tracking exercise, students were asked to provide a reflection of 300-500 words regarding their 24-hour mobile tracking experience and on the role of the mobile phone in their lives.

Between March 3 and May 15, 2012, 630 students collectively wrote over 30,000 words expressing dispositions and ideas about the increasingly pervasive nature of mobile technology in their lives. A host of sample questions prompted students in their responses:

Did you feel attached to your mobile device? What particular features of your mobile device do you feel most attached to? How do you think mobile devices have enhanced your daily life? What have they impacted in a negative way? Did you feel any different towards your mobile habits when you had to track them? Do you think mobile phones are a necessity in your life? What parts of them do you “need”? Do you think society is at a disadvantage without them?

The responses generated a wealth of insightful information indicating a struggle to negotiate the convenience of the phone with its increasingly invasive place in physical spaces. Few participants were surprised, after tracking, at how much less they used their phones for information than they thought.  Most were not only shocked at the amount of texting and talking they do, but also the amount of information they consume and share.

Some highlights from their reflections:

  • Students used the word addiction over 80 times in the reflections
  • Many claimed it “impossible” to go a day without a phone
  • Participants, while wary of time wasting, claimed to find more news on mobile phones than any other platform
  • “Sharing” came up more frequently in word clusters than did “consuming” or “reading”
  • The very few who did not have smart phones all made the choice consciously, and not for lack of want.

The key themes below — Intervening Physical Spaces, Integrated Realities, Consumption to Sharing — collectively show a generation that has lost the ability to separate their physical being with their tethered selves. This, like any intervention, has created opportunities to be more active and vocal sharers, but has also caused concern among university students around the world over their ability to control their mobile phone use, their personal and private identities, and maintain a physical presence in an invasive technological landscape.

The qualitative data, explained in detail in the methodology section of the study, is meant to provide in-depth, experiential and contextual data that builds on the findings of the 24 hour tracking results. These findings are complimentary and provide insight into the personal disposition university students in the digital world.