Young People and Wireless Future

Article of the month

Helsinki, 1 September, 2003 — Young People and Wireless Future

The research looks into the use and adoption of new communication technologies (mobile phones, the Internet, third generation applications) in the everyday lives of children and teenagers. The main research methods are interviews and observation, along with material produced by adolescents, such as picture collages and media diaries. Contacts and co-operation with the international research network (Japan, the UK and Germany) created by the research group form an integral part of the study. This enables comparing results between different countries. As young people are a significant user group of mobile phones and new content services, the research will benefit the product development of new applications. In addition, the study will provide accurate information on the consumption behaviour and needs of young people.

Young people as actors in the new era of communication technology

The research looks into the use and adoption of new communication technologies (mobile phones, the Internet, third generation applications) in the everyday lives of children and teenagers. The main research methods are interviews and observation, along with material produced by adolescents, such as picture collages and media diaries. Contacts and co-operation with the international research network (Japan, the UK and Germany) created by the research group form an integral part of the study. This enables comparing results between different countries. As young people are a significant user group of mobile phones and new content services, the research will benefit the product development of new applications. In addition, the study will provide accurate information on the consumption behaviour and needs of young people.

Background for the study

In 2001 the Information Society Research Centre (INSOC) at the University of Tampere carried out a research project by the name of 'Wireless Kids -- International Research on Mobile Cultures of Adolescents'. The project explored the mobile communication of children less than 13 years of age and teenagers in the age group 13 to 18 through means media ethnographic methodology in five countries.

The research was preceded by the projects 'Everyday Life and Mobile Communication of the Finnish Youth and Families with Children' (2000) and 'Mobile Phone Culture of Children and Youth in Finland' (1998-1999). The projects were part of the National Technology Agency's 'Telecommunications - Creating a Global Village' (TLX) technology programme, and they were preceded by a pilot project that studied the mobile communication of Finnish youth and children mainly in a family context. The pilot project was financed by Nokia Mobile Phones and Telecom Finland. The report Kännyssä piilevät sanomat -- nuoret väline ja viesti (Mobile messages: Young people and new communication culture) by Eija-Liisa Kasesniemi and Pirjo Rautiainen was published in 2001. The book constitutes a cross section of the main findings of the study. An English translation of the book is currently in preparation. The publications describe and explain the birth and development in the mobile culture of Finnish children and teenagers also characterising the changes and transitions that have taken place in the field. In 2002, the research continues funded by Nokia Mobile Phones, Sonera Mobile Operations and the Information society Institute (ISI).

During the years of the study, the use of the mobile phone has spread to increasingly younger age groups and established a firm position in the everyday lives of young people. At the same time, mobile communication has moved from professional use towards the management of everyday life and the maintaining of social networks. Entertainment and free time use have also become an important part of mobile phone use. Today, as the range of devices and services continue to evolve and become more versatile, the significance of teenagers as a consumer group is perhaps more pronounced than ever. In addition to mobile communication, the Internet has assumed a central position in the media world of teenagers, as it enables versatile content production and independent creation of culture.

Four years of basic research have provided a firm foundation and the necessary expertise for further specifying the project in relation to different themes. In consequence, the study now aims to sharpen its focus on the following areas: young people's choices in a multimedial environment, the nature of network communities and communication characteristic of them, consumption behaviour and the intertwining of technology and everyday activities. The material collected since 1997 provides an opportunity for conducting longitudinal and follow-up studies on the subject. This is particularly useful in the analysis of the changing trends in technology use.

Objectives of the study

The aim of the study is to observe the incorporation of communication technology into the everyday life of young people by studying the functionality of existing terminal devices in the lives of children and teenagers. The earlier projects have, since 1997, conducted basic research into the position of mobile communication, media and technology in the everyday lives of children and teenagers. Children and teenagers have emerged as user groups with usage cultures and use patterns that differ from those of adults. A profound understanding of the conventions of use affords a possibility to analyse the choices young people make in a multimedial environment. Empirical knowledge that brings out the everyday life of young people in an increasingly technological society as they themselves see it is relatively scarce. Cultural beliefs are not enough to provide an accurate and versatile description of the meanings and roles of media and technology in the lives of children and teenagers. The main aim of the study is to observe the adoption various media and their contents and to assess opportunities for improving young people's quality of life and their facilities for participation in society.

The research will further strengthen and broaden co-operation between the international research network created by the research group (Japan, the UK and Germany). The aim is to observe cultural variation in the use of communication technologies. The use of mobile communication devices is becoming increasingly common among children and teenagers throughout the world. This does not mean, however, that the development would lead to a universal communication culture for children and teenagers: usage varies extensively depending on factors such as the services and applications on offer and the traditional models of socialisation in the countries. The social innovations that children and teenagers themselves produce when adopting new communication devices are a significant factor in the variation. Awareness of these variations and the ability to rapidly react to the needs that may be emerging within the youngest user groups of communication devices is clearly important. Comparable material assessing the changes and transitions in the mobile communication of children and teenagers is still rare elsewhere in the world.

Additional information:
Researcher in charge of the project, Ms. Virpi Oksman
University of Tampere, Department of Information Studies

More information
virpi.oksman@uta.fi
http://www.info.uta.fi/