Mobile phones: How are they really affecting Australians' lives?

Remember that time in your life when you didn't have a mobile phone? What was it like when you didn't have the ability to send a text message ahead if you were running 10 minutes late for an appointment?

Remember that time in your life when you didn't have a mobile phone? What was it like when you didn't have the ability to send a text message ahead if you were running 10 minutes late for an appointment? Well the mobile association in Australia is banding together with social scientists to set a research agenda detailing the social impact of the mobile phone on Australian society.

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) is working with the Australian Social Science Academy (ASSA) to produce a framework for a program which will measure the social impact of the mobile phone on Australians' lives.

AMTA claims such a research has never been undertaken at peak industry level anywhere in the world. The project is aimed to "demonstrate to stakeholders that this is a socially responsible industry".

The project discussion paper, released by AMTA today, examines areas for future research opportunities. It groups issues into four sections: the structure of social groups and the impact of the mobile phone; work, home and leisure; social innovations in a digital context; and patterns of use of the mobile phone.

AMTA opened debate on the issue last January during a meeting between representatives of the social research subcommittee of AMTA and the secretariat staff at ASSA. AMTA suggested that too little is known about the impact of the mobile telephone on the people and institutions of Australia and asked ASSA if it would be interested in facilitating the development of a research agenda to assess the impact of the mobile phone on Australian society and institutions.

"The extensive use of mobile devices in Australian communities and enterprises has dramatically altered lifestyle, communication patterns and productivity, yet there is no systematic collection of quantitative and qualitative information," AMTA said.

"Many issues facing the mobile telecommunications industry are often dealt with in isolation without an understanding of the major benefits that mobiles have brought to society as well as many areas of business."

The research is designed to understand the "communities of use" that characterise mobile phone communications in Australia. The result will provide the industry with important tools to understand how it may best serve the needs of society.

Another part of the research area concentrates on work; the interface between work and family; and people's key leisure activities.

According to the discussion paper, it is widely suggested that people are increasingly staying in touch with work while at home, and vice versa.

"While for some commentators these developments represent a threat to the quality of modern life, for others, it represents new opportunities for integrating work and family life".

The paper said that since the mobile phone has radically transformed these boundaries, making them increasingly permeable, the research is aimed at knowing the effect of the mobile phone on how work, family and leisure activities are organised.

The research will also dwell on the patterns of use of mobile telecommunications, exploring the social and cultural uses of mobile devices.

AMTA expects the initial development, data collection, analysis and reporting of the research will run for around four years.

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