Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the sociology of mobile phones

a couple of weeks ago, i got together with a young graduate student who grew up in the same town i did. she's here studying architecture for the summer (she came to the right place for that--think jørn utzon's sydney opera house). we were sipping iced tea in the garden and discussing her impressions of denmark thus far (she'd been here a week at that point). one remark really stuck with me and i've been pondering it ever since. she said, "there seems to be a really high standard of living in denmark."

she went on to explain why she thought that and she mentioned that people are well dressed (i told her those were probably swedes), they're all out shopping (she's been spending time in the center of copenhagen, so i can see why she thinks this--tho' again, i maintain those are mostly swedes), they have nice bikes (that's true) and everyone has a mobile phone.

the mobile phone thing surprised me a little bit. i mean, of course everyone has a mobile phone. even sabin has one. we don't even have a land line anymore. we are, after all, well into the 21st century.

last week, in dublin, i noticed a lot of people with mobile phones as well. everyone is going along texting or phoning someone. after all, how else do you ever meet someone somewhere? but in dublin, there was a difference in the phones. i saw several people with the old black & silver sony ericsson i had back in 2004 and even older, more decrepit, possibly steam-driven nokias. oh the horror.

and it led me to ponder a sociology of mobile phones. my theory is that the higher the standard of living in a society, the more often people replace their mobile phones to the latest model. i have a friend here in denmark who, every six months, when her "old" phone that she's bound to by her plan is free to SIM unlock, she gets a new phone. she loves having the latest model. and i know she's not the only one. you just have to look around when you're on the train or in a cafe to notice--everyone has a new phone. unless they're trying to be retro (like husband, who is using my 2006 sony ericsson K800i and refuses to replace it until it actually falls apart in his hands--which is what happened to HIS version of that same phone), people generally have the latest, coolest mobile phones.

it was obvious in other ways in ireland that it's not a rich country. not that it seemed poor either. it's just evident that it doesn't have the same economic success of the scandinavian countries i spend most of my time in. people's phones are cool in norway too (and their cars, don't even get me started on their cars). and my point is that you can actually use the mobile phones people have as a sort of thermometer of economic prosperity. if people are prosperous, they replace their phones to the latest models when they come out, even if their old phone is still working. because they want to have the latest, coolest new gadget. in less prosperous societies, people keep their old mobile until it's not working anymore.

frankly, although i am a total gadget hound, the latter model is much more sustainable in terms of the planet (we'll soon be surrounded by heaps of old, abandoned mobile phones). on the other hand, i'm pretty pleased with my iPhone and my brand spanking new HTC Touch Diamond 2. which is vastly improved over the Touch Diamond original that i got back in march. in this case, i had to replace it already because that first phone was rubbish (turning itself off all the time, which nicely cut back on the amount of phone calls i got). and yes, i have two mobiles. one personal and one for work. that's another societal reality today.

look around. what are the mobile phones like your country? it'll give you an idea of how it's doing.


Extranjera said...

Turns out I'm no longer Finnish.


kristina said...

you might be right. but maybe there's also a difference in how you can get subsidized phones? and what you choose to spend your money on.

Liz Fulcher, The Fragrant Muse said...

Don't you think one's age is a factor, too? Younger folks want the hottest new technology, the older set want what's practical or cheap.

Lisa-Marie said...

I'm from Scotland, which has a similar sociology to Ireland, Although Ireland as a country is a little wealthier.

Here, whilst it's true that alot of people have older phones (My Nokia came out 2 years ago), I don't think its entirely wealth related. While some wealthy people have the new models, some will keep the one they have till it fall apart.

Also, there is now a culture of people believing they are entitled to everything(whether they work or not), so people who really don't have the money for new phones have them anyway. I live in a relatively impoverished area, and most of the (unemployed) people here have newer phones than I do.

It depends on the person really I think, I see no point in having a swanky, expensive phone when all I need it to do is phone or text. My husband however, has a Blackberry(which he needs for work, or he wouldn't have it either) that does almost everything!

julochka said...

ext - that's b/c you just ordered an iPhone. they're probably coming for your passport any day now.

kristina - it looked like the plans in ireland were similar to here...where you pay a minimum and then "pay off" the phone during the "binding period" of your plan (6 months here), but i do know what you mean. i think there's a further consciousness of design element that i didn't go into that's a factor as well.

TFM - here in DK, it's the parents getting new phones and giving the "old" one to their kids, so that's not really true here. the people you see with older phones are largely young people.

Lisa-Marie - of course it's also a matter of personal choice and that entitlement thing is a factor. i'll admit it's really just the beginning of a theory. i haven't worked it all out yet. ;-)

The Redhead Riter said...

I keep my phone until they can no longer send signals to it because the technology has changed and the phone isn't compatible any longer...LOL

Whereas my daughter and husband stand in line to get the latest phone FIRST.

You know how much I drive them crazy?

Suzanne said...

Huh. I see that too, which is why I fight the power by buying the least technologically advanced phones I can find.

That, and I waste so much time on the puter and Internets and blogosphere that if I add one more bit of technology, I might never actually do any RWW (Real World Work), thus losing all money to fund my technology addiction.

Polly said...

I'm not entirely sure that's true. I could probably afford a new iPhone but I simply don't want it, I prefer to spend this money on a nice new SLR camera. I'm just not that into texting all the time and I prefer long phone converstion via landline, sitting on the sofa in my room rather than walking down a noisy street, and I think there are more people like me here. But still UK is doing quite well, even though standard of living in Scandinavia is probably higher than here...

will said...

Six month plans? Here, it's two years plus you are forced to wear a unremovable chain necklace with a medallion of the carrier's logo. I chose T-Moble beause they had the smallest and lightest one.

And I have the latest cell phone - it has a slot for coins. That way I pay the monthly fees as I phone. Also it is now law, we are now required to talk and use over 5000 minutes every month. It's ugly if you don't use those minutes.

My carrier sends a guy to the house every week - just to be certain I'm using the phone correctly. He smiles but I know he doesn't mean it.

Eliane Zimmermann said...

I hate cell phones especially when they are ringing in my purse - but also other people's cells. here in Ireland they ring constantly (life must be very eventful to send messages every instant...). as we don't have proper internet connections here we don't need the newest phones. - I dedicated three stones for you on my blog http://scents-and-senses.blogspot.com


Char said...

my 3g phone was a compromise as i didn't want a blackberry and be that accessible to e-mail. turns out i rarely use the internet on this one unless i need movie times.

i truely use my phone only for calls and to play scrabble when i'm waiting on something. and i hate texts.

Kim: said...

I live in the second poorest state in the U.S. (New Mexico). I'm intrigued by your theory and how it plays out in Scandinavian countries. I notice that the overall poverty here somehow translates to newer but limited gadgetry. I see a lot of new phones, and a LOT of tricked-out rhinestoney glittery phone covers, but not a ton of iPhones. I think the iPhone might be just a little too out of reach. Also, most here are only using their phones to talk and text anyway.

Great post!

Meg said...

I tend to keep my phone for two years, because with my carrier, if you buy a new phone during the two year period that your plan is active, its incredibly more expensive. So when I renew my plan, I get a new phone :) The rest of my family tends to do the same. Except for my mother, she has had the same phone for a really long time, and refuses to upgrade (I'm not sure why).

Delena said...

We can't get regular cell service where we live as we are in the middle of a forest in nowhere land. We have digital bag phone with 3 watts. Our internet is from satelite. It is slowwwwwwwwwwwww just a tad better than dial up. It tests my patience everyday but we have to give up speed for the benefits of living in the country.
Julie, off subject but how are you making your pictures big?

Kim said...

Mobile phones have exceeded all expectations in Africa and they are a status symbol there. Just about every-one has them. It has completely changed the landscape. People who never had access to a landline now suddenly have access to the rest of the world. Phone's also double as a mobile bank. Amazing.

kristina - no penny for them said...

i'm one of those retro freaks, i guess :) had my first ericsson (that was before they were sony ericsson) until i had to replace it because the keys didn't work any more. my 'new' sony ericsson is quite possibly from 2003 (i can't even remember). and i love my landline and curling up with it on my sofa, like polly. so old-fashioned, but there you go. (we all know the german economy is going down the drain, so no surprise here after all.)

spudballoo said...

Interesting. I have pretty much nothing of note to add other than...me and MrSpud had those silve/black Sony Ericssons, it was a nightmare trying to keep track of which was whose.

I had the 800i, I quite liked it?

I still have my original iphone as I'm locked in to a contract for another 2 months. Harumph.

It appalls me how much money mobile bills are. I had mine paid for me for 9 years and still resent paying for it myself, LOL.

MrSpud has one of those HTC jobbies. He's tempted by an iphone though.

TBH I never notice people using/not using mobiles or what model they are. Am I blind?

Janni said...

Im a Until-it-falls-apart kind a person. I really can,t remember when i got a NEW phone. I must be 5 og 6 years ago, after that i had two of Brians olde ones, now I'm on the second one from my mom, they were all Nokia or Erikssons, thats all I know about the brand/model and i have used them alle "until they fell apart".

I really wouldn't mind a brand new one, but i like the fact, that i can just throw the phone in my bag, and don't think about if it becomes scratched or not. Or if i lay it down on the flor in some bookstore to look at a book and forget it there....has really happend, was just too lazy (and pore) to go back and get it (it was back in the days when a lot of phones only cost 1kr, so it was cheaper to buy a new one than a train ticket to Roskilde).

Sorry for the long comment...

kristine said...

in indonesia i was always amazed at how people were willing to spend two months salary on a new phone (nokia, always nokia - HUGE status symol). Here in Belize, nothing works - I mean, making a phone call does, but email, apps, whatever - none of that will work on a phone, so blackberries and iphones are pointless. I have a mega ancient motorola and flips open and it frayed at the edges (I am not a proper norwegian, it turns out), but it is surprising how many people have blackberries and iphones..... There is definitely a lot of sociology to it.

Arlenesfelt said...

I am in San Diego, California and here it is all i-Phones.