U. MICHIGAN (US) — Using a smart phone doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll shun strangers. A new study suggests a mobile device can spark conversations. It just depends on how you use it.
“Those who use the cell phone in public to get news have more relevant fodder for conversing with strangers and probably increased motivation to do so,” says Scott Campbell, the study’s co-author and a researcher at the University of Michigan.
The findings are reported in the journal Human Communication Research.
The researchers originally hypothesized that overall frequency of cell phone use in public settings would lead to having fewer conversations with strangers in these settings, however, results were not significantly negative or positive.
As a next step, the researchers accounted for different ways in which people tend to use cell phones (regardless of location), including coordinating plans, maintaining relationships, and searching for news.
Use for maintaining relationships was associated with fewer conversations with strangers in public over time, while use for coordination and news were both associated with increased conversations in public.
The findings reveal that the situation greatly depends on the ways in which someone uses the technology, not just where and how much they use it.
The study’s data came from two waves of a national mail survey in the fall 2008. The first wave used 1,012 responses, and the second had 717 responses.
Respondents were asked how frequently they had engaged in a conversation with a stranger in a public place on any topic. A seven-point scale, ranging from “none in the last month” to “everyday,” was used.
For coordination, respondents were asked about how often they had contacted others via mobile communication to arrange meeting times and made contact with others to change plans. Relational use was measured by the frequency of using the mobile to call or text just to be social and to touch base just to say “hi” to someone.
News use was measured by the extent to which respondents sought out information about what was going on in the news and had discussed politics or other news by mobile phone.
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