Mobile Phones: Dual Roles: Agents of Social Change and Undermining Social Order
Mobile Phones have taken over the world, especially the 21st century. They have managed to affect the functioning of the world to the point that these devices have become crucial to determining one’s social status, way of life, sense of security, and have now become a norm that is accepted by a huge percentage of the world. Like most things in the world, mobile phones too have their own advantages and disadvantages. They give the power to connect people in different corners of the world with a press of a button, but also equally hold the power to isolate an individual from their immediate surroundings. They are tools for acquiring knowledge and the faster spread of information and awareness, but also have the possibility to have negative effects on an individual’s personal and social development. The pros and cons of these devices are definitely accelerated due to the fusing of the internet in their technology, which will be further examined through this paper.
Introduction: Mobile Phones
“In this Era, mobile phones have become widely popular to everybody; a mobile phone is a device we can use to solve many issues and have access to most information from around the world. Mobile phones, assist you in a lot of ways such as, in creating schedules for working, keep in touch with relatives, friends, loved ones, customers etc. Initially, when they first came out mobile phones were only useful for communicating; now there are multiple uses for them. With the arrival of the sophisticated mobile phone, came possibilities for mobiles to be used for entertainment purposes also. Mobile phones can be used as an effective tool to alleviate human stress levels (Chatterjee, 2014 p. 55). The primary objective of this paper will be to highlight the sociological perspective of mobile phones by assessing their purpose as agents of social change as well as their ability to undermine social order. These devices are not merely objects that serve their purpose to their individual owners, but also actors and facilitators of social change. They play a vital role in making information from all over the world easily accessible and allow people to educate themselves and engage in forming thoughts and opinions beyond their primary socialization.
“The mobile phones and telephone have a global history in the sense that it has been developed by national politics such as engineering challenges, exemplified by the different ways in which third-generation (3G) licenses were sold in the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, and the USA. Meanwhile, there have been vast societal changes in terms of production and consumption, largely embedded in cross-national processes of globalization. Political influences on design have been accompanied by huge social changes, such as the development of travel and the increasing car culture during the period of the mobile’s early development. By 2009, it had become clear that, at some point, 3G networks would be overwhelmed by the growth of bandwidth-intensive applications like streaming media. Consequently, the industry began looking to data-optimized 4thgeneration technologies, with the promise of speed improvements up to 10-fold over existing 3G technologies. The first two commercially available technologies billed as 4G were the Wi MAX standard (offered in the U.S. by Sprint) and the LTE standard, first offered in Scandinavia by Telia Sonera” (Chatterjee, 2014 p. 56-57). Over the years, mobile phones have been an active agent in creating the possibility for individuals to create social relationships beyond their primary and secondary institutions, for example, the family, religious groups, school/ work environment, locality etc. It has made it possible to connect with individuals from all around the world with little effort, relationships that would be impossible without the integral features of these smartphones and the internet.
“Mobile phones facilitate the harmonization of different role duties, because diachronic role change can be substituted by (almost) synchronous roles involvements, and because frictional costs associated with time-consuming loco motional activities can be avoided. The mobile phone acts as the conduit for sentient activity between people who already have some form of relationship, and especially those who are close to each other. It is because of this that the device enables people to feel the presence of others, no matter how distant. Mobile phone has become an almost indispensable tool when managing close family relationships” (Chatterjee, 2014 p. 58). Mobile phones have also been determining factors of one’s social status. As the commodification of these devises and their mass production continues, they are available in countless forms, sizes, features etc. Hence, the model that one owns is often perceived as an indicator of their position in society and a manner in which they experience autonomy. Technology and social media are revolutionary as it had been difficult for society to think of a time where people would require a mobile phone for their personal use. This idea was thought to be unlikely long ago (Castells et al., 2009). Castell suggests that technology definitely facilitates the development of society and is a contributing factor in the transformation of human behavior. Therefore, technology has aids in the human decision-making process, social relationships and their individual agency. (Castells, 2009). In our societies, both traditional and modern, individuals perform various roles for their livelihood through which they realize their own trajectories of performing across roles over their lifetimes. Most of these roles are known to require one’s physical presence at places like their workplace, school, church etc. but mobile phones make it possible to ensure flexibility in role shifting without having to change one’s location.
“The growing number of people using mobile phones has led to optimism and speculation regarding its effect on economic and social development. According to Adela Rodrigo mobile phones can play a part in social change, however not in the sense of creating new spaces for economic growth but in the fact that mobile phones actually can play a part in creating a space for the youth to engage in issues that affect their lives. This will lead to empowerment. In this regard, organizations can trigger social change. Mobile phones are already reshaping social and economic relations and have delivered remarkable benefits in poor countries, in terms of economic growth and personal empowerment and may even enable poor countries to leapfrog some of the traditional stages of the development process” (Chatterjee, 2014 p. 58). Mobile phones act as cultural artifacts that influence the course of society’s movements and popular narratives. It gets naturally integrated in the rites and norms of the larger culture. Through the use of smart phones, one has the ability to stay up to date on the events of the world, share thoughts and opinions on the same and engage in discourse about major social issues with people from all over the world with similar and opposing interests and views. “Ling (2000) analyzes the effect of the cell phone on four existing social institutions: democracy, bureaucracy, the educational system, and adolescence. He suggests that the cell phone can assist in promoting democracy, as text messages serve as the confirmation of one’s group membership to a political party. Thus, it is often seen as a positive (or the “ideal type”) contribution to the functioning of the bureaucracy (Ling, 2000 as cited in Nurullah, 2009, p. 22).
“The mobile phone seems to undermine or even reverse long-term trends of societal development thought to be irreversible, at least since the inception of the industrial revolution and the rise of larger bureaucratic organizations. This falsifies well-established macro-sociological theories hitherto used to model the development of modern societies” (Geser, n.d., p. 25). Geser suggests that there is a considerable increase in a new pervasiveness of primary social bonds. “Cell phones can even more effectively be used to shield oneself from wider surroundings by escaping into the narrower realm of highly familiar, predictable and self-controlled social relationships with close kin or friends (Fortunati, 2000 & Portes, 1998 as cited in Geser, n.d., p. 25). Hence, he claims that the use of mobile phones support the tendencies to promote closure to new in person acquaintances and more attention to the world on a screen. Secondly, “cell phones reduce the need for temporal preplanning, insofar as rearrangements can be made at any moment, even very shortly before an agreed time. A new, more fluid culture of informal social interaction therefore can emerge, one which is less based on ex-ante agreements, but more on current ad hoc coordination according to short-term changes in circumstances, opportunities, or subjective preferences and moods” (Ling & Yttri 1999 & Ling, 1999, p. 64 as cited in Geser, n.d., p. 27).
“The mobile phone empowers and enlarges the sphere of micro-social interaction by making individuals free to reach each other under any circumstances and without the need to conform to institutional norms that demand a presence in a specific place (and a relationship with others present at this same location). The seeds are therefore sown for a long-term countertrend that may lead to a major shift from supra-individual collectives (like bureaucratic organizations) based on stable locations and depersonalized formal rules to decentralized networks based on ongoing inter-individual interaction” Geser, n.d., p. 24). Mobile phones also contribute towards reshaping various social norms due to its considerably enormous impact on the social institutions embedded in society. Thanks to the internet, mobile phones have transformed the nature of social interactions. Due to its extensive usage by individuals, they are prone to envelope themselves within its constraints and be less aware of their surroundings, possibly overlooking new social interactions and social surroundings. “Mobile phones have become a part of their lives and they actively use the phones to keep in touch with people and manage their time efficiently. Mobile communication technologies are advancing rapidly. For example, mobile phones with Internet access and multimedia capabilities are becoming common in all parts of the world. With advances in technology come changes in user’s attitudes toward those technologies. These generate new social and cultural phenomena. These social and cultural phenomena may change the way technology evolves, as well as our behavior and the society at large” (Chatterjee, p.61).
Also Read: Sociology of the Internet
Castells, M. (2009). Communication Power. OUP Oxford.
Chatterjee, S. (2014). A Sociological Outlook of Mobile Phone Use in Society. International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies (IJIMS). http://www.ijims.com/uploads/7f312a1489818ee30d4fz8.pdf.
Geser, H. (n.d.). Is the cell phone undermining the social order? Understanding mobile technology. Mediarep. https://mediarep.org/bitstream/handle/doc/2043/Thumb_Culture_23-35_Geser_Mobile_technology.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
Nurullah, A. S. (2009, January). (PDF) The Cell Phone as an Agent of Social Change. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228176223_The_Cell_Phone_as_an_Agent_of_Social_Change