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Perceptions of the impact of mobile communication

The proposed study is an investigation into Nottingham University students' perceptions of the impact of mobile communication on their social interactions. This was selected as a research theme/topic because of a personal interest in mobile data technologies and also due to the increasing relevance of mobile technologies within social policy studies and academia. Hence, the mobile context seemed an interesting area to explore further because it seems to be a fruitful ground for field research and theoretical growth in an academic sense. There is a clear need to construct a broad understanding of the complex and networked inter-relations between the user, the technology itself and the social world that encompasses both (Chen and Nath, 2008). It is hereby important to explore the social implications of mobile technology use because research has shown that society can potentially benefit from the mobility, information and communication aspects that weren’t possible under the use of fixed line technologies.

Consequently, the objectives of this study are twofold. The author will aim is to explore the literature on mobile technology and society. The next step is to understand the perceptions of mobile users through a qualitative and interpretive approach rather than a quantitative approach which would fail to capture the richness of user’s experiences and the influence of mobile communication on their social interactions. In the light of this, the basic structure of the report is as follows:

A consideration of the literature concerning mobile communications technology is provided

A contemplation of the literature concerning the use of mobile data and behaviour of the mobile user is provided

An assessment and explanation of the research methodology and methods chosen for this project are proposed

Literature Review

The economic activities of nation states has undergone a significant shift whereby developed economies are shifting from the mass production of goods and services to a model based around the capture and dissemination of information and knowledge. This has widely articulated through notions of a knowledge economy and network society (Castells 2001). Society has also witnessed an explosion in the use and provision of mobile data and the use of mobile data technologies in recent times for a number of business, government and social functions and applications. Basole (2008: p.1) noted how mobile ‘devices are becoming more suited for mobile data use, wireless networks are maturing and becoming increasingly ubiquitous and capable of handling higher data throughput, and value-added mobile applications are rapidly emerging’. These technologies affect almost all organizational sectors including health, social services and emergency services. For instance, Mobile data and subsequent technology use has been used to provide various services and expertise for doctors and medical workers (Jahan, Gretter et al., 2002) and police officers (Sorensen and Pica, 2005). The shift from physical location to mobile locations is an interesting development because workers now have the ability to access information systems in the form of back office systems such as HR or diary/calendar/email applications from multiple vantage points at a time and place of their choosing. Therefore, the mobile workforce and their activities have evolved as a result of this shift (Stevenson, 2002).

This suggests that the recent expansion of mobile technology has clearly impacted upon the way in which people work and interact. Whether it is the ability to access and exploit relevant information in remote locations, or the ease at which workers can communicate with their colleagues and clients with immediate effect, it is clear that the growth of this technology, in particular the advancement of Smart-phones (i.e. HTC and Blackberries) and laptops/net books has made the workplace more accessible. It is commonly argued that “companies that use these new tools to gain efficiency, reduce costs, improve regulatory compliance, and improve asset management” (Padula, 2007). Chen and Nath (2008) investigated the key aspects of an effective and productive mobile working environment by proffering and applying a joint social and technical (hence-forth socio-technical) perspective to the analysis of mobile working. The methods used included structured interviews with CIOs [1] which enabled the author’s to elicit the main social and technical sub-systems related to the mobility of working practices. Their findings suggested that social and technical systems are mutually important and extremely interdependent and must be collectively constructed in order to increase both the efficiency and effectiveness of mobile work spaces. Also at a deeper contextual level, issues concerning inequity of access and shared use of mobile technologies have emerged. Burrell (2010: p.230) noted how the: ‘…established approach to examining technology-based inequality is to distinguish between two groups—those with access to the technology in question and those without and to identify reasons for why such a division exists’.

The sources used hitherto entail a mixture of text-based books (i.e. Castells) for placing the study of new information systems and information and communication technologies in the context of the information society debate; the use of academic journals to capture the social impact and influence of mobile communications from an academic standpoint and recent commercial articles which shed light on the functional benefits of mobile technology per se (see appendix). In addition, a deeper literature search will be conducted using further academic journals as the study progresses.

Methodology

This chapter discusses the methodology which it is intended will be used to undertake the study. It aims to provide a clear picture both of the methodology underlying the study and the reasons for the choice of methods used.

Research aims and objectives

As noted above, the primary aim of the research is to:

“…investigate two Nottingham University students' perceptions of the impact of mobile communication related to their social interaction”.

It should be noted that this research is set in the specific context of Nottingham University. The literature relating to mobile communications technology has been reviewed in brief in the introduction section and in the literature section of this document. The author hopes that research findings may be generalizable to other contexts where such technologies are used. From a personal perspective, the author can gauge the colossal use (and subsequent knowledge) of mobile technologies by fellow students who are used to working and communicating with each other through mobile devices. However, there is a need to explore the social ramifications of this use on student interactions. In this respect, this research aims to explore the social effects of the introduction of mobile technologies, and do so with a specific concentration on the effect that this has on student’s social and work based activities.

Qualitative and Interpretive Approach

The overall approach to this study at Nottingham University is a qualitative rather than quantitative or mixed methods approach. This reflects a subjective, soft-science approach rather than the quantifiable and objective hard-science approach implied by the adoption of a quantitative viewpoint where numbers dominate (or a blend of both). The qualitative or interpretive paradigm (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991), is based on the assumption or presumption that reality is socially constructed and attempts to understand a phenomenon from the [perspective] of the participants under study and, they add, people’s particular social and institutional context (Myers, 1997). It is hoped that a study of two students will focus on the complexity of social interactions as the situation emerges (Kaplan and Maxwell, 1994). An open and flexible design will inform this study in order to enable emergent themes to flow. Within this overall interpretive paradigm it is intended to make use of an exploratory framework which allows for an understanding of the effect of the introduction of mobile technologies on students and does so within an overall cultural and historical context of the university. An interview document consisting of x questions will seek to capture the essence of their activities. The author will tape record the interviews and analyse the responses in order to search for emerging themes and to link these back to the literature review. The author will also observe the technology in use between participants and note any interesting developments as they unfold.

Ethical Considerations

When selecting appropriate methods, the researcher was directed by the overarching criteria that methods should be valid, dependable, viable, representative, cost-effective, manageable and as ethical as is feasible. Bell argued that: “No researcher can demand access to an institution, an organization or to materials” (1999: p.37). Bell (1999) describes the concept of validity as telling us ‘whether an item measures or describes what it is supposed to measure or describe’ and reliability was described as ‘the extent to which a test or procedure produces similar results under constant conditions on all occasions’. The researcher aims to collect data which will answer the research question and will seek to ensure that the data collected is as accurate as possible. However the following issues in regards to ethics will be proffered throughout the research based on Bell’s recommendations (1999):

• Participants will have the option of participating in the research or opting out of the study.

•Comments at interview or during observation will remain confidential and be non-attributable to specific participants.

The author expects the participants to trust him with their responses and to use the data wisely and in a professional manner. In Blaxter et al’s words: (1996) ‘Research ethics is about being clear about the nature of the agreement you have entered into with your research subjects or contacts. This is why contacts can be a useful device’ (cited in Bell, 1999: p. 39)

Expected Results/Likely Results

The author believes that the answers provided for his research questions will be informative and interesting. He partially expects some basic answers to be guessable but is also seeking answers to questions that he doesn’t quite understand. For instance, this is why an interdisciplinary literature review was chosen, because there were questions that he clearly didn’t have answers for. This could be attributed to the speed and development of mobile communication technologies and the significance and complexity of human interaction which is often irrational. The methods chosen will hopefully illuminate the research topic and address the research question, however, rather than single semi-structured interviews (as opposed to structured interviews used by Chen and Nath 2008), a focus group with four or six participants might be another tool which could answer the research questions, albeit in a group setting.

The author will decide whether semi-structured interviews with the study participants or a focus group interview is the best method for answering the research questions after chatting to his supervisor.

The author believes that the responses to his research questions may be both expected and emergent because fascinating insights might be gleaned from the social potential of mobile communication technologies (See Burrell, 2010). Therefore, the author expects to gather emergent answers because he himself is a keen mobile device user and is extremely excited about the communication potential of mobile technologies.

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