Mobiles phones: Cigarettes for the 21st Century
University of Edinburgh
This phrase has been my e-mail sig since 1999,and I put this collectionof thoughts together then. It refers to the many similarities between mobile phones and cigarettes that I have noticed over this time. Many similarities become obvious as one thnks about the comparison. A phone is compared to the collection of individual cigarettes, the pack and also the matches or lighter. This page first came on line Jan 2003. Updated May 2006
Topics covered include sociology of cigarette use, social shaping of health scares, industrial structure and political influence, advertising, cultural images, gender and age issues etc.
I have recently (July 2005) written a research proposal to study the banning of mobile phones and other pICTs (personal Infomration and Communiation Technologies) in many public and private places. The text is here. I have collected many newspaper articles on the subject which I will create an online archive of soon.
If you have any comments, examples etc, please post them on the page I have created on my Blog, and I will incorporate good exmaples into this document
Phones have replaced cigarettes as the thing people fiddle with -
- When nervous, waiting for a to meet or hear from someone, or trying not to look out of place.
- they are a distraction from loneliness, insecurity, nervousness,
They are used to fill time waiting
- smoking or calling when waiting for the bus
We often have to go outside a building or room to use them.
- We cannot get reception, or, as with cigarettes, we are not allow by explicit or implicit rules to use them indoors.
- The little crowd of smokers and phoners is a common sight. - however smokers are united by their activity, phoners separated.
They are displayed in public places
- when put on the table in a pub or café they have brand and model status
- they must be near at hand - for the next call or next smoke.
- A group of smokers all get out their cigarette packs and put them of the table when the sit down. Phoners do the same thing.
They are associated with certain stereotypes-
- The socially successful - the peron everyone wants to know.
- E.g. the sophisticated business person/socialite (advertisers preferred)
- E.g. beautiful people having fun
- Actually used by : many people
- the spotty teenager on the bus
They are used in charateristic ways by different people
- Discretly, hidden in hand, back turned
- Elbow stuck out the side - charateristic of overweight lorry drivers, to use a blatant stereotype!
- If you use two at the same time you probably have a problem.
They are lent and borrowed
- Friends think nothing of letting each other make calls or take a cigarette
- Except when there are hardly any left.
- One person with a phone or pack is enough for a whole group on an outing.
They are given as presents
- Expensive lighters and phones
They are seen as antisocial in many public or social contexts
- They both annoy other people around the user.(survey)
- There are social codes about when it is appropriate to use
- Those who control social spaces make rules to restrict anti-social behaviour, especially banning use, or restricting to certain areas. See below.
They are highly social
- they are an essential part of flirtation [phone 1,2, 3]
- they are a point to start conversation
- they are used to note phone numbers (the cigarette pack of course)
Teenagers want them - [newsarticle]
- use them to show off/build identity
- They are often one of the few personal possession of young people.
- Starting smoking and getting a mobile phone, were/are important boundary markers in growing up
- They make/made up a key part of youth culture [smoke] [phones 1 2
- They can be subversive [smoke]
- They are banned in schools (phones), smoke
- Catch 'em young
Mobile Phones may to be reducing teenage smoking
Conspicuous, peer pressure and affected use associated with younger people who want to 'belong'
- Older people happy to reduce reliance
- Some older people like to flaunt their use
Their use is banned in many of the same places because of social interference or technical interference, or danger of fire.
Actually there is no evidence for this with phones, but that does not put off certain 'licencing authorities' from banning them on these grounds, such as in European filling stations.
They have highly disputed health issues,
- There are government studies [phone 1, 2], [smoke]
- Corporate denials [smoke] [phone]
- Hidden patents and research [phone] [smoke]
- There are a whole range a devices to make them 'safer' [phone], [smoke]
- Companies do not like to advertise 'safer' versions as that implies existing versions are dangerous [smoke]
- heavy users and children are (potentially) most at risk [phone]
They are dangerous to use when driving
- One takes ones eyes and mind off the road to initiate use, and to hold them [texting] [train driver] [car ban]
- They both use the in car power socket (once called the lighter, more more likely to be where the phone plugs in)
- Arkansas has banned smoking in cars with young children (April 2006)
They are addictive in several ways, and people try to control this -
- people get desperate when they do not have them,
- they try and cut down use,
- give up for the holidays etc,
- pretend they are not addicted
- spend too much money on them
2006 Diana James and Judy Drennan's paper on mobile phone addictiveness. James and Drennan, Queensland University of Technology "Exploring Addictive Consumption of Mobile Phone Technology". Scotsman newspaper reference to this research
You can count how many you use/make a day
There are important 'class' issues over use,
- different parts of the population prefer different brands,
- Nokia - teen, young, more female
- Ericsson - company people, enginners, boring men
- Motorola - more sophisticated
Smaller version are
- more feminine (packs of cigarettes)
- more discrete
- are for lighter users (number of cigarettes, battery size, functions)
Gender differentiating in branding and design [smoke], [phone 1, 2]
They both are associated with small pictures of popular culture
You go to the newsagent/tobacconist) to buy them (top up cards),
They have similar industrial characteristics
- The industries both have huge political lobbies [phones], [smoke 1, 2, 3]
- They contribute lots of revenue to governments though tax [smoke]
- The industries are both highly regulated [smoke]
- The industry is made of multinationals,[phone], [smoke]
- The growth markets are in the developing world, [phone],[phone] [smoke]
- In developing countries tobacco and telecomms have often been state enterprises
Smuggling and crime are both issues
- cigarettes are smuggled into developed countries with high taxes
- Stolen phones are smuggled out of rich countries and into poorer ones
Phone advertising has largely taken the place of cigarette advertising which has been widely banned
- phone adverts as as obscure as cigarette adverts (lifestyle/symbolic rather than product focused) [1, 2]
- Advertised as youthful, glamorous etc [smoke 1 2]
- bill boards, magazines, sports events used to be dominated by cigarettes - now phones dominate.
- Advertising to under 18s are forbidden , [smoke]
Drawing up these parallels, it is clear that there are some areas that are well researched and others not. For example, there is more on tobacco lobbying than mobile phone operator lobbying; there is more on sociology of phone use than of cigarette use, at least from an objective rather than normative point of view. There is more on cigarette advertising than phone advertising.