Alone Together*

The only person in this cubicle not using a mobile phone traveling between Amsterdam and Rotterdam is the baby. He only has 8 years to wait – this is the average age that kids in the US receive their first mobile phone according to MIT social scientist Sherry Turkle. In a talk at the LSE last week, Turkle claimed that human contact is being perpetually “dialed down” by mobile usage. That respondents in her research interviews claim to want to “text rather than talk”.

In the interviews I have conducted for masters research into mobile-mediated communication between couples, new signs of intimacy and playfulness have emerged. One couple admitted they developed a whole range of ASCII characters to communicate signs of affection. Another interviewee told me her husband could never find the kind of sexual expression he allows on text in face-to-face encounters with her. A London-based couple showed me the autocorrect mistakes that were inserted into their text massages and then subsequently turned into words of playful affection in subsequent text messages.

While there is little doubt mobile phones can help us create intimacy – what kind is it? And how will it evolve?

* The title of Sherry Turkle’s book – a good read for anyone interested in the effects of mobile usage on social behaviour.

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