A study that explored the information habits and dispositions of university students’ mobile phone use was released by Paul Mihailidis, assistant professor in the Marketing Communication Department. He was assisted by graduate research assistants Eivind Michaelsen, MA ’13, and Kristin Berg, MA ’12.
A Tethered World evaluated the mobile habits of 793 students from eight universities from across the world. Researchers directed students to track their mobile use over a 24-hour period and complete an in-depth survey and a 500-word reflection about their media habits the following day. The responses were used to answer the question: How have mobile technologies changed the information habits of a digital generation?
Michaelsen, who was the lead research assistant, administered the study among all partners, making sure they had all the necessary information and instruments to complete the study. He also handled all the quantitative data (survey, tracking, etc.) and created every visual graph on A Tethered World’s website. Berg analyzed all the text in the study, assessing the reflections and coming up with the emerging narratives and themes.
“I had the opportunity to wear many ‘hats’ on this project,” said Michaelsen about his experience working on A Tethered World. “What really caught my interest was seeing the answers from the survey roll in and beginning the process of interpreting the larger picture. It is one thing to create graphs, but it is even more important to understand what the graph is saying,” he said.
A Tethered World revealed a generation that has fully integrated mobile technologies into their lives. The results of this study, broken into general insights and top data takeaways, collectively show a homogenized, technologically dependent population who use their phones to tether themselves to communities and to social networks—but not much else. Reading news or even gaming is far down the list of what they do with their mobile phones. This trend is not only taking place in the United States, but across the world.
“Several students mentioned they were anxious if they did not have their phones or the ability to check them,” said Michaelsen. “I was not surprised by this information, but found it rather interesting because you see it and experience it every day when you are with friends, or even looking at random people. So many people check their phones almost every minute, even though nothing is happening. I feel like this addiction (as many of the respondents mentioned) to cell phones and social media make people forget that being a social being happens more in reality than through a screen,” he said.
The results and findings of A Tethered World were featured in the Huffington Post.
Mihailidis teaches media studies at Emerson College. His research explores media literacy, civic voices, and participatory culture. He is the director of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, a program that annually gathers scholars and students from around the world to investigate media and global citizenship. His newest book, News Literacy: Global Perspectives for the Newsroom and the Classroom, was published last spring.
A Tethered World was completed in coordination with the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change and the International Center for Media and Public Agenda.