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IST Spring Conference – The Role of Mobile Phones in Youth Social Networks: a Study in Transitions

June 13, 2011 | Mary-Beth | Comments (0)

The second speaker at the IST conference was Dr. Rhonda McEwen, a professor at the Faculty of Information at the University of  Toronto.    She spoke about her study on how young people use mobile phones during the first year at university – a time of major transition in their lives.   

IST Spring Lecture - June 1, 2011 001 She studied 175 University of Toronto and Ryerson University students, aged 17-22.  58% were female and 60% were Canadian born.  43% had left home for the first time, and were feeling vulnerable and lonely.  So it makes total sense that 85% called their friends and family on a daily basis.  Mobile phones are the technological ties that bind.

Mobile phones were used to cover up anxiety and shyness.  Many admitted to using their mobile phones to pretend to talk to someone.  Walking home alone at night they pulled out their phone for a "talk" while they walked.  Or instead of initiating a conversation with the new person sitting beside them, they pretended to talk to an old friend on their phone.  And at first, over 40% were not comfortable calling a new person’s mobile number and most definitely would not call a number given to them by a third person. 

Students admitted that they do not feel that they are alone if they have their phone with them and they constantly and virtually have access to their network of friends and family.  Always on and close at hand – even to the extent of being under their pillow at night.

Luckily by the 2nd term they had adjusted, but their mobile phones help them make that adjustment by calming their anxieties and giving them instant access to their family and friends.  Dr. McEwen plans to do a follow up study of these same students in their final year at university so it will be interesting to see what changes have occurred.

For more on Dr. McEwen’s research see


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