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Generation Text: New Research on Teens & Mobile Phones

According to a recent Harris Interactive-CTIA study, "Teenagers: A Generation Unplugged, a majority (57%) of teens surveyed reported that they view their cell phone as the key to their social life.

For teens, a mobile phone is more than just an accessory or communication device, it also "tells the most about a person’s social status or popularity, outranking jewelry, watches and shoes."

The study was conducted online in July 2008 among a nationally representative sample of 2,089 teenagers (age 13-19) across the US who have cell phones.

More than 100 questions were asked on mobile phone usage, attitudes, behaviors, and teens’ desires and aspirations for the future of mobile communications, entertainment, and other features.

Other key findings from the Harris Interactive-CTIA study:

  • Four out of every five teens (17 million) carrying a wireless device (a 40% increase since 2004),  and 42% of surveyed teens said they can text blindfolded; 
  • 57% credit mobility for improving their quality of life, if texting was no longer an option, 47 % of teens say their social life would end or be worsened–especially among females (54% compared to 40% of males);
  • 52% agree the cell phone has become a new form of entertainment; one-third of teens currently play games on their phone;
  • 80% say their cell phone provides a sense of security while on the go, confirming that the cell phone has become their mobile safety net when needing a ride (79%), getting important information (51%), or just helping out someone in trouble (35%);
  • Teens carry cell phones to have access to friends, family and current events;
  • Though only one in five (18%) teens care to pinpoint the location of their family and friends via their cell phone, 36% hate the idea of a cell phone feature that allows others to know their exact location.

One of the most interesting findings from this study is how deeply integrated texting has become in teen life. In fact, teens admitted spending nearly an equal amount of time talking as they do texting each month.

"Teens have created a new form of communication. We call it texting, but in essence it is a reflection of how teens want to communicate to match their lifestyles. It is all about multitasking, speed, privacy and control," said Joseph Porus, Vice President & Chief Architect, Technology Group, Harris Interactive. "Teens in this study are crying for personalization and control of exactly what a wireless device or plan can do for them."

Moreover, teens say texting has advantages over talking because it offers more options, including multitasking, speed, the option to avoid verbal communication, and because it is fun - in that order, according to the study.

Looking forward, the survey found that teens "ideal future mobile device would feature five applications – phone, MP3 player, GPS, laptop computer and video player." The mobile boom trend is being driven by teens and their seamless adoption of and expectation to have "on-demand" access to friends, family, information and entertainment.

The education community should also take note that 66% of those surveyed said they hoped that mobile devices would "present opportunities to be educated anywhere in the world." This data should serve as a call to educators to start investigating ways to provide students with mobile virtual learning environments (mVLE) to facilitate self-directed learning opportunities.

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