As early as 2002, 60 percent of the total Japanese population (this includes infants, the elderly, and the infirm) subscribed to a cell phone service. Though the phones are banned in public schools, parents were buying them for their kids anyway—mainly, they said, to control their behavior and build closer bonds. Naturally, the kids soon figured out that they were best used to call and send text messages to their friends. As kids became more attached to their cell phones, parents became concerned that the kids were substituting them for face-to-face relationships.
With these concerns in mind, Kiyoko Kamibeppu and Hitomi Sugiura surveyed 651 Tokyo-area 8th-graders to find out how their phone use affected friendships—one of the first studies examining the impact of cell phone use on junior-high-school-age kids. Though the results were published this year, the survey was conducted in late 2002. Some of the key findings:
- Nearly half of Japanese 8th graders own cell phones
- Significantly more girls (58.8 percent) own cell phones than boys (41.1 percent)
- While over 85 percent of cell-phone owners say they have a large or relatively large number of friends who own cell phones, only 62 percent of non cell-phone owners can say the same thing
- When using cell phones to talk, they generally call family members, typically only a few times a week, but when sending text messages, they usually send them to friends nearby
- 54 percent of cell phone owners send more than 10 messages a day
On the subject of friendships, phone owners’ responses were nearly the opposite of their parents’ fears. Nearly all kids felt that cell phones helped them build more, deeper friendships—and there were significant correlations between these attitudes and the number of friends a child had. However, 27.8 percent reported that their messages were sometimes understood, and 48.2 percent felt insecure if their text messages were not replied to. 52.7 percent sometimes felt bad after sending a message.
Some of the behaviors the kids reported, however, flash danger signals to Kamibeppu and Sugiura. The insecurity reported above, along with the 37 percent of children who say the phones interfere with their daily schedule and 62 percent who say they cannot do without a cell phone are preliminary signs that they may be developing an unhealthy dependency on the phones, not entirely unlike alcoholism or “internet addiction.” So instead of not socializing enough, the cell phone craze in Japan threatens to create a generation of hypersocialized children.
Kamibeppu and Sugiura’s study provides some interesting preliminary data, but they suggest that more research should be done on these issues, broadening the scope to cover more geographic regions and ages of students, and also examining more closely the qualitative effects of cell phone use.
Kamibeppu, K., & Sugiura, H. (2005). Impact of the moblie phone on junior high-school students’ friendships in the Tokyo metropolitan area. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8(2), 121-130.