Mobile Devices Have Changed American Perceptions of Safety

Last week I served as a guest lecturer on Digital Culture and Implications for Teaching and Learning. Among other things, I emphasized the importance of educators who understand the nature of life in the digital world- how technology is shaping our understanding of fundamental issues like safety, happiness, security, worth, and image. As one illustration, I used student response pads to get anonymous feedback on the following question.

Travel without a cell phone would…

1. Be heavenly
2. Be unnerving
3. Not be a big deal
4. Not happen
5. Cell phone?

As usual, more than half of the class selected option 2 or 4. Ten to fifteen years ago it was common to travel without a cell phone. Now some consider it downright irresponsible. Husbands see it as an act of chivalry to make sure that their wives have a cell phone and quite a few parents consider it a fundamental shopping policy. “Keep your cell phones on kids.” Amid this shift in what it means to be safe, many schools and school events ban the use of cell phones and some wonder why students are disturbed by such a policy. While I am not necessarily challenging those policies, I don’t think we should be surprised at the reaction. Connectivity is a fundamental value of the digital world, and lack of connectivity is a source of concern, feelings of isolation, even anxiety.

With all of this in mind, researchers with the Pew Internet and Family Life Project continue to provide useful data. According to a summary released this month, “62% of all Americans are part of a wireless, mobile population that participates in digital activities away from home or work.” This study extends beyond simple cell phone use to a wide variety of mobile devices and ways in which people stay connected to information and people when they are on the go.

You can view the PDF with more detailed information here.