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We have conducted a study of college-age students using two-way, push-to-talk cellular radios. The study was conducted as lightweight, exploratory “fieldwork for design.”  Because our project has the design goal of supporting out-of-workplace social relationships within gelled social groups, particularly those comprised of young adults, the study was aimed at collecting insights about this target user population. At present, this population very rarely has access to cellular radios due to their cost. Accordingly, we provided a gelled social group of seven college-age students cellular radios for a week in June 2002. One author lived with several of the participants in their rental house during the majority of the study, and participated in many social activities during the week.  This participating author also observed several of the participants at work, and conducted semi-structured interviews  before, during, and after the study.

The cellular radios were quickly adopted by the participants.

Dawn: “I learned that I should just take it with me into the shower in case somebody’s like trying to talk to me.”

Participants primarily used the cellular radios for diadic (rather than group) communication, and the cellular radios almost entirely replaced the use of mobile phones within the in-group. Participants cited a number of advantages of the cellular radios, which relate to their unique combination of affordances relative to other media. These affordances enabled a wide range of behaviors. Of particular interest is that, although the radios have many important dissimilarities with instant messaging (IM) from the viewpoint of mediated communication theory, the observed use patterns resembled those of IM to a surprising degree. For example, even though the radios completely lack the browseable history provided by textual message systems, we frequently saw the pattern of “intermittent conversation” associated with IM, with its long pauses between turns.

Kelly: “I think it’s really close to IM.  Like I really like it that it’s so close because you know, it’s one message at a time, it’s you know, not commit like, not, you don’t have to talk for a long time, you can like leave if you want to or like not answer… [It’s more like] IM than the phone.”

For more details, please see our GROUP '03 paper (which focuses on the reasons why the cellular radios resulted in behavior resembling that seen in IM) or our draft report (which offers a more detailed discussion of the media affordances of cellular radios).

 

Modified: $Date: 2005/01/28 02:15:21 $ audiospace, audiospaces