Mobile Communications and Children - Papers & Essays



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Mobile Communications and Children

As new media have become popular in society, children have also developed new methods of play based on them. These types of play are created spontaneously by the children among themselves and they often develop into general social phenomena.

Around 1995, the pocket bell or pocket pager was in fashion. As information and communications terminals for individuals, these new devices were used by children to produce new styles of encounters and communication. Since then, although children have shifted from using pocket pagers to PHS or cellular phones, they continue to maintain these particular styles of encounter and communication. For instance, young people would use a pocket pager or cellular phone to call numbers at random and communicate with whoever replied. This type of play is predicated on the media users being of the same generation. Now that cellular phones have become widely used by adults as well--in fact, adults may now constitute the majority--the methods of encounters for only young people of the same age eventually stopped functioning.

The above style of encounter was replaced by Internet technology. Windows 95 was released in 1995 and Internet use spread in Japan starting in 1996. Prior to the Internet, telecommunications technology did allow personal computers to communicate, but with the arrival of the Internet, users increased dramatically. Young people, mainly female high school students, were the main users of pocket pagers, cellular phones, PHS, etc., but adults took the lead in the area of personal computers and the Internet. Personal computers and the Internet were too expensive for children and Internet communication is based on high anonymity. These features indicate that adults are the standard for the communication styles of the Internet. (This is also corroborated by the terms used to refer to children on the Internet. These are homophones for "elementary school student" or junior high school student" and could only be created by someone who is not a child, but an adult. )

Figure 1: The diffusion rate of mobile phone and computers
Reference: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Information & Communications

Compared with the Internet, cellular phones are restrictive in terms of parties with whom one can communicate, and this has led young people to invent special usages among themselves. For example, certain font ornamentation called "character fonts" or "bad handwriting fonts" were popular among young people around 2000. Users did not use the installed fonts, but combined multiple alphabets, similar to the telecommunications jargon is called "leetspeak" or "l33t sp34" in English. Another style of communication was making one-ring calls and leaving only a record of call on the other party's cellular phone. Also, e-mail exchanged among children takes the form of a running conversation in the form of consecutive responses. The same styles of communication are seen on the Internet now that computer use among children has increased due to the spread of personal computers and the Internet.

Personal computers and the Internet spread to the home at the end of the 1990s, and somewhat later, were installed in elementary schools. At the time, in classes involving computers, children's computer skills differed depending on whether they used a computer at home or not. The Internet has become an important information resource for children to look up information. Furthermore, more and more children are learning how to generate information and communicate. They are setting up their own home pages, bulletin boards, and chat rooms. As for network communication style, children tend to follow a one-to-one dialogue format. Today, when comparing children interested in computers and those who are not, there may be a larger difference in the experience of generating information and communicating on the Internet than in computer skills.

In 2000, "personal computer worries" enlivened the media, and cellular phones with camera functions for e-mail photos were put on the market. Up to then, communication had been almost entirely written, but now images could be easily attached. E-mail photos, which are relatively cheap compared with using a digital camera and a scanner, contributed to the spread and brisk use of cellular phones. In 2003, cellular phones with megapixel camera functions were released, and high-definition technology continues to advance. More cellular phones also enable the recording of moving images as well. Today, it is common to see people at a tourist site carrying cellular phones to take photographs and moving pictures.

Figure 2: The diffusion rate of mobile phones with digital camera
Reference: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, White Paper on Information and Communication

The Internet and cellular phone use have progressed together, and posting one's photograph on the Internet has become rather common. These photographs are frequently used on on-line dating sites. It has become so natural to post a photograph on bulletin board when advertising for a friend or romantic partner that these sites differentiate between postings with or without a photograph.

Beginning at the end of the 1990s, online dating sites began to increasingly trouble cellular phone and PC owners by sending membership solicitations via e-mail that then charged visitors to the website for fictitious transactions. One technique that has become a social problem involves calling someone, posing as the child or grandchildren (It's me!) and requesting the transfer of large amount funds to cover an emergency. Although this type of prank mail has occurred with cellular phones and the Internet, it is decreasing on cellular phones due to improved services offered by the communication companies, statutes, etc. On the other hand, this type of mail is still a problem on personal computers.

Another problem on online dating sites was juvenile prostitution. Around 1996, a market for the used underwear of female high school students appeared and bulletin boards on cellular phones offered the on-line market for it and paid dating services involving minors. Cellular phones, with adult and child users, made it simple for these two worlds to overlap and access one another. Moreover, on conventional cellular phones, one-to-one dialogue had been common, but Internet technology has made it possible for one person to access multiple parties. This is thought to have made juvenile prostitution much easier. The Law Against Juvenile Prostitution was enforced from 1999, and strict punishment was defined. Although local government regulations gave been set up to protect minors, juvenile prostitution continues.

I have noted that the worlds of children and adults have become more interconnected with the development and spread of information communication technology, but when considering the relation between children and the media, it should also be noted that adult standards (rules, courtesy, ethics) are dominant now. The Internet requires anonymity, and because adult behavior is the standard, all users must become adults. This is a disadvantageous environment for children. This does not mean, however, that children have to communicate with adults. Children should also be able to act like children on the Internet. Moreover, when adult and children come into contact, there should probably be some sign or way for each of them to know. In the actual world, seeing is enough to know who is an adult and who is a child. Building such relationships on the Internet will be an advantage when socializing in the real world. A social network systems, WEBlog, etc. , offer something similar. Although the present information and communications media use adults as a common standard, we will have to think about usage from children's standards and develop the required technology from now on.

Figure 3: Ratio of mobile phones which can connect to web sites in the world
Reference: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, White Paper on Information and Communication

Note: The values indicate the ratio of contracts of internet accounts among the contracts of mobile phones in main countries/regions' telecommunications carriers.