This sample sociology essay explores the societal impact of cell phones. Cell phones are perhaps the single most ubiquitous technological item for the average person. While they serve the purpose of connecting us to each other in vast social networks, the question must be raised as to the overall impact of cell phones. Specifically, what impact does the popularity of cell phones have on things like crime rate, user behavior, and related factors? This document would likely be found in a parenting blog or as an essay assignment.
Cell phones and safety concerns
In this day and age when so many people use them, cell phones are bound to have an effect on daily life, even on things like crime. Due to increasing crime rates caused by the U.S. economy, having a cell phone on them at all times makes college students more susceptible to becoming targets of street crime. Though there are benefits of students having a cell phone on them for protection, there are too many cases in which individuals have become targets for street crime due to appearing distracted on a phone and vulnerable, or due to carrying a shiny electronic that a thief is likely to want.
There are many arguments proposing that cell phones lessen the safety of college students; one of them is that cell phones attract the attention of robbers. As Jeffery Silva of RCR Wireless News says:
“Face it; cell phones are cool. Thugs will be thugs. Their tastes change with the times and–surprise, surprise–mirror ours. Indeed, they too love fancy cell phones” (Silva, 2007).
Indeed it is no surprises that a mugger would be drawn to someone who appears to own valuable items. In New York City almost 40% of street robberies involve high-tech phones, while in San Francisco it’s almost 50% (Howell Jr., 2012). These numbers point to the fact that it doesn’t matter which side of the country you’re on, thieves will be drawn to what looks valuable.
Increasing cell phone security
On the other hand, police and cell phone companies are teaming up and trying to lessen the attraction of cell phone thievery by informing the public that once a phone has been stolen, it can now be “bricked.”
When a phone is “bricked,” it means the phone’s carrier company has shut down all that phone’s activity and service, “rendering the phone as useless as a plastic brick” (Howell Jr., 2012).
This reaction, in effect, should deter street muggings of phones, but there are reasons besides shininess that draw thieves to cell phones; besides taking away the allure of a jam-packed toy, this method saves phone owners from identity theft, another motivation behind many robberies. Financial author Dave Ramsey purports that college students are particularly at risk for identity theft because of their naivety; in fact, the majority of identity theft occurs to people aged 18-29 (Dakss, 2009). Because college students are perceived as naïve, when one is walking on the street holding a valuable phone and possibly looking distracted, it’s easy to see why they might become a target.
Despite the obvious risks of walking around with a flashy cell phone looking distracted, there are safety benefits to having a phone available at all times: namely, having immediate contact with emergency lines when in trouble. The potential benefit of this depends on a number of factors, ranging from gender, class, and age to common sense (how phones are used). Although a factor such as the gender or age could make a difference in interpreting phone use statistically, researchers have found that, for example, people belonging to any given age group are certain to use their phones differently (Pain et al. 2005).
Certain demographics at higher risk of cell phone theft
Class status plays an important role in determining the safety of cell phones, from predicting the geography of one’s regular travel to predicting what kind of phones people can afford, if any. Though people with less income are less likely to go to college, unless they receive financial aid to help them pay for school, those who do attend college are still a large enough demographic that their behavior can be studied. In “‘So Long As I Take My Mobile’: Mobile Phones, Urban Life And Geographies Of Young People’s Safety,” Rachel Pain et al. found that, regardless of their cell phone use, young people “in marginalized, lower-income areas are likely to experience greater risks of theft, violence, and harassment in public and private spaces” (2005). The researchers found that although low-income college students are less likely to own a fancy smart phone, they are, paradoxically, more likely to be victims of theft in low-income areas, and therefore:
“the assumption that mobiles are a reliable technology to help keep young people safe is flawed” (Pain, et al., 2005).
Pain et al. also found that gender plays a role in how cell phones are used for safety. They determined that since women are less likely to feel safe in public spaces, cell phones (a connection in an emergency) make them feel safer. Young women are:
“subject to experiencing more harassment and discomfort when using public spaces… [t]he role of mobiles in reducing fear and discomfort may be more important for girls and women” (2005).
Young women reported that having a cell phone on them and/or talking on it (while consciously aware of their surroundings), makes them feel protected because they are not seen to be alone. Because they can talk to friends—rendering public spaces more private—it gives them the confidence to not be as fearful in places where they usually would be. Pain et al. came to the conclusion that while fear stayed at high levels for women of most ages, young men were much less likely to report feeling scared in public spaces and less likely to use cell phones as protection (2005).
Cell phones contribute to riskier behavior
In “‘Call If You Have Trouble’: Mobile Phones And Safety Among College Students,” Jack Nasar et al. studied the phenomenon of risk taking, including texting and driving, and the notion that as individuals feel safer with cell phones on them, they begin to partake in riskier behavior.
“People adjust their behavior to new technologies that increase safety by increasing their risk-taking behavior, thus maintaining a constant level of overall risk” (2007).
Their research showed that people were much more likely to be adventurous with their locations, acting under the assumption that their cell phones would save them if they got into any trouble. Though some individuals may make an effort to be hyper-aware in unfamiliar and/or dangerous, others become complacent when they assume they have protection, “making them more likely to become a victim” (2007).
Like Pain et al., Nasar et al. found that age played a significant role in determining cell phone safety. Their study showed that “young people (ages 16 to 24 years old) have the highest rates of personal and property victimization) and that college students have higher rates of burglary, robbery and violence than do comparable groups” (2007). These burglaries and robberies are likely to involve cell phones since only 14.4% of college students do not carry cell phones on them, which makes the percentage of students who are carrying phones a whopping 85.6% (2007). Other cell phone statistics found by the researchers reveal what most could guess: cell phones are not going anywhere, but in fact will affect our lives more and more each year. In 1996 there were an estimated 38 million cell phone users in the U.S., and nine years later in 2005 that number had multiplied quite rapidly to 207 million.
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Benefits and overall conclusions
Although there are safety benefits in carrying a cell phone and having outside contact in an emergency, the benefits do not outweigh the risks—if anything, they stabilize them and cell phones remain neutral. In the worst case scenario for cell phone proponents, cell phones actually go beyond being neutral and add to the likeliness of college students becoming targets for crime: because college students are already seen as naïve, and the feeling of safety they get from cell phones leads them to potentially risky behaviors and places, the added factor of attracting attention with a flashy valuable puts them at greater danger of becoming victims. Though it is currently the case that the risk of cell phones trumps their potential as protection, it is possible that the situation may reverse in time. Perhaps the overall risk will always remain the same if risk-taking continues to correspond accordingly with feelings of safety, but there are networks being put into place, such as bricking, that will likely spread in time. No matter what the likelihood is of cell phones making college students a target for crime, there is still some hope that individuals will learn how to use technology more efficiently as it continues to grow.
Dakss, Brian. “College Students Prime Target For ID Theft – CBS News.”Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment World News – CBS News. N.p., 22 Apr. 2009. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-501103_162-3188716.html.
Howell Jr., Tom. The Washington Times. “Smartphone Thieves Lose Connection.” Washington Times, The (DC) (2012): 14. Regional Business News. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Nasar, Jack, Peter Hecht, and Richard Wener. “‘Call If You Have Trouble’: Mobile Phones And Safety Among College Students.” International Journal Of Urban Regional Research 31.4 (2007): 863-873. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Rachel Pain, et al. “‘So Long As I Take My Mobile’: Mobile Phones, Urban Life And Geographies Of Young People’s Safety.” International Journal Of Urban Regional Research 29.4 (2005): 814-830. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Silva, Jeffrey. “Might as well wear a target on your hip.” RCR Wireless News 28 May 2007: 10. Business Source Complete. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
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