to the editor
University of Helsinki
Sociology of cellular telephone: The nordic model (300
000 Yuppies? Mobile phones in Finland)
(published in Telecommunications policy Vol 17, Nr 6, August 1993 and
Reseaux Communication/Technologie/Societe 65 Mai/juin 1994 (in
French: Sociologie du telephone cellulaire)
The telephone is historically the invention
which made immediate interpersonal communication and interaction independent
of the physical distance between the interlocutors (Ronell 1989). This
change in the nature of personal interaction is one of the most important
developments since the introduction of letter writing, which itself has
come closer to telephonic communication with the advent of electronic mail,
telefax, answering machines, etc. To this immediacy of communication, regardless
of distance, can, since the introduction of mobile (or cellular) telephones
be added independence from location: a telephonic discussion can be initiated
and accepted practically anywhere, in the car, on the streets, in the nature.
This irreversible change in the mobility of both the ear and the mouth
is certainly as dramatic as was the telephone originally. This new freedom
of movement (and even nomadism, a deliberate lack of permanent living place,
discussed by de Gournay 1991), is a very important qualitative step. The
caller does not know where his interlocutor is; in (whose?) bed, in the
office, car, restaurant, park, it is enough to know his number. The user
of a mobile telephone, on the other hand, can use his phone anywhere whenever
he or she feels a need to call (i.e. combine several activities and use
his time more efficiently). An important feature is that it is possible
to talk on the telephone while actually moving, even over long distances
and very fast, thus combining two basic activities. It is important to
note that mobility is an important development not restricted to telephones.
The walkman and the portable PC are two other examples of audiovisual activities
while on the move. I shall not enter the already much too diffuse discussion
about postmodern society, but it seems to me that this kind of mobility,
being free from fixed locations and being simultaneously locally reachable
is one of the prime criteria in distinguishing postmodern from modern.
Oddly, the recent technological developments of the small, portable, personal,
amd interactive devices, although extremely different from the "modern"
technology of the 60's (enormous computers, space rockets, missiles, etc.)
has not interested the theorists of postmodernism (eg. Featherstone (1991),
Jameson (1991), Harvey (1989), Lash-Friedman (1992)), ie. mobility or liberation
from a fixed location has not been seen as postmodern. On the other hand,
while mobility as such - the use of cars, airplanes, etc. - was considered
as a part of modernity, the mobility of mobile phones apparently differs
from this "traditional" mobility. In fact, it is not mobility as such but
the combination of mobility and permanence, the caller is mobile, while
the person who is being called is "always there". This ambivalent situation
I would call typically postmodern.
There is a large number of people for whom the ideal of
permanent availability (at least for others) is very appealing. If
it is economically or emotionally important to be always within reach of
others, a portable phone is obviously useful. Thus for many users, from
salesmen to mothers who want to be always there for their clients or children,
mobile phones satisfy a genuine need. They make possible a much more efficient
time use, being able to fill the otherwise "wasted" waiting times by work
or social contacts. Unexpected timetable changes may also be adjusted to
much easier. It also frees people to combine activities: to take
orders while doing work. It helps people find directions, inform about
delays, avoid unnecessary trips etc.
An important additional plus is increased security: there is
no need to find a telephone to make an emergency call. Accidents can be
reported immediately, cutting communication lines becomes impossible or
difficult, communications are preserved even in such disasters as earthquakes
which usually make incapacitate ordinary telephone connections (in the
recent California earthquake mobile telephones showed their usefulness).
In the United States, new portable phones come often equipped with automatic
emergency connections: pressing a single button is enough (this is an important
There are also negative effects: increased pressure and
control through increased availability and reachability. Those who feel
that telephones together with fax machines already make their life unbearable
feel horrified by the new possibilities of mobile telephones. For many
people, being out of reach of the telephone means the ultimate freedom
from unwanted demands and possibility of uninterrupted activities which
require concentration (for example research). Much of the opposition to
mobile telephones is of an elitist, privileged and intellectual kind: let
the people have their phones, but I shall not be bothered.
Also, the use of mobile telephones suffers from
the "bad image" given to the telephone by its fresh users: beeping telephones
disturb meetings, restaurants, movie watching, all kinds of situations
where people have not previously been accessible. Also mobile telephones
are in many countries associated to yuppies, showing off, half-criminal
uses, which has increased the resistance for ordinary people to adopt them.
That the advantages are greater than the disadvantages
is shown by the constantly growing (exploding!) market, one on which the
European recession of the early 90's has only had a slight effect (the
formerly 50% yearly growth rates have decreased to 30% in 1991, but the
slowdown seems to have been only temporary). There is clearly a need (or
desire) for mobile telephones, which has surpassed all expectations.
On the other hand, the negative effects will continue as new users go through
their first fascination with mobile phones.
Here the Nordic countries have since the beginnings of
mobile telephones (in early 80's), shown the way. In Finland, the number
of mobile telephone users has grown very rapidly during recent years, and
further growth is expected (see Figure 1). In fact, in 1993, despite a
deep recession, Finland became the leading Nordic and European country
in mobile telephones, bypassing Sweden, with a level of penetration of
around 10 %
The reasons why this universal desire has been fulfilled in
the Nordic countries at such an exceptional level are not clear. It is
actually astonishing for countries like Finland and Sweden, not usually
so well known for their desire to communicate. Finns especially have a
reputation - using the expression of Bertolt Brecht - of being a people
who are silent in two languages. Actually, this is a very interesting
socio-economico-technical question for which there are several competing
The Nordic advantange
Most of the arguments explaining the phenomenal growth
of mobile telephones, while plausible, are not sufficient to explain the
specificity of the Nordic countries. The economic, technical, geographical
and political hypotheses (see Kelly, 1992) are neither exclusive nor inclusive.
The Nordic countries are not the richest, technologically most advanced,
geographically most advantageous, nor do their socio-political structures
especially favour the development of high-tech or telephones.
I would like to suggest that a combination of political and
cultural conditions mean that the main reasons for the exceptional spread
of mobile telephones in Finland (and in the Nordic countries in general)
are to be found in an extraordinary combination of different factors:
An efficient state infrastructure in a technologically
advanced country in which the traditional telephone network is already
highly developed. Strong state-owned monopolies/oligopolies have taken
care of energy production and importation, railroads, mail services, long
distance telephone calls, alcohol sales. We have (had) little tradition
of free market competition; attempts to bring Finland closer to EC requirements
have only recently opened some markets (most notably and with catastrophic
consequences, the banking sector which had been highly regulated). The
development of a working system requiring an expensive infrastructure to
cover all the territory and not only the most profitable areas, is precisely
what the state can do better than private markets.
Another important reason for the success of mobile telephones
in the Nordic countries are long distances, and the difficulties in building
a telephone network and linking holiday cottages, etc. into the network.
During long distance travel there is a lot of free time which can be used
for telephone conversations (this applies also to rush hour traffic, when
distances may not be long, but the waiting time is). Here also the Nordic
work ethic may play a role: idleness is not seen as a positive thing.
Also, I would like to emphasize the role of historical accident
(it has been noted that in most cases of technology development the result
can not be predicted): in the Nordic countries the state-owned telephone
authority was very profitable, not committed to alternative systems, and
important components of the technology were locally available (even though
this needed constant prodding by the state authorities, as Toivola 1989
notes in his story). In addition, there were clearly specified needs which
required state intervention: coastal communications as well as the need
to communicate with moving trains (after a serious train collision due
to lack of communications).
In the case of mobile telephones, it also seems that the
timely recruitment to the mobile telephone unit of a few enthusiastic engineers
who did not let the bureaucratic obstacles hinder them, played an important
role (Toivola 1989, 1992), especially in creating a uniform and technically
efficient system for all the Nordic countries - in many European countries
this has not been possible even inside one country.
In the Nordic countries, through joint agreements between
the state telecommunication companies, the mobile telephone system developed
very rapidly into a comprehensive, integrated system, where all telephones
in the system were always accessible independently of their location (the
NMT - Nordic Mobile Telephone). Thus, even though a mobile telephone with
its Finnish owner might travel to Norway, somebody in Finland could locate
it immediately, just by calling its number. Calls are possible almost everywhere
in the settled parts of the Nordic countries and along all main roads.
The user can really use the phone, not just show it off, as in Paris or
in New York.
The existence of a dynamic private electronics industry
(Nokia Mobile Phones, presently one of the leading manufacturers of portable
telephones in the world; and Benefon, a smaller spinoff) has been in Finland
(as LM Ericsson in Sweden) a very important factor for the development
of mobile phones. It is quite probable that with this potential, the pressure
and incentive to develop the infrastructure have been much higher than
it would otherwise have been (about the Finnish high-tech industry, see
Lovio 1989). So the prodding has been mutual.
Another important - and possibly decisive - aspect in the rapid
growth and active use of the mobile phone in the Nordic countries is the
price structure: even though the handset is relatively expensive,
its use is relatively cheap, compared to traditional telephones. The entrance
fees or fixed costs are low, In Europe, the tariffs are clearly lowest
in the Nordic countries, where they differ very little. In 1991 only Switzerland
was cheaper than Finland, Sweden or Norway, but with clearly higher fixed
costs (Kelly 1991), but after recent price increases in Switzerland and
devaluations in Sweden and Finland, the Finnish prices are clearly lowest.
In the United States, for example, the handset is much cheaper, but the
fixed costs are high, and the user can receive calls in very restricted
areas. In Japan, another slow mover, the costs of using a mobile telephone
have been prohibitively high, and buying a handset has not been possible.
The development of mobile phones in Finland
The mobile telephone system in the Nordic countries (1981
in Sweden, 1982 in Finland) is the second oldest commercial public cellular
system in the world; the Japanese NTT is much older (inaugurated in 1977).
The origins of the system can be traced to special usages: communication
between trains and stations, and communication between boats and the coastal
stations. In both of these cases Finland has been one of the pioneers and
the mobile phone technology has benefitted greatly from these early developments
(Toivola, 1989, 1992; a similar impetus was provided by the police radio
telephones in Denmark). Important innovations in primitive radio telephone
systems have been to move an ongoing call from one link station to
another without interruption, and the ability of the system to locate the
telephone receiver (roaming).
The developers of the system have described how, whenever a
new mobile telephone service became available, the demand always and quite
unexpectedly exceeded the supply. Everything that could be offered was
sold immediately, and there was a strong pressure for further expansion.
The first users were those small private entrepreneurs for whom permanent
accessibility at their moving workplace (car, on the construction
site, etc.) was extremely useful. Although at first, the NMT phones were
sold only to companies, the real "yuppie"-users, stock exhange traders,
consultants, junior managers were relative latecomers, and not exclusive
users as in most other countries.
In Finland, from an efficient countrywide radio telephone system
in the 70's (ARP, which still has some 30,000 users) the big step
forward took place in 1982 when the NMT 450 system was introduced, to be
followed in 1987 by the NMT 900. An important technical advantage was that
the NMT 900 system offered a portable telephone, while the 450-system was
used mainly in cars (for administrative, not technical reasons, to favor
the use of the 900 network, which was and is less extensive). In January
1994 all mobile phone systems had about 480,000 users, the number having
grown about 30% in 1991 and 37 % in 1993 and more than trebled from the
end of 1988. In the Nordic countries as a whole, there were about 2 million
users. Finland is presently first with regard to user density; 100 mobile
telephones per 1000 inhabitants, and the growth has been rapid even during
an extremely difficult depression. In Sweden this number was slightly lower
and all EU countries as well as US and Japan trailed far behind (in 1993
Japan, Germany and France and UK about 10-20/1000, US about 50, but especially
in Germany, the growth rates are extremely high). All these figures become
obsolete very rapidly (about 5.5 million mobile phones were sold in 1991
in the world and the prediction for sales in 1994 is 20 million units!).
In 1994, there were about as many mobile telephones in use Finland as in
France! It is interesting that Japan is far behiong in the sales or manufacture
of mobile phones, even though they were first with a mobile telephone system.
In the US, the number of mobile telephones, was and is still astonishingly
low (13 million by the end of 1993, i.e. a penetration rate of some 50/1000
inhabitants), and there is no nationwide roaming (see a special section
on the USA).
The next step, the GSM system, a digital, all-European
network, is being deployed and this will probably mean a very rapid growth
in other European countries. Presently the situation in the Nordic countries
is such that relatively few users are interested in the GSM network, which
is still restricted to cities, and is really useful only for people who
travel regularly between big European cities. The Finnish GSM system has
two competing networks, one private and one state-owned, so that Finland
will be a test case for comparing the advantages and disadvantages of both
strategies, the former state monopoly and the present oligopolistic competition.
It seems that competition makes expansion clearly slower: the competitors
build networks only in the most profitable areas and thus some areas have
double capacity and most parts of the country nothing. NMT 900 is still
by far the most popular system (60 % of users), and the expected rapid
growth of GSM has not yet materialized (see Svenska Dagbladet 7.3.1994).
The situation is different in Germany, where GSM covers already most of
It should also be mentioned here that at present, NMT is available
in the St Petersburg area and in Estonia, where it is the best and most
efficient way to get in touch with local firms. In fact, compared to the
cost of building a traditional telephone network in a country that has
an insufficient infrastructure, the mobile telephone system is much cheaper.
It is estimated that the building of a complete NMT system in Finland has
cost 1.7 billion FIM, roughly 400 million US$, and Finland is a large and
very sparsely populated country. The NMT system has been adopted in the
western parts of Russia, Poland and the Baltic states as their mobile telephone
Users of mobile telephones
There is not very much information on mobile telephone users
in Finland. A study done in 1990 (Matkaviesti 4.90) showed that employers
have bought and paid for the telephone in 41% of the cases and another
51% have bought their mobile phone for work purposes. Most of the users
are 31-50 year old men. At present, only 14% have bought the telephone
for private leisure and home use (but in 1993, already 48% of the new mobiles
were for private use, Mäkelin 1994). This category is somewhat higher
in portable phones. Most of the use takes place in the car (62%), but the
percentage has already changed in one year in favour of other uses, especially
the "outdoors" use category (from 13 to 19%).
We can divide the users into three categories: the
large majority is small entrepreneurs, free-lance workers and lower-level
employees who use mobile phones strictly in business. They are also mostly
men. Typical business-related user occupations are drivers (taxis,
trucks), salesmen, building entrepreneurs, consultants, supervising foremen,
The second group is lower and higher-level executives and professionals
(in the southern Finland), roughly "yuppies", for whom the portable phone
is often described as a status symbol, but who in many cases need the portable
phone for accessibility, and who certainly use their mobile phones for
leisure purposes also. They are also the most visible users, as they tend
to use the telephone in public places (streets, trains etc.), outside offices
and during week-ends.
The third, growing, category of users is "others": students,
holiday cottage owners, pensioners, housewives and children, who are all
very much under-represented.
Clearly under-represented among users are also government
employees, industrial workers, and, importantly, women. The present low
share of women indicates partly the lower mobility of women, partly their
professional position. For example, the caring professions of the welfare
state, dominated by women, are a very important area where portable telephones
could be useful. It would be also nice to be able to get in touch with
the state and local bureaucrats at all times, not only when they are sitting
at their desk.
As to mobile telephones and women, this is very much an
unexplored field (for a more general perspective, see a recent special
issue on Gender and Technology in Media, Culture & Society 14 (1992)).
In the meeting where this text was first presented, the majority of the
speakers were women, but they never referred to the gender problem. When
asked, one of them responded: "but it is so obvious!" Yet it seems to me
that there may be some surprises when women get to use mobile phones. Experiences
from equipping social workers who visit families with mobile phones show
that they create new uses such as discussing professional problems on the
road, creating a more network type work organization (Marja-Liisa Viherä,
Helsingin Sanomat, 14.3.1993)
The time pattern for mobile telephone use is very distinctive:
a sharp increase in the morning (7 am), a small peak during the lunch-hour
and a high peak around 5 pm, when people are returning home from
work, and a very sharp decrease after this. In Finland, it is much cheaper
to call after 5 pm, but still the main usage takes place during the daytime
(see Figure 6), which clearly means that work use still predominates. Calls
are also very short: the majority of calls last less than three minutes.
A mobile telephone users' survey
For the purposes of this article, Gallup in
Finland posed these questions to their permanent panel "Gallup-channel"
which is operated with PC/modem connection at the homes of the respondents:
"In which situations do you normally use your mobile telephone?" and "Can
you describe situations where the mobile telephone has been useful for
you?" There are two samples, one for the whole country and one for the
Helsinki metropolitan region. The latter is somewhat higher than average
on income, education, professional status, but both are representative
for the total population (with higher than average income and education
and lower average age). Over the whole country, in January 1992, mobile
phones were used by 24% of the population, 19% used car phones and 7% portable
phones (the overlap indicates either two phones or a combination car-portable
phone). In the Helsinki metropolitan region the percentage was lower: at
19%, but the share of portable phones was higher: at 9%. This implies that
the use of car phones for work purposes is more important in the sparsely
populated areas of the country.
Managers and entrepreneurs are clearly over-represented
while lower employees, workers and farmers are under-represented. The men
in the highest income category (over 250,000 FIM/year) have the clearly
highest share of mobile telephones: 36%. Geographically mobile telephones
are relatively evenly distributed, with the exception of the Helsinki metropolitan
A second question, "For what purposes is the mobile telephone
used" with three alternatives: work, home, and both equally, gave quite
interesting results. With higher education, home and combined use increase
strongly, especially solely home use. With higher incomes, home use is
also much higher. In different socio-professional categories, managers
use the mobile telephones least for work, 60% of them using it mainly for
home and combined uses. But those workers who have a mobile telephone use
it more for home and combined purposes than purely for work. The employees
and entrepreneurs are those who use their telephones mostly for work.
In the open responses to the question about normal use,
the responses can be divided into the following categories:
frequency not necessarily having anything to do with actual importance,
but the order following roughly the number of mentions
being available, getting in touch with clients, staying
in touch with the office, finding clients (even literally asking for directions),
informing about changes of schedule and the ability to fill unexpected
empty times (a meeting/job ends earlier than expected, it may even be possible
to arrange another or take another call)
"When travelling I can be reached by car phone. I take care of
the urgent client contacts, call home to let them know my travel plans.
It is cheaper than the coin phone or hotel telephone."
"Things that must be taken care of immediately. Secretary asks
or informs. Changes in my travel program. A piece of information from office."
"I am available. I move a lot, I take care of almost all my business
by mobile phone."
In several comments the normal and routine nature of mobile
telephone use is emphasized. Just because it is so routine there is nothing
to say about it. This has mainly to do with work, but in some cases all
aspects of the respondents' lives.
"It is used just in business, not unnecessarily. Always useful."
"It is always necessary, I can't specify."
"I can't think of anything specific, my car phone is part of
A second important category of use is emergencies and unexpected
situations. The telephone is used when urgent need arises but otherwise
it is not used very much. This goes especially for car telephones. In this
case the reachability concept is not important and the owner himself does
not make calls. The basic aspect is security: being able to get help quickly.
"Once when I had a bad accident, I could call my wife to get
my things from the scene of the accident when I was taken to the hospital"
"When we saw a grass fire start, we could call the fire brigade."
"When I got stuck in a lonely road, I could call for help"
In Finland, emergency calls in situations of personal threat (robbery,
rape, etc.) do not seem be very common. They are not a sales argument,
at least not yet.
A third important use category is social use, conviviality.
The mobile and especially the portable telephone greatly facilitate contacts
between the most intimate network; spouse, children, close relatives, friends.
This is often also connected with work use. During long work trips it is
possible to talk to home:
"When driving it is refreshing to be able to talk to my wife,
"I always call some relative when standing in the rush-hour queue,
"I announce my arrival times, I take care of simple business,
I stay in touch with friends."
" I call my boyfriend and ask him when he is coming home, what
would he like to eat, etc. And when I am spending the weekend someplace,
my parents and friends can reach me."
Of course conviviality is part of traditional telephone use
also. But there are several subtle changes in this conviviality; it is
possible to keep your partner posted about your current whereabouts or
imminent arrival, to reassure when conditions are bad, to talk in total
privacy (from a car, or out in the wild. The problem of listening such
conversations exists, but is not very high in everyday use and in urban
areas and certainly not something that people worry about).
A typical leisure use is the use of mobile telephone as
a cottage telephone or as a boat telephone. Finns quite often have isolated
holiday cottages, which usually do not have telephones, or even electricity.
Thus the "mobile" phone is actually just used as a fixed, but cordless
phone. In boats, the function is the same.
There are also some cases of aversion in the replies.
The telephone is used only for absolutely necessary contacts or emergencies:
"Only if I am somewhere where other means of communication are not possible."
I interpret this to mean that the aversion is related mainly to the concept
of permanent reachability, resented by many people.
There are also special situations: when the respondent is in
the sauna (it is probably not very healthy for the phone to talk for a
long time!) or when the respondent wishes to talk to "other women" or when
you can warn your friend or colleague about a police speed control. Also
it is practical for making hotel reservations when travelling by car. Finding
directions is probably also very common.
The "yuppies" who use their telephones in trains or restaurants
or at public places (or even in a boat at a harbor, where everything is
clearly audible), speaking very loudly, in places which have previously
been "silent" (public transport, waiting lounges) are often criticized
in newspapers or private discussions, and lamented by many supporters of
mobile phones who think it has unfairly given a bad reputation to a good
device (Mäkitalo 1990, M.A. Numminen 1992). The main complaint against
yuppies is that they don't really need the mobile telephone; it is just
one more phallic symbol for them or they use it only for show, as
publicly as possible. This has led to the situation where serious users
must become more discreet, and not carry their phones in restaurants, for
instance. It has also meant that people who do not want to be identified
as yuppies cannot buy a mobile phone yet; there are even recent advertisements,
which argue "whoever thinks that there are 300 000 yuppies in Finland in
these days, is surely wrong" in order to make the point that many
ordinary citizens are also buying mobile phones. The threshold is clearly
high, even though it may be already cheaper to use a mobile phone than
a traditional one (if you make only short calls and move a lot; hotel
telephone calls are very expensive, for instance).
What does a mobile telephone mean?
What can we say about the relationship of mobile
telephones to the way of life? To me it seems obvious that mobile telephones
facilitate far more flexible work arrangements, a more intense family contact
network, increased sociability for those who need it, an opportunity to
combine an active, mobile way of life with the types of contacts previously
related only to staying at home ("you are always away from home so it is
impossible to get in touch with you"); that is, they make it easier to
combine previously mutually exclusive ways of life, making thus ways of
life more ambivalent, a trend which in my view is especially typical for
the innovator groups in society, the new middle classes and "new" fractions
of other classes as well (see Roos 1990). In all cases, the mobile telephone
rapidly becomes a normal, self-evident part of one's life ("I don't understand
how I managed before").
Thus, for most users, a mobile telephone
is a working tool which greatly facilitates and increases efficiency. When
asked if they remember any specific situations, they say, "I can't say,
it is always useful." Those, who have acquired it recently, describe how
their life has changed. "I have used the telephone for nine months.
I carry the telephone daily in my pocket; at night it is beside my bed.
I don't usually carry it in my hand. When I'm in my shirtsleeves, I usually
leave the telephone in my coat pocket or in the charger. Because the telephone
is usually ready for use, I can be reached pretty well day and night. In
practice there are not so many calls that they would disturb me. I usually
make very short calls, arising from my work. I can ask about a detail during
a meeting from a colleague, who is not there. I can also call a taxi wherever
I am. I don't have to look for a free telephone or queue for a phone booth
or change coins...."
It is clear that even in Finland the mobile telephone
has both profited and suffered from its yuppie image, an inadvertent result
of the fact that private persons could not buy it in the beginning. Its
visibility was yuppie visibility, connected with expensive cars, restaurants,
From a theoretical and historical point of view, this is a very
interesting problem. It seems that when the telephone originally was introduced,
its diffusion was quite discriminatory. For a long time the telephone remained
an upper class utility and it was kept deliberately out of the reach of
the workers and farmers (and women, see Martin 1991). The private monopoly
saw this as the most profitable strategy which enabled high prices and
a technologically developed, but very selective network. The upper consumer
segment demand was still largely untapped and there was no need to develop
a mass market. On the other hand, if the telephone companies would have
embarked on a mass market directly, they would have not been able to capitalize
on the telephone as a very distinctive and exclusive consumer article.
This is what Michele Martin does not understand as she wonders about the
"irrational" strategy of the private monopolies (1991, 311-312, 327).
The central European and American mobile telephone companies
are obviously following the same strategy of high prices, exclusive use
and avoidance of mass markets. In the Nordic countries, the strategy has
been rather twofold: a business market (both large and small businesses)
and a mass market where price has not been prohibitive. The distinctive,
yuppie use has been rather a nuisance, something to be stamped out as soon
as possible. This is also a very telling change if one thinks of the class
structure now and 100 years ago. The upper classes are no more a distinct
market and the upper middle yuppie segment has a very ambivalent meaning
for the product image, contrary to the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu: distinctive
use gives the product a bad image!
There are two antipodes of mobile telephone communication:
the impersonal, short business communication: agreement on a date, place,
delivery, a piece of information; and on the other hand the highly personal,
intimate conversation with a spouse, relative, friend, lover.
As noted above, the third dimension are emergency calls
made in exceptional situations: short but highly charged with emotion.
Here the speed is of utmost importance. The importance of mobile telephones
may here be absolutely crucial, when no other means of rapid communications
The second aspect, that of private, intimate conversation
is mentioned by several of our respondents. It is also logical that in
making calls from a mobile telephone you call mainly the numbers in your
memory or in the memory of the telephone, that is, numbers used frequently.
But also in receiving calls many mobile telephone users know where the
call is coming from; from the spouse, office, etc. Only those users, for
whom the telephone gives complete reachability (as a mobile office) receive
calls from "unexpected" callers. This will change as mobile telephones
are integrated into a system of a personal number or chains of numbers.
The association with the PC is very apt: in the future, most of us work
with texts and people will have both portable PC's and portable PP's (personal
It seems certain that there will be an explosion of new
very creative uses, connected with the extremely rapid technological development.
The newest models show the number of the caller, take small text messages,
can be connected to e-mail networks, have an incredible array of memory
functions (in fact, the telephones may become much too complicated for
One aspect which has not been touched on in the Finnish
discussions about mobile telephones, but which seem relevant for example
in Germany, is the question of surveillance and secrecy. This extends from
the ability of spouses to reach each other at any time, thus eliminating
any possibility of privacy (already highly relevant in employer-employee
relationships), to the more sinister possibilities of monitoring telephone
conversations and the ability to trace a person anywhere. It is an interesting
cultural fact that this does not seem to worry Finns at all. For them the
Finnish state is a benign welfare state, not a Leviathan prepared to destroy
and enslave its citizens. The question of reachability is seen as a problem
relative to private uses, but not with respect to the state.
This discussion can be summarized in five related
dimensions which describe and define mobile phones:
Thus it would seem natural that the mobile portable telephone
is defined by its mobility, accessibility, immediacy, privacy and personal
use. This is, however, misleading. In all the dimensions above, the
mobile telephone is very ambiguous. It can be used precisely as a fixed
phone, to protect your isolation (contact is made only at will, and only
with a few intimates), to communicate with time-lag and as a completely
public phone where outsiders may have to (or be able to) listen to intimate
conversations, as well as only for formal, impersonal communication.
This versatility, especially in the public, private and
isolated, and accessible dimensions gives the mobile telephone no clear
social function and its role in changing the society and social interaction
depends on other developments. It increases both our accessibility and
nomadic isolation and it increases both the intimate privacy and public
nature of telephone communication.
Paradoxically, the most important aspect of the mobile
telephone may be the ability to reach others with it and to be reachable
anywhere, which implies both absolute mobility and the opposite of mobility!
The owner of a mobile telephone may be highly mobile, but is always "at
home", always "there", as long as he or she is with his PP, thus making
simultaneously possible a freely floating, higly mobile society and a very
traditional, immobile social and spatial structure. These paradoxes are
typically described as post-modern; the least we can say is that mobile
PP's are not making post-modernity more difficult.
Pasi Falk, The Corporeality of consumption. The Helsinki University
Press, Helsinki 1992
Mike Featherstone, Consumer Culture & Postmodernism, Sage, London
Chantal de Gournay, Citadins et nomades. Esprit, octobre 1991a
David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity. An Enquiry into the Origins
of Cultural Change. Blackwell, London 1989
Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism.
Verso, London 1991
Tim Kelly, Why have mobile communications been so successful in the
Nordic countries? OECD, Paris 1992
Raimo Lovio, Suomalainen menestystarina. Tietoteollisen verkostotalouden
läpimurto (A Finnish success story. The breakthrough of network economy
in the information industry). Hanki & Jää, Helsinki 1989
Michèle Martin, Communication and Social Forms: The Development
of the Telephone 1876-1920. Antipode, Vol 23, No 3, 1991, pp 307-333
Mobile and PSTN communications services: competition or complementarity.
Working Party on Telecommunications and information services policies.
OECD Committee for Information, Computer and Communications Policy, Paris
Ann Moyal, The gendered use of telephone: an Australian case study.
Media, Culture & Society Vol 14, No 1, 1992, pp. 51-72
Matti Mäkelin: Matkapuhelimen ja kiinteän puhelimen kilpailutilanne
nyt ja tulevaisuudessa (The competition between mobile and cord telephones
at present and in the future). Liikenneministeriö. Julkaisuja 17.1994
Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book. Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric
Speech. University of Nebraska Press, Omaha 1989
J.P. Roos, Life style studies in sociology; From typologies to fields
and trajectories, in Somogyi et al (eds): Nutritional Adaptation to New
Life-Styles, Karger, Basel 1990, pp. 1-16
Marja-Leena Ruostesaari: Matkapuhelin jokaiseen käteen (Mobile
telephones for everybody). Mitä-Missä-Milloin, Otava, Keuruu
Téléphone mobile et modes de vie, Sofres/Cnet, Paris
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of Finnish Mobile Telephones) Telecom Finland, Helsinki 1992
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Culture and Society Vol 14, No 1, 1992, pp. 9-29
J.P.ROOS: 300,000 Yuppies? Mobile phones in Finland
The mobile telephone is a technological development
which is bound to have important social consequences. Its development has
been extremely uneven in the industrially developed countries and mysteriously,
the Nordic countries are very clearly in the lead. Several explanations
are possible: economic, technical, geographic or political, but none of
the are exclusive for Nordic countries. A survey among mobile telephone
users shows that the popularity of mobile phones is based on two opposite
reasons: perfect reachability and a perceived immediate intimacy,
all of which and be summed up in the term personal phone (PP).