Small talk with friends and family: does text messaging on the mobile phone help users enhance relationships?
Text messaging on the mobile phone is a recent and significant global phenomenon requiring an inquiry. Billions of messages are sent each month worldwide. One may question what the act of exchanging short text messages on the mobile phone (I call it m-mail), with seemingly trivial content, really does for the user. Rather than trying to construct a long list of possible uses and motives for m-mail, in this study I examine whether m-mail is related to relationship development by comparing Japanese m-mail users with their Swedish counterparts.I posed four research questions (RQ). RQ#1, concerning frequency of m-mail and message content, is the basic information required to understand the phenomenon. The results of RQ#1 become the context for RQ#2, the primary focus of this study---a possible link between m-mail and relationship maintenance. RQ#3 specifically looked at in-country variations and RQ#4 examined variance between countries.Because a single theory was unlikely to explain the phenomenon, I looked for various possible components in the literature in the fields of CMC, interpersonal relationships, and the mobile phone.I used an administered survey and Q-methodology with a purposive and snowball sample of 96 people---40 in Stockholm and 56 in Tokyo. Q factor analysis identified respondents' types---four types in each country and five types in the combined sample. Type was found to be related to the key concepts of this study: frequency of m-mail use, message content, and the idea as to whether m-mail helps users to maintain relationships with friends and family. Occupation, that is, whether the respondent is a student or non-student, is the most clearly differentiating demographic variable for the Swedish sample. For the Japanese sample, occupation, age and household are almost equally significant.M-mail is an efficient communication tool for people with busy life style, but it is used for more than convenience and practical purposes. Despite variations, among individuals, in the idea of relationship and how it should be maintained, I believe that small talk, the main characteristic of m-mail, does have a function to maintain and even to enhance relationships.
- Communications