Gender and Media Use
Methodology: On September 13, 2008 from 8 pm- 9 pm, I sat at the Pizzeria UNO Café in Reston Town Center which provides a clear view of the Reston Multiplex Cinema storefront. Over the hour, I observed forty-three teenagers in the area between the UNO Café and the movie theater. There were fewer teens in the area than I had expected; however, it had just rained and the sidewalk is not covered by an overhang.
I tracked my observations using a chart and made note of any peculiar habits or interactions. The chart was divided by gender and media use was defined by “iPod,” “Cell Phone,” and “Neither.” In addition, I attempted to keep track of how many teens were grouped together at one time. I counted each teen’s use of media only once. In most cases the teenagers did not remain outside of the movie theater for long periods of time, so I did not witness multiple instances of media use by any one teen.
Results: Out of the forty-three teens who I observed, twenty-four were female and nineteen were male. Below are a table and a graph which displaying my statistics:
Cell Phone vs. iPod Use: According to my observations, cell phone use was much more prevalent amongst these teens in this instance. I observed only one teenage boy using an iPod or MP3 device. Cell phone use does not seem to vary across gender.
Other Social Behaviors: In general, males were more likely to be in smaller, single sex groups or alone; whereas, females tended to be in larger single sex groups or in a pair with one male. The largest single sex group I observed was one group of seven females. The largest single sex group of males had three members. In addition, the largest co-ed group I saw was four people, two males and two females.
While not every teen used media in my presence, I observed that media was incorporated into the social interaction, as opposed to disrupting it. For example, the teenage boy who I observed listening to music had one headphone, ear-bud in his ear and one hanging loose. However, he was listening to music, walking, and having a conversation with another teenage boy simultaneously. The male companion was not visibly using any media.
Most teens appeared to be waiting for friends or parents and, thus, stayed in one place. In these cases, media use also was incorporated into the group dynamic. I did not see teens step away from their companions to make or answer a call or send a text message. However, males were more likely to turn their upper body away from other members of their group. Overall, it appeared as though all members of a group were involved in the call or text message. No one stopped talking and the person using the media appeared to still be involved in the group dynamic, as evidenced by his or her continued interaction with peers.
I also observed far more teens talking on cell phones as opposed to sending text messages. I did not see any texts being sent or received by females. However, it was difficult to gauge text messages sent or received by females. The females tended to keep their cell phones in their purses unless making or receiving a phone call. I observed girls looking in their bags and rooting around in them; however, there was no way for me to tell if any of them were receiving or sending a text message.
Gendered Patterns: Overall, I did not observe any strong gendered patterns in terms of frequency of media use. However, there do appear to be patterns or, at least, trends for how media is used in social settings. The lives of teens today are saturated and dominated by various forms of media. While the teens I observed did not appear as wired as I expected them to be, I did see age based patterns.
I believe that use of cell phones and iPods is a function of class and economics, instead of gender. According to Donald F. Roberts’ study, “Household media availability varies depending on such things as youth’s age, race and ethnicity, parent education, and income” (10). If this standard holds true for household media, it follows that income also would affect a teen’s likeliness to have a cell phone or an iPod. Reston is an economically diverse area which was designed so that government subsidized housing was mixed seamlessly with unsubsidized housing. While cell phones and iPods, generally, are things that most kids have, it is possible that income could affect a teen’s ownership of these items. A teen might share a cell phone or iPod with a sibling or a parent, for instance, and, thus, not have constant access to the media.
Age also might skew media use, as opposed to gender. In reference to cell phone, computers, and personal digital devices, “Device ownership does not differ significantly for boys and girls. However, as might be expected, older teenagers have more devices than younger teenagers” (Lenhart 9). The same study also found that close to half of teenagers has access to a cell phone. In addition, the ability to drive can increase a teen’s likeliness to own a cell phone. (34). It would have been difficult for me to accurately identify the ages of the teens being observed.
I observed that teens still prefer face-to-face interactions with friends over media related interactions. While my data cannot show how many teens had media devices with them and chose not to use them, they do display a trend towards preferring face-to-face interaction with friends. According to Amanda Lenhart’s study, “Even with their great affection for technology, teens still report, on average, spending more time physically with their friends doing social things outside of school than they report interacting with friends through technology” (iv). It also appears that when faced with a social situation, teens are more likely to interact with their friends over media use or, at least, include their friends in the media use.
While they may seek face-to-face interactions more, teens also are likely to multitask while using media in public. Interacting with friends in person and using a media device appears to be a form of social multitasking in which teens are willing to engage. Lenhart’s study alsorevealed that Instant Messenger, IM, is the linchpin of teen multitasking, allowing the user to carry on several conversations simultaneously. The cell phone use that I saw is an integration of virtual and person-to-person messaging. Teens would use their phone to text or call friends or family who were not present while still managing to speak with several other teens in person.
As media has become more portable, it has become more pervasive. According to my observations, females are just as likely to transport and use cell phones in public as males. In reference to iPod use, I recorded only one instance of a male using an iPod. This low usage could be attributed to many things. Perhaps teens are less likely to use musical media when preparing to go out in a public place. Or maybe the size of the device has something to do with a teenager selecting to take it with him or her. In addition, a cell phone can serve many purposes simultaneously (calling capability, internet capability, texting capability, MP3 capability); however, iPods are limited in their functions (MP3 capability). Because I did not observe a large number of iPod users, I cannot make many conclusive arguments about iPod use. However, for my data, teens were not likely to use their iPods while congregating in from of the Reston Town Center Movie Theater but cell phone use was consistent across genders.
Lenhart, Amanda, Mary Madden, and Paul Hitlin. "Teens and Technology." Pew
Internet & American Life Project (2005).
Roberts, Donald F., Ulla G. Foehr, and Victoria Rideout. "Generation M: Media
in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds." The Kaiser Family Foundation (2005).