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This research proposes to examine the use of mobile phones for reasons that are other than conversational, and to focus on mobile phone Internet services. The purpose is to examine the different ways that people with different personal characteristics use the cellular Internet and what gratification they get out of that use. The theoretical base of the research is built on Katz and Gurevitz’ Uses and Gratification Theory (1973), as well as Goffman’s Front stage, Backstage theory (1959).
Cellular phone technology is progressing extremely rapidly. The 21st century brought about the convergence technology, with phones that can perform several different tasks (Leung & Wei 2000). Mobile phones spread and took on fast since the first commercial mobile phone appeared in Japan in 1979 (Roessner 1998), and there are 2,168,433,600 mobile phones in the world today (CIA Fact Book 2005).
It seems that people are at the phase of getting accustomed to using mobile phones for purposes other than conversation, and this kind of use has not yet entirely established itself. Today, the cellular Internet is at the point where it has been accepted by early adopters, has gone through the initial birth pains and has reached the Early Majority, according to Rogers’ Innovation Adoption Model (1995).
The use of cellular Internet in Israel has grown in the last year. Third generation telephones have become more and more widespread and the cell phone companies impose an Internet package deal on third generation cell phone buyers, rendering the surfing option much more accessible to a large percentage of the population. In view of these circumstances, the current research examines the habits of cellular Internet use by Israelis who surfed either regularly or sporadically during 2007. In addition, this research examines the habits of the populations of the United States, Canada and Great Britain in a non-representative sampling.
This research is quantitative and the research tool chosen was a survey that included multiple-choice questions and an open question. The sampling was made using the Snowball Technique, which is suited to the new product diffusion model (Rogers 1995). The survey was distributed to subjects in Israel and elsewhere via the Internet, email and social networks during August 2007.
The variables of the research were determined according to the above-mentioned theories and research assumptions. The variables of personality characteristics are self- esteem, sense of belonging, comfort, boredom and early adopter of innovation. In order to define cellular Internet use, a variety of uses were divided into different content worlds, in the same way that they are presented in the cell phone companies’ portals in Israel: Entertainment sites, Tools and Useful Information Applications and Sites, News sites, and Community and Dating Service sites. The different gratifications chosen for the research were feelings of connectivity, the need to be up to date, the need to be seen as popular by others, the need to pass away time, and the need for efficiency and expediency at work and in private life. In addition, variables of cellular Internet use in different areas of the front and back stages were examined, using Goffman’s theory (1959).
The findings correlate with the Uses and Gratification Theory that maintains that all individuals will use a certain medium because of the gratification they can get out of it as individuals (Katz and Gurevitz 1973); this was examined when applied to the use of cellular Internet. The findings show a significant link between different personality characteristics, the different ways of using the cellular Internet, and the gratifications that people get from the medium, and this confirmed the research assumptions. This was true for all the assumptions other than the variable of use of Community and Dating Service sites, which was not regarded as significant, contrary to the research assumptions. This was mainly due to the fact that the cellular Internet has not yet reached the latecomers amid the masses.
Generally speaking, the research shows that use of the cellular Internet rises when people use it with a purpose and focus on one of the defined uses. For example, if people surf to news sites more than to other sites, their use of all the other sites will rise too. These findings are in line with Leung & Wei’s research (2000) on uses and gratifications of cell phones.
It emerged that the Israeli population’s cellular Internet use is mainly instrumental and for entertainment and less socially motivated, and that the personality trait of self-esteem had the most significant impact on the different uses and gratifications of the cellular Internet. Findings from the United States, Canada and Great Britain show differences in cellular Internet use and gratification both when compared with Israel and when compared from country to country. Where use and gratification is concerned, the findings show that the level of general cellular Internet use and the level use of downloading by individuals is considerably higher in the United States than it is in Great Britain. The level of use in Canada, on the other hand, is in between the level of use in the United States and Great Britain. Also, the use of cellular Internet for the purpose of raising self-esteem and security are considerably higher in the United States than in Canada and Great Britain. The satisfaction from feelings of security is particularly prominent in the people in the older age group in the United States, and that is in line with the findings about the use of cell phones after 9/11 (Mante-Meijer et al., 2001).
In addition, the findings showed that, amid the Israeli population as well as amid the populations of the other countries examined, the use of the cellular Internet was mainly in the front stage areas, that is to say in public areas or among people who do not belong to a person’s closest social group.
Examination of the gender distinctions in cellular Internet use in Israel showed that the percentage of men users is significantly higher than that of women users at this stage of adopting change, although the gratification is identical in both groups. Research on the influence of cell phones as a medium for mass communication is in its infancy. Many angles have been discussed and many others have not been investigated in depth, such as the psychological influence, language and work. (Pedersen & Ling 2003). In addition, the fact that the new product adoption phase has not yet reached its final phase and that the cellular Internet is has still not matured on the structural level, on the technological and economical model, opens up many additional possibilities that will follow the progress of cellular Internet throughout its technological development and its reception amid the Israeli and world public.