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Beyond Technology Acceptance: Understanding Consumer Practice


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Purpose – To critically examine the current definitions of key constructs of the technology acceptance model (TAM) in a consumer technology-based service.Design/methodology/approach – Two qualitative research studies were undertaken that encouraged consumers to reflect upon their text message (short message service – SMS) behaviour.Findings – The research highlights the inadequacy of a concentration on simple acceptance of technology where technology is embedded in a consumer community of practice. The existence of counter-intuitive behaviours, technology paradoxes and intense social and emotional elements in actual text message usage all point to the need for a review of the definition of the key TAM constructs.Research limitations/implications – There is a need to re-examine the construct of use behaviour in the context of the practice of technology-based services that owe much to consumer creativity. Theory development of the constructs of perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and perceived enjoyment should not be constrained by adherence to the existing (well developed) quantitative models of technology acceptance. There is a methodological potential of employing consumers as practical authors.Practical implications – Where there is evidence of counter-intuitive consumer behaviour in the marketplace for technology-based products or services, a study of practice, with a view to the subsequent derivation of adapted theory constitutes worthwhile research. This may be of special importance to cell phone operators promoting SMS to US consumers.Originality/value – The approach offers a method of complementing the dominant quantitative modelling research on technology acceptance. The findings are relevant to an era where consumer co-creation of value is of increasing interest.
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Beyond technology acceptance:
understanding consumer practice
Steve Baron, Anthony Patterson and Kim Harris
University of Liverpool Management School, Liverpool, UK
Purpose – To critically examine the current definitions of key constructs of the technology
acceptance model (TAM) in a consumer technology-based service.
Design/methodology/approach Two qualitative research studies were undertaken that
encouraged consumers to reflect upon their text message (short message service SMS) behaviour.
Findings – The research highlights the inadequacy of a concentration on simple acceptance of
technology where technology is embedded in a consumer community of practice. The existence of
counter-intuitive behaviours, technology paradoxes and intense social and emotional elements in
actual text message usage all point to the need for a review of the definition of the key TAM
Research limitations/implications There is a need to re-examine the construct of use behaviour
in the context of the practice of technology-based services that owe much to consumer creativity.
Theory development of the constructs of perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and perceived
enjoyment should not be constrained by adherence to the existing (well developed) quantitative models
of technology acceptance. There is a methodological potential of employing consumers as practical
Practical implications – Where there is evidence of counter-intuitive consumer behaviour in
the marketplace for technology-based products or services, a study of practice, with a view to the
subsequent derivation of adapted theory constitutes worthwhile research. This may be of special
importance to cell phone operators promoting SMS to US consumers.
Originality/value – The approach offers a method of complementing the dominant quantitative
modelling research on technology acceptance. The findings are relevant to an era where consumer
co-creation of value is of increasing interest.
Keywords Consumer research, Communication technologies, Consumer behaviour
Paper type Research paper
It is widely accepted that developments in consumer research within marketing have
contributed to a paradigm shift in the field of consumer behaviour. According to
Meamber and Venkatesh (2000, p. 88):
... consumer behaviour is no longer considered to be merely a psychologically motivated
individual act, but also a culturally (as well as socially and ideologically) driven set of
consumption practices and belief systems.
A growing number of researchers have recently provided us with sound
methodological foundations to examine culturally oriented consumption phenomena
(for example, Arnould and Wallendorf’s (1994) discussion of market-oriented
Despite this growing trend, however, in many key areas of marketing, research
continues to view consumers as information processing computers who make
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
International Journal of Service
Industry Management
Vol. 17 No. 2, 2006
pp. 111-135
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/09564230610656962
Electronic copy available at:
decisions based on their efforts to maximise the relations between attitudes, beliefs
and attributes with little acknowledgement of the social and cultural context of the
process. The dominance of this perspective is particularly evident in theory
available to explain and predict consumer acceptance of technological innovation,
especially information and communication technology: the subject of this study.
Here the technology acceptance model (TAM) (Davis, 1989), derived from the theory
of reasoned action (TRA) (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975), has underpinned research into
organisational acceptance of technology, and more recently provided the
framework for understanding consumer acceptance of technology-based products
and services.
In this paper, we question whether the current conceptualisations of technology
acceptance based on predominantly quantitative modelling approaches emanating
from TAM, can capture the subtleties of marketplaces that owe much to consumer
creativity and innovation. To do so, we explore consumer acceptance of a
particular technology-based service phenomenon: text messaging using mobile
phones, also called short message service (SMS). The unpredicted (by the
suppliers) market for text messaging services offered an opportunity for research
on a culturally oriented consumption phenomenon, involving consumers in real
The research contributes to the understanding of consumer technology-based
service usage. It provides evidence that current definitions of the key constructs of
TAM can be inadequate for technology-based services where the consumers have
co-created the value of the service.
The findings:
.highlight the inadequacy of a concentration on simple acceptance of technology
where technology is embedded in a consumer community of practice;
.demonstrate the problems of measuring “perceived ease of use” and “perceived
usefulness” in a marketplace where consumers are devising coping strategies for
dealing with technology paradoxes;
.provide evidence of subtleties of “social influence” and “perceived behavioural
control” that are not captured by the TAM or its adaptations; and
.give prominence to the emotional aspects that accompany the use of a
technology-based service that augments real-life consumer activity.
It concludes that the limits to the understanding of technology acceptance (already
acknowledged by the proponents of quantitative TAM-based studies), can be extended
through applying an interpretivist perspective that focuses on the cultural context of
acceptance experiences.
The paper is structured as follows. A background to text messaging is followed by a
literature review that concentrates in the main on the development of models of
technology acceptance. A methodological approach that encompasses the use of diaries
to produce consumer autobiographical insights on marketplace practice is then
described. The findings from the qualitative research, relating to technology
embracement and embedment, counter-intuitive consumer behaviour and paradoxes,
and text messaging experiences, are presented and implications for theory,
methodology and mobile telephony practice are outlined.
Text messaging: background
Text messaging was first developed in 1991 for GSM digital mobile phones, almost by
accident. Its architects noticed spare capacity in the system and added the text
messaging facility in case it may prove useful (Giussani, 2001). Originally, its
usefulness was thought of in terms of its ability to deliver subscriber information, and,
initially, mobile phone operators did not charge consumers for sending (or receiving)
text messages. However, it was not until the late 1990s, when mobile phone providers
permitted users to send person-to-person text messages across different networks, that
the consumer market for test messaging really grew, and grew rapidly, catching the
network providers by surprise. The subsequent market penetration over the early
years was vividly expressed by Joe Cunningham, head of wireless strategy at the
Logica software group, who, in 2001, observed that:
...European carriers make around e6billion from SMS each year but three years ago it was a
zero euro industry (Cassy, 2001).
Over 24 billion text messages per month were being sent globally in 2002 (Netsize,
2003). The volume of text messaging in the UK, for example, has grown from 1 billion
messages per year in 1999 to 26 billion in 2004, a mean of 1.2 text messages per capita
per day (Source Mobile Data Association). SMS has been shown growth in other
parts of the world. For example, in Singapore, by 2004, there was a mean usage of
2.1 text messages per capita per day.
Text messages are sent to and received from mobile telephones using the SMS.
The text can be words, numbers or alphanumeric combinations, and each text message
is limited to 160 characters in length (for Latin alphabets). Messages are typed on the
mobile phone keyboard. They can be sent using standard text input or predictive text
input (Appendix 1).
The restriction of a maximum of 160 characters per message, far from being seen as
a barrier to “ease of use”, was seen by (young) consumers as a problem-solving
challenge of how to transmit as much information as possible within the character
limit, thereby minimising costs. Creative solutions to the problem led to a text
messaging language; a specialised vocabulary used by a particular social group.
Meanings were dynamic and provided a shared, decipherable shorthand for members
of the social group (Schau and Gilly, 2003). In the language of text messaging,
abbreviations were required. Vowels were discarded, so that “text message” became
“txt msg”. Alphanumeric “say-what-you-see” combinations were invented, such as “u”
for “you”, “gr8” for “great”, and “2moro” for “tomorrow”. Acronyms were invented for
commonly used expressions, e.g. “cul” for “see you later”, “ruf2t” for “are you free to
talk”, and “tb” for “text back”.
Impact of pricing strategies and telecommunications infrastructure
In the UK in 2005, and most countries outside North America, there are two methods of
paying for text messages (and calls): through a contract or “plan” that specifies the
number of calls/messages per month according to the price paid, or by “Pay as You
Go”, where there is no monthly contract, but each call/message is pre-paid at a
specified price (with text messages typically costing less than half the price of calls,
especially at peak periods). As more people opted for “Pay as You Go”, it became
transparent to consumers that text messaging was much cheaper than calling.
According to Netsize (2003), a clear pricing model, based on per message fee, has been
one of the key factors influencing the success of SMS across the world.
A striking feature of the market for text messaging services, and one that is very
unusual in terms of new service developments, is that it has shown rapid regional
development all over the world, with the exception of North America, one of the
largest marketplaces for consumer services. In the USA, in 2005, there is no relative cost
advantage of text messaging. Indeed, there is often a relative disadvantage with text
messages charged above the charge for the monthly “plan”. “Pay as You Go” (prepaid
card) schemes, that clearly itemise the relativecosts of calling and text messaging, are rare.
A technology-based service such as text messaging requires that person-to-person
communication is technically possible across a country (and ideally, across the world),
and that people are aware that this is the case. The adoption of the second generation,
single standard GSM protocol enabled communication across telephone networks
within that protocol. This provided the technological infrastructure that enabled text
messages to be sent across different networks, imbuing them with the property of
ubiquity. Agar (2003) argues that the USA’s successful lead with first generation
analogue phones has, paradoxically, put it behind the rest of the world with second and
third generation systems, particularly in respect of launching a digital standard to
compete with GSM.
Nevertheless, commentators at the time of writing are indicating that text messages
are becoming popular in the USA (Cellular-News, 2003; Keegan, 2004), and text
messaging is gaining a higher profile through the advent of text message voting for
shows, such as “American Idol”, where it is claimed that 2,300 text messages were sent
each second of the voting period.
Literature review
Technology acceptance: models and development
Technology acceptance has become a central issue in IS research since the TAM was
first advocated by Davis (1989). Over the following 15 years, the TAM has been tested,
re-examined, refined and expanded in order to reflect the range of technological
(mainly IT/IS) developments over that period. The TAM was adapted from the TRA
(Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975) which proposed that peoples’ actual behaviour in specific
situations was driven by behavioural intentions, which, in turn were driven by their
attitude toward behaviour and subjective norms (including other peoples’ opinions,
and influences of superiors and peers). Attitude towards behaviour was driven by
peoples’ beliefs and evaluations, whereas subjective norms were driven by normative
beliefs and motivations to comply. Virtually all of the reported research has adopted a
quantitative modelling approach to measure the effects of behavioural beliefs
(originally “perceived usefulness” and perceived ease of use of the technology) on
users’ attitudes towards technology, their intention to use the technology, and actual
usage of the technology. The focus has mainly been on technology acceptance in
organisations. Thus the determinant “perceived usefulness” was defined in terms of a
belief about how the technology would enhance job performance, and “perceived ease
of use” was defined in terms of a belief about how much the use would be free of mental
effort (Lu et al., 2003).
The TAM has received much academic attention, and comprehensive summaries of
the literature on the TAM and its adaptations can be found in Legris et al. (2003),
Lu et al. (2003) and Han (2003). It has gained support for both its explanatory and
predictive properties. For example, Legris et al. (2003, p. 202) conclude that:
TAM has proven to be a useful theoretical model in helping to understand and explain user
behaviour in IS implementation.
While Lu et al. (2003, p. 207) state that:
Throughout the years, TAM has received extensive empirical support through validations,
applications and replications for its power to predict use of information systems.
It has not, however, been the only model used to attempt to explain and predict
technology acceptance. Venkatesh et al. (2003) reviewed the literature on eight IT
acceptance research models (TRA; TAM; motivational model; theory of planned
behaviour; model combining TAM and theory of planned behaviour; model of PC
utilisation; innovation diffusion theory; and social cognitive theory). By integrating
elements across the eight models, they developed and empirically validated a revised
version of the TAM, that they called the unified theory of acceptance and use of
technology (UTAUT) (Figure 1). As with TAM, UTAUT is claimed to aid explanation
and prediction of technology acceptance in organisations, providing:
... a useful tool for managers needing to assess the likelihood of success for new technology
introductions and help[ing] them understand the drivers of acceptance... (Venkatesh et al.,
2003, pp. 425-6).
Adaptations to original TAM model
Three features of the UTAUT model in Figure 1 demonstrate the adaptations, made
over time, to the original TAM:
Figure 1.
Unified theory of
acceptance and use of
Source: Venkatesh et al (2003)
intentions Use
Gender Age Experience Voluntariness
of use
(1) Unlike in the original TAM, attitude towards behaviour is not included in the
UTAUT model, as attitude towards using technology was found not to be a
statistically significant determinant of behavioural intention.
(2) There are three determinants of behavioural intention (performance
expectancy, effort expectancy and social influence), and one direct
determinant of use behaviour (facilitating conditions), as compared with the
two direct/indirect determinants of behavioural intention (perceived usefulness
and perceived ease of use) contained in the original TAM.
(3) Significant moderating variables have been identified for the model
In the second adaptation, “performance expectancy” is a label that captures the
constructs of perceived usefulness, extrinsic motivation, job-fit, relative advantage and
outcome expectations taken from the eight UTAUT-informing models. Likewise, the
label “effort expectancy” captures the constructs of perceived ease of use, complexity
and ease of use from the informing models. It should be noted that in a
non-organisational (consumer market) context, the items of measurement of
performance and effort expectancy, match those of measurement of perceived
usefulness and perceived ease of use, respectively. Social influence is defined by
Venkatesh et al. (2003, p. 451) to be the “degree to which an individual perceives that
important others believe he or she should use the new system” and draws heavily on
the subjective norm construct. Facilitating conditions are defined as “the degree to
which an individual believes that an organizational and technical infrastructure exists
to support use of the system” (p. 453), and is measured mainly in terms of elements of
perceived behavioural control; knowledge, resources and availability of advice and
appropriate equipment to use the system.
Regarding the third adaptation, four key moderators gender, age, experience, and
voluntariness of use are included in Figure 1 as they have been shown to affect the
strength of the relationships between the core constructs of the model.
It is stressed again that most of the TAM-related studies, including the derivation of
UTAUT, have been undertaken to explain and predict technology acceptance by
employees within organisations. The TAM has been adapted and used, also, to
increase understanding of consumer markets for technological products and services,
such as online shopping. Here, MIS research has been supplemented by the increasing
amount of research by services marketers on technology-based services (Meuter et al.,
2000; Szymanski and Hise, 2000). This has implied two modifications in the TAM.
First, for consumer markets, it is not appropriate to measure perceived usefulness in
relation to job-related tasks. Thus, items such as “Overall, I find the (x) useful in my
job” would be rephrased as “Overall, I find the (x) useful.” Second, an additional
determinant, “perceived enjoyment”, has been found to be positively related to
consumer satisfaction with, and use of technology-based services (Van Dolen and
de Ruyter, 2002; Teo, 2001). Perceived enjoyment of technology has been measured by
items such as “I enjoy it for its own sake” and “I do it for the pure enjoyment of it”
(Mathwick et al., 2002).
Unsurprisingly, much of research on the application of the TAM in consumer
markets relates to consumer acceptance (or not) of the world wide web and
e-commerce. In an extensive literature review, Perea y Monsuwe
´et al. (2004), for
example, provide a framework, based on the TAM, which forms the basis for
understanding consumers’ intentions to shop online. In another review, Pedersen et al.
(2003) apply the TAM to explain consumer intentions to use mobile services. Figure 2,
a consumer TAM, is our depiction of an adaptation of UTAUT based on these two
reviews. It captures, we believe, the state of the art of the TAM research in the context
of consumer markets for technology-based products or services.
There are four observable differences between Figures 1 and 2:
(1) Figure 2 includes “Perceived Enjoyment” as an additional determinant of
behavioural intention.
(2) “Facilitating Conditions” in Figure 1 is replaced by “Perceived Behavioural
Control” in Figure 2. Perceived behavioural control is the only element of
Venkatesh et al.’s (2003) construct of facilitating conditions that is transferable
to consumer technology acceptance.
(3) The voluntary/mandatory distinction is not applicable to consumer technology
acceptance, and so voluntariness of use is a redundant moderator.
(4) The umbrella term “Consumer Traits”, introduced by Perea y Monsuwe
´et al.
(2004), has been adopted as a way of including moderators that reflect
demographic factors, such as age, gender (as in UTAUT), education and
income, as well as personality characteristics, such as self efficacy and need
for interaction.
Technology acceptance models: limits
The frameworks shown in Figures 1 and 2 represent summaries of mainly quantitative
studies, carried out in a positivist tradition. The frameworks are solid, intuitively
plausible, and have much supporting evidence. Nevertheless, it is, we believe, no
Figure 2.
A consumer TAM
ease of use
intention Use
traits Experience
coincidence that in 2003-2004 there have been many separate reviews of TAMs. As the
review authors themselves acknowledge, the current research approaches are probably
reaching their limits in terms of explaining behavioural intention and technology
usage. For example, Venkatesh et al. (2003, p. 471) conclude that:
... given that UTAUT explains as much as 70 per cent of the variance in intention, it is
possible that we may be approaching the practical limits of our ability to explain individual
acceptance and usage decisions in organisations.
And they call for the identification of constructs that predict behaviour beyond what is
already known through the UTAUT.
Given the relative freedom of choice of consumers, compared with that of
organisational employees, it is unlikely that consumer TAMs, such as that shown in
Figure 2, would explain more than the 70 per cent of variations in intention that is
claimed for the UTAUT model. This leaves at least 30 per cent of unexplained variation
in intention, even more so in technology usage. The totally unexpected acceptance of text
messaging something that defied intuition at the time – underlines the relative
importance of the, as yet, unexplained variation in intention and usage.
Paradoxes of technology
In particular, the statistical-modelling-based TAM developments ignore the paradoxes
of technology acceptance faced by individuals (Mick and Fournier, 1998). Consumers
often have mixed feelings regarding technological products or services. For example, the
same person may describe e-mail as a technology-based service whose use enables
him/her to accomplish tasks more quickly, but also prevents him/her accomplishing
tasks more quickly. Mick and Fournier (1998) identified eight central paradoxes of
technology products. Six of them apply equally to technology-based services, and are
summarised, with explanatory examples in Table I. They also identified strategies
through which consumers cope with the paradoxes. The consumption avoidance coping
strategies (neglect, abandonment and distancing), and the consumption confrontative
coping strategies (accommodation, partnering and mastering) appear especially
relevant to the degree to which consumers may accept technology-based services.
Articles that are specifically written about text messaging, especially those in the
popular press, give weight to the existence of paradoxes in the acceptance of this
technology-based service. At the macro-level the paradoxes manifest themselves as
national debates and controversies. Two examples are provided for illustration. First,
text messaging is both creative and destructive. UK newspapers have emphasised the
creativity of the text message language. For example, The Guardian organised a text
message poetry competition (, and the Daily
Mirror published a whole page in text language (Borrows, 2003). On the other hand,
feature writers find it convenient to blame text messaging for the ills of society, such as
the “demise” of the English language and the increase in marriage break-ups (Lyndon,
2004). Second, text messaging is both decreasing and increasing the need for human
contact. While McCormack (2001) argues that text messaging, like e-mail, is
contributing to the decimation of everyday face-to-face communication, other writers
have argued that, through text messaging, teenagers and “shy” people can overcome
inhibitions and ultimately communicate with more people on a face-to-face basis (Fox,
2001; Haig, 2002).
Two qualitative research studies
Even though Figure 2 could provide a basis for further hypothesis testing and
modelling, we were dissuaded, in the light of the review above, from undertaking yet
more quantitative analyses of TAMs. We sought a methodological approach that could
unearth the subtleties of consumer technology usage in the context of consumers’
cultural constellation. Consequently, two qualitative studies were carried out that were
open-ended in their approach to data collection, with a view to putting life into a
well-established field (Bryman and Bell, 2003).
Study 1: consumer diary writing
Diary-based research is a tried and tested methodology in disciplines such as
psychology (Frohlich and Meston, 2002) and education (Platzer et al., 1997), but is
rarely the predominant methodology in marketing or consumer research. In these
Paradox Explanation Example
Freedom/enslavement Technology can facilitate
independence but also lead to more
restrictive behaviour
Telephone voicemail services
facilitate mobility, but also may
cause the user to adopt a
regimented approach to
accessing/answering voicemail
Competence/incompetence Technology can result in feelings of
intelligence/efficacy but also lead to
feelings of ignorance/ineptitude
Word processing facilities provide a
technological service that improves
standards of written documents,
but have features that perplex
inexperienced users
Efficiency/inefficiency Technology can facilitate both less
and more time and effort spent on
Internet holiday bookings can be
achieved very quickly, but the
facility also encourages greater
amounts of information gathering
Fulfils/creates needs As well as facilitating the fulfilment
of needs, technology can create
awareness of needs not previously
The digital camera fulfils the need
for controlling the “album” of
snaps, but creates the need to
improve “menu” handling and
computer interface skills
Assimilation/isolation Technology can facilitate human
togetherness, but also lead to
human separation
The increasing availability of
non-terrestrial TV can encourage
gatherings of people to view
sporting events in bars, etc. but at
the same time encourage a bedroom
culture for young people wishing to
customise their viewing
Engaging/disengaging Technology can facilitate
involvement/activity but also lead
to disconnection/passivity
For the “backpacker”, sending
e-mail updates to all people in the
address book ensures involvement
of many people, but the e-mail
content can quickly become
unthinking and standardised
Source: Mick and Fournier (1998) Table I.
Technology paradoxes
disciplines, consumer diary research is often associated with the collection of panel
data, where consumers are asked to keep diaries that detail their spending over a
period of time, normally a month. Management researchers have employed
diary-based research in the “workplace”, for example, to establish what managers
actually do, in comparison to what is on their job specifications (Stewart, 1967), or to
discover how students really spend their study-related time (Innis and Shaw, 1997).
Guidelines for management researchers wishing to employ diary-based research
methods concentrate mainly on the practical issues of increasing the diary completion
rates. For example, Easterby-Smith et al. (1991) recommend the employment of a
structured diary format with appropriate headings to provide a focus for the diarists,
and Bell (1993) emphasises that a clarity and purpose of diary design can increase the
accuracy and commitment of the diarists. Following such advice in the context of text
messaging, Patterson et al. (2003) had concluded that, although a highly structured
diary format had resulted in a good response rate with consistent diary entries, that
same formality, designed to capture as many eventualities as possible, was a
straightjacket for the enthusiastic diarists. In many senses, it stifled the creativity and
personal insights that are believed to be the essence of diary-writing.
In study 1, we wished to encourage the writing of diaries that were truly
autobiographical journals, unconstrained by structure or style, as long as the content
was about text messaging behaviour in its everyday context. The diaries were to start
literally as blank pages, and the intention was to encourage the diarists (undergraduate
students at a university in NW England) not only to give detailed accounts of their text
messaging, but also to reflect upon what they did in these activities in order to raise
Study 2: personal interviews with consumers
Personal interviews were conducted with consumers (postgraduate students) from the
US who were resident in the UK at the time. Its need emerged from the identification of
further data collection requirements during the initial analysis of the diaries in study 1,
and is one manifestation of the iterative approach to data analysis that was adopted.
Each of the interviewees had lived in the UK for six to nine months at the time of the
interview. They had not used text messaging prior to their arrival in the UK, and so
had had only a recent exposure to text messaging and its potential. The intention of
study 2 was to hear the voices, and assess the attitudes towards text messaging
of these consumers (who were relatively new to text messaging and temporarily living
in a different cultural environment), through accounts of their own experiences.
Data collection
Study 1. The adopted approach assumed that the diarists would have, or could learn
quickly, the skills of reflective diary-writing. Although examples can be found in the
marketing literature of introspective accounts of consumption behaviour (Reid and
Brown, 1996), there are few guidelines for potential writers of journals or diaries that
chronicle behaviour and reflection on a specific market.
The diarists, in this case, were first year business undergraduate students,
aged 18-21 years, of a “Managing Markets” module at the university (n¼113).
The diary-writing constituted part of their module assessment in late 2003. To prepare
them for their task/assignment, they were provided with details of requirements for the
assignment (Appendix 2), and an exemplar of one person’s diary of a day’s text
messaging activity, an extract of which is shown in Appendix 3. The inclusion of the
exemplar in the task instructions was intended to encourage the student diarists to be
honest and reflective in their accounts of text messaging and its part in their everyday
lives. We were aware, however, that its very inclusion could lead them to follow a
similar reporting style to that in the exemplar, and that this may represent a limitation
to the approach. Unlike the research carried out by Patterson et al. (2003) that was
guided by earlier studies that had used highly structured diary formats for data
collection, in this study we had to place faith in our own judgements as to the balance
to be struck between encouraging creativity and providing guidelines. We aimed to
achieve a balance such that the outcomes from this form of data collection were
well-written, individual, autobiographical journals, whose contents, importantly, were
largely beyond the control of the researchers. Continued encouragement and
reassurance for the diarists (Easterby-Smith et al., 1991) was achieved through tutor
verbal reminders and explanations in lectures before, and tutorials during, the diary
record-keeping period. The resultant qualitative database consisted of 113 diaries of
2,000 words each.
Study 2. Five postgraduate students, who started their studies in a university in the
NW of England in September 2003, were personally interviewed by one of the authors
in April and May 2004. Their profiles are shown in Table II.
The interviews lasted between 24 and 43 minutes. The interviewees willingly took
part without any incentives. The interviewer, after explaining the background to the
research, only used four prompts: to ask them about their experience of text messaging
prior to their postgraduate course, their experiences of text messaging in the UK, their
observations of text messaging in the UK, and the potential for text messaging in
the USA. Probing was used only to clarify points of information, or to seek illustrative
examples. The interviews were recorded and transcribed with the permission of the
Data analysis
In order to identify themes and theoretical concepts from textual data, qualitative
researchers have been provided with a variety of useful heuristics rather than precise
algorithms, often grouped under the heading of “grounded theory” (Strauss and
Corbin, 1990). Although, in the early writings on grounded theory, qualitative
researchers seeking theme identification were advised to ignore as far as possible the
prior literature and theorizing on the area of study (Glaser and Strauss, 1967), there is
Interviewee Gender Age
Course being
Previous text
Messages sent
per week in UK
I1 Female 38 Chicago MBA None 10
I2 Male 29 Boston MBA Very infrequent 25
I3 Male 27 New York MBA None 40-50
I4 Male 28 Chicago MPA None 30
I5 Male 27 New York MA None 30-40
Table II.
Profiles of interviewees
general agreement now that it is unrealistic to expect researchers to suspend their
knowledge of the relevant literature until late stages of the analysis (Bryman and Bell,
2003). For example, in the analysis of the data of study 1, it became obvious at an early
stage that the behavioural beliefs variables of perceived usefulness, perceived ease of
use and perceived enjoyment, and the concept of technology paradoxes, would provide
bases for comparing and contrasting text segments. The approach we adopted is
consistent with the logical reasoning behind qualitative abduction. Abduction
facilitates the discovery of new concepts or rules through a creative combination of
intriguing and compelling empirical facts with previous theoretical knowledge (Kelle,
1997). In this sense, there is a recognition that, in theme identification, a balance has to
be achieved between prior theorizing and the “fresh” insights contained in the data.
Given the large quantity of data, especially in study 1, and the associated large
number of basic tasks of textual data management, the computer-aided qualitative
data analysis software package, NVivo, was used to facilitate the comparison of text
segments from different sources. NVivo was employed only to code and retrieve data,
not as a driver of the analysis strategy (Siedel, 1991). From study 1, each diary had
been read in great detail as part of the marking/grading process. As a result, through
the grading, the diaries were effectively ranked according to the quality of the
reflective analyses carried out by the students. This provided us with a systematic
method of dealing with the more than 200,000 words in the combined documents using
NVivo. For the most highly graded 20 per cent of the diaries, we imported most of the
material (approximately 40,000 words) into NVivo. For the remaining 80 per cent, we
only imported sentences or paragraphs that we believed would reinforce or add to the
richness of the findings from the most highly graded accounts. From study 2, the full
transcripts of the interviews were imported into NVivo.
Embracement and embedment
The iterative process of reading, coding, re-reading and re-coding the textual material
unearthed very strongly the inadequacy of “acceptance” as a descriptor of behaviour
with respect to text messaging. Text messaging has been accepted eagerly
(i.e. embraced) by most of the consumers studied. Furthermore, there is evidence
that this particular technology-based service is firmly embedded in their everyday
Embracement is demonstrated through the reflections of the diarists and
Sitting in my room, I realise that texting is a fantastic tool for staying in touch with people on
the other side of the country. I can guarantee that I would not have telephoned each and every
one of my mates after I left for university because I simply would not have the finances to do
so. With texting, however, I can stay in touch with everyone I want to, cheaply and
conveniently (male diarist).
Someone showed me predictive text...I asked “How do you write your messages so quickly?
... pretty good, what’s that?” ... so they showed me ... took a little while, but I guess right
now, I can’t live without it... (interviewee 3)
Embracement of text messaging is evident also through specific accounts of daily
Oh you beauty. Could I have received a better reply? There were so many positives to come
from it. She actually wants to go for a drink with me, she would in fact “love” to! The fact that
her reason for taking so long was her being in the gym is also good news because she will
remain fit and energetic which is crucial! The hard part has been done. I now need to arrange
the date and she will be mine. Again the joy of texting is evident. Without this device I would
have had to do this verbally which would have been highly embarrassing as nerves kick in
...when approaching an attractive woman, but with texting you can be smooth all the time.
What a great invention (male diarist).
I look around the bus in a sly fashion when my phone alerts me that I have a new text
message. People immediately start to check their phones on the off chance that it was theirs or
they have one too. Ha ha ha check me out, it’s mine! (female diarist)
I have 4 flatmates, 19 year old undergrad girls, and I’ll be watching TV with them, and all of a
sudden ...tch, tch, tch ...hours upon end using their credit up with texting...(interviewee 5)
Embedment of text messaging in UK day-to-day life is clearly seen through the eyes of
an interviewee in study 2.
When I first came [to the UK], I noticed that people, whether it be on the bus or different
scenarios, it looked like they were dialling ...but they just kept on dialling ... so I worked out
that they were actually hitting the keypad, and then a couple of seconds later you’d hear a
little beep ...and then you’d see this is not just one person, but seems to be part of the way of
being ... the behaviour of society ... and then I had to make a decision to join this type of
activity, whether it was just for social reasons or for picking up a part-time job, or for
anybody to contact me, I needed to get into it ... and so maybe a couple of weeks after
I arrived, I made the decision to buy in, and to start participating in much of the texting...
(interviewee 4)
Examples of behaviours that exhibit text messaging embedment abound in the study
1 diaries. In searching for clues that give some meaning to these behaviours it became
apparent that some of the reflections of the diarists offered rationalisations of the
embedment that are resonant with what occurs in organisational communities of
practice (Wenger, 1998). Here, it is suggested that individual practitioners are guided
by community rules of practice. The text messaging “community of practice” (although
in the consumer domain) seems to be developing and defining its own rules of practice.
For example:
Maybe it is because of these channels of written interactive communication, such as text
messages and internet messenger services, that we have become so astute at decoding
messages. Perhaps the development of our ability to decode such messages, where there are no
clues as to the tone, volume or pitch of voice, might explain why such means of communication
have become so widely accepted within our society and our culture (female diarist).
After completing this diary, I was quite shocked at how many texts were incoming and
outgoing in just one week. You don’t think about it until you are recording each one and all
the different “types” of text you receive. Each one making some sort of impact on my life
(however, little it may be) makes me feel strangely complete (female diarist).
The market for text messages will always survive as there will be a need for people to
organise my life for me ... My mum will always send me money on demand. G will always
tell me what I’ve missed in lectures. A will always keep me updated on the gossip from home.
D will always make me laugh, H will always frustrate me. C will always sympathise with me
(male diarist).
Counter-intuitive behaviour and paradoxes
The acknowledged limits to the exploratory power of TAM and UTAUT formulations
may be attributed to the many ways in which consumers appear to behave
counter-intuitively. For example:
... I’m always amazed at the long conversations via text messages ... one late night here,
I called a friend of mine ... she’s English ... I texted her to see if she was up, she said “yes”,
so I called her ... she wouldn’t pick up her phone, so I texted her again and said “why didn’t
you pick up your phone?” She said “I don’t want to talk”. We then proceeded to have these
very long text message conversations ... I don’t really understand the concept of “I don’t
want to talk but I’m willing to sit there forever typing messages on the mobile with you”,
when the whole conversation would take about a minute [by calling], compared to about
15 minutes by texting ... but I actually rather enjoy it... (interviewee 5)
Given the practice just described, it is unsurprising that paradoxes are able to be
drawn out of the data.
Text messaging is both simple and complex. For people of the diarists’ age, the
mechanics of text messaging are simple and, in that sense, text messaging is easy to
use. However, when it comes to composition or interpretation of text messages, the
process becomes more complex, largely because of the different meanings that can be
ascribed to a message with no more than 160 characters.
Composition of a text message often requires much thought and refinement:
I ensure that I give my text a mildly gratifying quality because firstly, I want her to agree
with what I am suggesting and secondly, I want her to know that I am her friend. I achieve
this quite generally by inquiring about her weekend and then I put an “x” at the end.
This means that my text adopts a friendly and engaging tone, which is what I need to make
sure I get the most positive answer possible. I also choose to ask her what she thinks because
I don’t want her to think that I am being dictatorial (female diarist).
Received texts bring about both affective and cognitive responses through
L texts: this is boring beyond belief, i’m not even drunk, I need to text you for my sanity.
It makes me smile, wondering why she goes to snotty dinner parties that just bore the hell out
of her. I imagine her sneaking off somewhere to text me, and smile a bit more to myself before
texting back (female diarist).
This paradox resembles Mick and Fournier’s competence/incompetence paradox when
parents’ text messaging activities are seen through the lens of their offspring. Parents
receive back-handed praise for achieving the very basic levels of competence, which, in
turn, demonstrates how incompetent they are assumed to be:
R u ok? The messages from my mum always make me laugh, since they’re always so short.
No doubt it would have taken her 5 minutes to write that (male diarist).
12.07 From: Mum HI LOVE HOPE YOU RE OK. Bless my mum! She is trying to get the hang
of texting and has the frightful condition of being a technophobe. It took me absolutely ages
to teach her how to simply get to the menu where you write a text! I therefore never had the
patience to try to explain to her how to change from capitals or add punctuation. Hence the
reason for none of it in her text. I would have sent one back, but I haven’t taught her how to
open messages yet! (female diarist)
Interestingly, both parties parents and children seem to have devised ways of
coping with the perceived parental competence/incompetence paradox. For the parents,
text messaging is worth learning to use simply to check if their offspring are alive and
kicking, whereas, for the offspring, it is a useful way of avoiding telling parents any
more than they want to reveal about their lives/lifestyles a win-win scenario? The
following diary excerpt is illustrative:
How’s things? How’s your course going? Everything here is fine. My mum has only recently
been introduced to the world of texting, and to be quite frank, I really wished I’d never
bothered spending the extremely long time it took me to teach her to use her new phone.
Now it never stops. Every day I get a similar kind of message, and every day I reply with lies
(male diarist).
Text messaging is a way of avoiding communication as well as enabling communication.
The diary excerpt above demonstrates that the communication medium of text
messaging can paradoxically be used to avoid the unwanted chore of communicating
in a meaningful way. Text messaging can be used as a way of avoiding having to
speak to someone or see them face-to-face, often through “white lies”. Given the
properties of convenience of text messaging (they can be sent any time from any place),
ubiquity (virtually all mobile phones in the UK have the SMS facility) and low cost
(Haig, 2002), this particular mode of communication has been manipulated by
consumers to control their interpersonal interactions:
I thought the kind suggestion of tomorrow night might soften the blow and I find it’s a lot
easier when you have bad or not so good news to send it in a text. It’s short, to the point and
you don’t get all the stuttering and having to apologise every other word that comes with
saying it to their face (female diarist).
...girls, like me, know that if they phone up a girlie friend who they have not seen for a while,
they will be on the phone for at least a couple of hours. A simple text still demonstrates that
you are thinking of them, but will not run up your phone bill as horrendously (female diarist).
At times like this I’m very grateful for the availability of text messaging, because I hardly
know this girl, and if we called each other we wouldn’t have much to say (female diarist).
Sorry I missed your messages, I went to bed as soon as I came home from Uni xx What a load
of rubbish! I really hope she believes me, if not I’m screwed! (male diarist)
This feature, peculiar to communication technologies, has elements of similarity with
three of Mick and Fournier’s paradoxes freedom/enslavement, assimilation/isolation
and engaging/disengaging.
Text messaging is both public and private. Text message conversations can be
carried out in public places without other people knowing their content (Haig, 2002):
The text was a welcome distraction from the pandemonium around ... everything else in
your immediate surroundings disappears. All that you can think about, the only thing that is
important is the words on the screen. The text reminds me of my mates at home and makes
me feel a little homesick (male diarist).
This leads to behaviour that can be regarded as rude or inconsiderate in certain
public places:
Some people go over the top, and I find it to be rude ... numerous times I’ve been sitting with
a group of people, and people start texting ... and it’s as if you’re not even there ... with a
text, you’ve lost their attention because they’ve received a text, then they’ve sent one back,
then they put the phone down and are now back talking, then 2 minutes later they get a reply
and are back texting again (interviewee 1).
However, many people are enticed by the opportunity of gossip (Fox, 2001) and of
conducting elicit, private conversations in places (e.g. lectures and meeting rooms)
where they should not take place, or in the vicinity of people who may be the subject of,
or deliberately excluded from the conversation. The receipt of a text message in a
public place is seen as a boost to self-esteem:
These two beeps are quiet and subdued enough to be discreet, but loud enough to let those
who doubted my social esteem (because I was sitting alone on the bus) know that others do
want to communicate with me. This is the joy of the text message. Unlike a phone call, it
allows you to look sociable and sought after, even if it is only your mum asking you what you
want for dinner that evening (female diarist).
Text message: the social experience
Fox (2001) argued that text messaging has been found to be a useful mechanism for
social bonding, and for “trailers” for forthcoming meetings and verbal conversations.
There was plentiful supporting evidence for both from the diarists’ entries. For
Hia K! Hope ur OK & had a gud wknd! Du fancy goin 4 a drink tmoz nite? U can meet M! Love
N x. The message was from N, my friend I met at university on my first day. She is really nice
and I am glad we have stayed friends. Going for a drink would be nice, especially if M’s going
to be there. N talks about him all the time... (female diarist)
I receive an unexpected text from J. on my way home poppet. havent seen u since Tuesday
and wont see u till sunday nite so have a gd weekend sweet heart x... She’ll be really bored at
the moment. I look forward to her getting back to the flat and having a good natter (female
What is very striking on reading the diaries entries is the range of emotions that
accompany text messaging activities:
The more I thought about it, it became evident that there are a wide range of feelings involved
in messaging, however, simple it may be, and I had always taken them at face value. Texts
seem to be used as a tool to fulfil a variety of emotional needs and sometimes seem to imply
more than intended... (female diarist)
Maybe the message is from D, the ex that I just can’t seem to get over. All day I’ve been
thinking the same question over and over in my head. Does he still like me? Caught up in the
hope that there is still a chance for us I eagerly read the message? Turns out it is not from him.
Ah well, maybe next time! (female diarist)
As I continued reading, I glanced up and saw the blue light of my phone shine. Thank god,
finally she had texted back! I continued reading for what felt like a minute, trying to fool
myself that I wasn’t bothered by her response. It was no use though, I had to get up and see if
I had blown my relationship (male diarist).
Schau and Gilly (2003) have found evidence that people find self-disclosure less
difficult in computer-mediated environments than in face-to-face conversations.
The following excerpt is one of many diary entries that provide evidence that the same
is the case with text messaging:
That’s the thing with texts you see. Things that would never be said in a face-to-face
conversation, or even on the phone, can be discussed in explicit detail. To be fair, we’d been
having a bit of a fling for some time, and then he moved to Aberdeen of all places! He’d
convinced me that we could make it work, that he was ready to settle down, and with a lack of
other appealing options, I agreed to give it a go. Thirty plus texts later, there we were, an
item! (female diarist)
Text messaging activity is engaging and the outcomes are often memorable
characteristics that are more distinctive of consumer experiences (Pine and Gilmore,
1999) than simple product or service usage.
Since the mid-1980s, understanding of marketplaces for technology products and
services has been guided by TAM methods, originating from information systems
research that has focused on technology acceptance within organisations. Proponents
of such methods have acknowledged that TAM-based studies may have reached their
limit in explaining technology acceptance in organisational settings. They have urged
for novel approaches towards extending understanding. Marketers have adapted
TAMs for consumer markets, for example, the market for online shopping, but it is
unlikely that they can provide any greater explanation in consumer markets
characterised by a seemingly more variable set of potential users of a technological
product or service.
The present research set out to explore the consumer behaviour that accompanied
the growth and evolution of the market for a particular consumer technology-based
service – text messaging. The market is unusual in that it was consumer-led and was
unanticipated by the service providers. According to Green et al. (2001, p. 146):
... the diffusion and consumption of mobile telephony ... cannot be understood without
investigating the contexts and processes of their use in everyday life.
In order to capture, in context, the consumer practices in the marketplace, an approach
was adopted that involved consumer diary writing as the main data collection method.
The findings have implications for theory, methodology and mobile telephony practice.
Implications for theory development
Extensive summaries of the TAM and its adaptations (as shown, for example, in
Figures 1 and 2), have concluded that the models can be applied to explain, understand
and predict user behaviour with regard to information systems and technology. They
have been advocated also as being appropriate for consumer technology acceptance as
well as technology acceptance in organisations (Figure 2). Evidence collected in a study
of text messaging as a social and communal practice, suggests strongly that
TAM-based models are less useful for understanding technology use behaviour where
there is a strong community component, and where there are examples of paradoxical
and counter-intuitive behaviours. As a means of extending the TAM/UTAUT theories,
some key constructs are re-defined in the context of SMS/text messaging usage
in practice.
First, the dependent variables in Figures 1 and 2 “behavioural intention” and “use
behaviour” are examined. The underpinning models ultimately seek to explain and
predict use behaviour, i.e. technology acceptance. TAM-based approaches that aim to
explain or predict use behaviour often measure it by “two or three questions about the
frequency of use and the amount of time spent using the system” (Legris et al., 2003,
p. 196).
Our findings point to the need to re-examine the construct of use behaviour in the
context of the practice of technology-based services that owe much to consumer
creativity. Where there is evidence of counter-intuitive consumer behaviour in the
marketplace, it is reasonable to question the effectiveness of theory derived from
rationality expressed in the suppliers’/providers’ terms. Arguably, consumers have
created the value of text-messaging, or, at the very least, co-created the value with
producers (Szmigin, 2003; Vargo and Lusch, 2004). In doing so, they own and embrace
the technology-based service, and have not had to be persuaded to accept the
technology. While technology acceptance, based on measurement of frequency/time of
use, may be adequate if consumers are considered simply as recipients of technological
goods/services, it does not reflect adequately the strength of embracement that occurs
when consumers co-create the value of the technology.
Studies 1 and 2 certainly support the contention that consumers consider
themselves as owners of the broadcast rights to the text messaging channel. The idea
that consumers can embrace, rather than simply accept technology-based services,
suggests that theory development should concentrate on increasing understanding of
what communities of consumers do with the technology, in addition to counting the
frequency of use and rate of adoption.
In Figure 2, the independent variables are perceived usefulness, perceived ease of
use, perceived enjoyment, social influence, and perceived behavioural control.
Regarding the first three of these variables, the TAM and its adaptations have been
constrained by a methodological straightjacket, brought about by the reliance on
relatively simplistic items of measurement, coupled with the meta-theoretical
assumptions that demand approaches that are consistent with previous research,
and the development of parsimonious models. Thus, for example, individuals are asked
to evaluate statements such as “Using the system enables me to accomplish tasks more
quickly” as one of the items of measurement of performance expectancy/perceived
usefulness. Such items of measurement ignore technology paradoxes, where, for
example, text messaging (as with other technology-enabled services, such as e-mail)
can be seen as both simple (quick to accomplish) and complex (slow to accomplish) at
the same time. Where the methodology explicitly searches for directions of
relationships, it precludes the possibility that the relationship may be both positive
and negative at the same time, and fails to address how consumers cope with this state
of affairs. It is argued, therefore, that theory development of the constructs of perceived
usefulness, perceived ease of use, and perceived enjoyment should not be constrained
by adherence to the existing (well developed) quantitative models of technology
acceptance, but, rather, approaches that derive theory from studies of consumer
practices are likely to be more effective, especially in marketplaces that are created and
led by consumers. The study of the text messaging community of practice adds
support to a research direction that identifies the consumption confrontation strategies
used by consumers to cope with technology paradoxes (Mick and Fournier, 1998).
For Venkatesh et al. (2003), in the UTAUT model, social influence derives from the
subjective norm construct, and is centred on an individual consumer’s perception of the
beliefs of other consumers. In a marketplace, such as that for text messaging, with a
strong community component, social influence has an enhanced role in technology
embracement. The data in studies 1 and 2 provide confirmation that the technology
allows consumers to augment their face-to-face social encounters, through facilitating
“trailers”, gossip, and the maintenance of social bonds. It becomes, therefore, a device
that embellishes real-life, with all the attendant emotions. The use of the technology is
determined not only by subjective norms but also by user’s need for relationships with
others and social groups (Schau and Gilly, 2003). The current conceptualisation of the
social influence construct is likely to be inadequate for the consumer of the future for
whom, according to Wilska (2003, p. 459), “relation to technology impacts on his/her
whole way of life, including work and consumption” (emphasis added).
Perceived behavioural control, as included in Figure 2, relates to an individual’s
access to knowledge, advice and equipment. It is primarily concerned with control, by
the individual, of the operation of the technology; an emphasis that emanates from
research on technology acceptance by employees within organisations. While
operation of the technology is an issue in consumer marketplaces, the study of text
messaging has confirmed that the construct of perceived behavioural control is more
subtle, and related to the micro dynamics embedded in human action and interaction.
For example, perceived behavioural control includes the ability of consumers to reverse
existing power differentials. This is especially evident in parent-child relationships,
where the child controls parental inquisitiveness through manipulating parental
incompetence and sending text message replies with minimal content, or teacher-pupil
relationships, where the pupils are “texting at school under the radar screen of their
teachers” (Brier, 2004, p. 16).
Implications for methodology
In the introduction to this paper, the move in consumer research to study active social
networks through a range of interpretive methods was highlighted. This has resulted
in the development of a consumer culture theory (Arnould and Thompson, 2005).
In parallel, in organisation theory research on micro strategy, there has been a call also
for increased interpretive methods (Johnson et al., 2003). In particular, use of self report
mechanisms, through which informants can supply data without the presence of a
researcher, are considered effective:
...where we want to understand what our practitioners are doing and gather their reflections
on their own practices (Balogun et al., 2003, p. 208).
Wenger (1998, p. 47) argues that:
... the concept of practice connotes doing, but not just doing in and of itself. It is doing in a
historical and social context that gives structure and meaning to what we do.
Studies of practice are concerned with sense-making of both the tacit and explicit
elements. Learning from practice arises through a process of transforming un-reflected
practice into reflected practice. Our experience with the use of “blank page” consumer
diaries, with a requirement of reflection, explicitly recognises the opportunities of
regarding consumers as practical authors (Shotter and Cunliffe, 2003). This parallels a
view that managers can be regarded as practical authors who deal with complex
concepts using a language that makes sense for them. As such, practical authorship is
being championed in organisational studies as a means of articulating a clear
formulation of a shared significance to impressions or views that other organisational
members may seem to be vague or even chaotic (Holman and Thorpe, 2003). In the
organisation studies literature, the value of managers as practical authors is in creating
intelligible formulations of the organisation’s social landscape and bringing experience
to a living reality (Shotter and Cunliffe, 2003).
In consumer communities of practice, such as the community of text messagers,
the particular form of consumer diary writing used for the current research has
shown great promise in directing the consumers to attempt, through reflection, to
make sense of their living reality through becoming consumer practical authors.
The diary-based approach adopted in the study of text messaging offers an effective
tool for studying consumer communities of practice in buoyant marketplaces. It will
depend on the writing and reflective capabilities of the diarists. Although the use of
student samples for research is increasingly scorned (James and Sonner, 2001), where
students reside at the epicentre of a culture, they can be regarded as potential diarists.
For example, (student) consumer diaries can underpin studies of communities of
practice such as backpackers or Chinese students studying higher education in the UK.
In many marketing studies employing student samples, the emphasis has been on
“samples”; students have been seen as potential respondents to questionnaire surveys
or subjects of experiments. Regarding students as practical authors, with abilities to
reflect on generally un-reflected consumer routines and processes, emphasises the
“student” attributes of intelligence and inquisitiveness, rather than the mere
convenience of the consumer resource base.
Implications for mobile telephony practice
The players in the mobile telephony marketplaces are regularly seeking to introduce
new products, and make huge investments that reflect their predictions of acceptance
of the technology and services that they develop (for example, with Wireless
Application Protocol (WAP) and Third Generation Systems). Additionally, in the
context of text messaging, the US market is understandably tempting, especially for
networks, such as Vodaphone and T-Mobile, that have experience of such markets
across the globe. If text messaging became accepted in the US, even a modest usage of
ten messages per week by only one member of each household would result in 60 billion
text messages being sent in a year. Subsequently, if text messaging was to be
embraced at the level of more than one message per head of population per day
(the current UK statistic), there would be over 105 billion messages sent in a year. The
findings in study 2 indicate that there is nothing in the American psyche to prevent
the embracement of person-to-person text messaging, and a report in 2004 speculated
that the 90 per cent of the 13-21-year olds in the US who currently use instant
messaging facilities on their computers could be the text messagers of the future, given
the strong appeal of cell phones amongst that group (Brier, 2004). Without changes in
pricing strategies for text messaging, and infrastructural improvements of the US
networks, however, the growth of the marketplace will be stifled.
The findings of this study suggest strongly that explanations and predictions based
on rational, intuitive models of consumer behaviour may be an insufficient basis for
determining a major investment. In mobile telephony marketplaces, consumers can,
through creative use-initiation, deliberately foil intuitively sound supplier actions.
Take the case of picture messaging. The UK mobile phone networks expected picture
messaging to match the success of text messaging, and offered the service at
approximately double the cost. For experienced text messagers, picture messaging is
easy to use. A picture is perceived to be more enjoyable to send and receive. Picture
messages are perceived as a useful way of sharing life with friends and relatives. Yet,
frustratingly for the suppliers, after initial “early adoption”, the frequency of sending
picture messages by the networks dropped by nearly 50 per cent between September
2003 and 2004 (Gibson, 2004). Consumers still took photographs with their mobile
phones, but, instead of sending them via the networks, they created electronic photo
albums in the handset’s memory, which they then showed to friends and relatives
face-to-face. They saved money and experienced the shared enjoyment associated with
viewing the pictures together.
It is argued, therefore that, where there is evidence of counter-intuitive consumer
behaviour in the marketplace for technology-based products or services, a study of
practice, with a view to the subsequent derivation of adapted theory constitutes
worthwhile research. Through early identification of communities of practice, and a
careful employment of consumer practical authors, the focus can be on embedment of
the product/service and consumer use-initiation.
Further research
Harkin (2003) observes that Europeans send more text messages than e-mails or
personal letters, and yet mobile technologies have received much less intellectual
attention than the internet. We hope, in this paper, that we have moved some small
way towards redressing the balance, and towards providing a stimulus for research
into the markets for mobile technology-based services, using open-minded inquiry
(Matthing et al., 2004).
There is an opportunity for further research into the importance of text messaging
as a social and cultural practice in everyday lives, with emphases on addictive
behaviours, learning and the development of repertoires of communication skills by
increasingly sophisticated consumers, and feelings of exclusion by non-participants.
The data provided through consumer reflections in this and future diary research has
the potential to provide important insights into youth and other cultures, especially in
respect of technology embracement and its embedment, or embeddedness in the social
factors that have an effect on the nature of marketplaces.
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Creativity, Penguin Putnam, New York, NY.
Appendix 1. Standard and predictive text input
Standard text input requires the sender to press each key the relevant number of times to
obtain the letter needed. So, for example, given that the letters “a”, “b”, and “c” are all on
the same key, the user must press the key once for “a”, twice for “b” and three times for
“c”. The same goes for all other letters in their combinations on the keys, i.e. def, ghi, jkl,
mno, pqrs, tuv, and wxyz. Thus, the phrase “text message” would require 22 thumb-strokes
(including the space) to type. Predictive text input predicts the word you are typing from
the key that is pressed, often not getting it right until the last letter has been typed. Using
predictive text input mode, the word “text” would be entered by pressing first the key that
contains “t”, then the one that contains “e” then the one that contains “x” and finally the
one that contains “t”: four thumb-strokes in total. On screen, it appears as “t”, “ve”, “vex”,
“text”, as at each stage the best prediction of the likely word is displayed. In the predictive
text mode, only 12 thumb-strokes are needed to type in “text message” compared to the 22
using standard text input. Clearly, text messagers must also familiarise themselves with
inputting various types of punctuation, etc. with reference to the equipment manual, but
from this brief description it can be seen that the process of text messaging is
unsophisticated, whichever input mode is used.
Appendix 2. Study 1 guidelines for students
A diary of texting activity: reading between the lines
Assignment task
Each student is required to maintain a personal introspective diary for one week recording all
text message activity.
.Note: this refers to your own texting behaviour (it does not refer to the market for these
products generally).
.For an example (see attached diary note it only spans one day!) Your diary should
follow this format.
.The personal introspective diaries should be creatively written and approximately 2,000
words in length.
.This assignment is due during the 12th week of class. It should be submitted to the
Undergraduate Office no later than Thursday 18 December 2003.
.The essays will not be returned, though feedback will be provided for each student.
NB: Remember you must critically engage with the text message. You must go far
beyond merely reporting what the text states. You must, as the title alludes, read
between the lines.
Appendix 3. Study 1, extract of exemplar of introspective diary
... 23:29
Emma sends me a weird text. No introduction, no “hello” or “how are you?” Just the
question: Do spiders grow new legs?
Did not know the answer. I wonder briefly why she needs to know the answer to such a
curious question. I conclude that she must be doing a pub quiz. She never said she was
participating in such an event, but she has done that before, texted me during a pub quiz to
ascertain the answer to some random esoteric or other. Anyway, I looked it up on the internet.
Found the answer in about 30 seconds. Apparently, spider’s legs do re-grow. I was surprised at
that. Ah well, they do say that you learn something new every day. I sent her a one-word
reply: Yes.
The screen on my computer screen wobbles and I know that another text message is imminent.
I worry sometimes about the radiation these phones emit. I mean if it can scramble my computer
screen what on earth is it doing to my brainwaves? Are we all gonna drop dead sometime soon of
massive mobile-phone induced brain tumours? In a few decades is it possible that the people of
the future will look back on our stupidity with the same incredulity as we now view cigarette
smokers of the 1950s who seriously believed that cigarettes were good for their health? Anyway,
when the fuzz clears, another text arrives from Emma: Got long drive 2moro so having an early
night x.
I am a bit taken back by this. Normally she calls for a late night review of the day’s events, the
highs and the lows, the peaks and the troughs. Yes. This is unusual behaviour and no mistake.
The insertion of the x does at least show some affection, but I cannot help but detect a definite
cooling off. I reply instantly with: Yeah ok. Sleep well. Safe journey.
No x. I do not do xs...
Corresponding author
Steve Baron can be contacted at:
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