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Research into the role of mobile phones in people’s busy lives

People standing around on their mobile phones

Research which will explore how people manage multiple conversations across phone apps has received funding.

Dr Caroline Tagg, OU Senior Lecturer in English Language and Applied Linguistics, with an interest in how social media constrains and enables different forms of communication, has been awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship worth £114,000 to carry out a 12-month research project titled Mobile Conversations in Context (MoCo), which will run from September 2021.

Understanding the anxieties caused by 21st century communications

According to Dr Tagg, the central role of mobile messaging apps in everyday communication requires us to address the anxieties which commonly accompany mobile conversations. These are prompted by people’s lack of access to the physical contexts in which conversational partners are located.

MoCo reveals how the contexts in which mobile messages are sent and received shape the rhythm, nature, and perceived quality of people’s mobile conversations. The project draws on a survey, interviews and analysis of messages to understand how people manage multiple conversational threads across apps, how their online interactions interweave with daily routines and physical activities, and the impact that the shifting offline context has on their online engagement. Its findings contribute to contemporary scholarship regarding the fluid ways in which networked individuals move between multiple online and offline spaces and has implications for alleviating anxieties as busy individuals draw on messaging apps to juggle competing demands.

Dr Tagg said: "The interactions people have on their mobile phones don't take place in a vacuum - instead, people send messages or call others while on the move and in the middle of doing other things, all of which shapes the kinds of interactions they can have, both online and offline. This project enables us to better understand the nature of 21st century communication by exploring how this happens, and the role mobile phones play in people's busy lives as they move between multiple communication channels and juggle competing demands."

Plans to publish the insights

The findings will be used to engage the public further with this research and there are plans for a book titled: Still no reply! How what your friends are doing and where they are shape your online conversations.

Find out more about OU research in English

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