While many cell owners appreciate that they can initiate contact with others whenever the urge strikes them, a portion of cell owners see an annoying element to constant connectivity: the likelihood of interruptions. As much as they like their mobile phones, teen owners are more likely than parent owners to agree with the statement: "I get irritated when a call or text on my cell phone interrupts me." Nearly half of 12-17 year-old cell owners (48%) agree with that statement compared with 38% of parents. Teen boys and younger owners of either gender are likely to back this notion: 53% of cell-owning boys and 59% of all cell owners ages 12 and 13 agree that cell-initiated interruptions are irritating. Older girls ages 14-17 are calmer about interruptions. Only 37% of cell-owning older girls say cell calls or text interruptions can be annoying. Overall, teens send and receive more text messages than parents, which may contribute to their greater sense of irritation – the typical teen sends or receives 50 text messages a day, while the average adult 18 and older has sent and received 10 messages in the last 24 hours.
Another possible explanation for these differences is that younger teens may be learning how to incorporate cell phones into the social rhythms of their lives and finding it harder at the earlier stages of ownership to balance the new demands for accessibility and "interrupt-ability" that mobile phones bring.
The gender differences can also explain some of the fact that teen boys generally do not use their cell phones as avidly as girls. So, boys might not be as willing to accept the fact that interruptions are part of the lifestyle that goes with perpetual connectivity. The focus groups illustrated many of these gender differences in how boys and girls perceive and use the phone. Boys in the group consistently described texting with their friends as task-driven, and used phrases like "taking care of business" and "more to the point" to described the succinct nature with which they communicate with friends. In contrast, they described texting with girls as being more about flirting and getting to know one another. Typical of their comments are the following:
- [Texting with girls] is just like b.s., like you don’t really need to be talking to them but you just are because you like them, they like you. With your other [male] friends, it’s just like ‘Oh, we’re going to go to the movies and then do this and do that.’ And that’s it. (Boy, high school)
- If I text my friend, it’s not for conversation. It’s like ‘Hey, I’m headed home from school, where are you?’ And then ‘Oh, I’m over here at the store or something, I’ll be over in a minute.’ And that’s it. But when I’m talking with my girlfriend, it’s all day. So all day conversation. (Boy, middle school)
From these comments, it was apparent that the boys we spoke with were accustomed to using their phones as very direct, succinct communication tools to make plans and check in with one another, and would likely be less tolerant of more trivial contact.
Teens in the focus groups also addressed the issue of unwanted interruptions, and expressed annoyance at friends and acquaintances who violate cell phone etiquette. In the words of one high school boy,
- At least me personally, I’m the type of person where if I want to talk to you then I’ll talk to you. But people call me like all the time, like all types of times at night and in the mornings. It’s just like I don’t want to be bothered! Then, like, they text me and they get mad if I don’t text back, like, five seconds later. It just becomes a problem.
In particular, teens expressed annoyance with other teens who "don’t get the hint" when they do not return a text message or who insist on trying to reach them at times when they know the teen is unavailable (for example, during doctor’s appointments, class time, at night, etc.). As one girl related,
- I hate like, especially when it’s just me and my boyfriend hanging out, and my friends will just text me over and over, ‘what r u doing?, what r u doing?’ and they’ll resend it because they think you didn’t get it when really you’re just busy, and that’s when I’ll turn [my phone] off.
This was one of many stories teens related of friends texting the same message repeatedly, over the course of just a few minutes, in an attempt to get a response, or of texting question marks or "r u there?" messages if they do not get a response quickly enough. Teens are also annoyed when they do try to respond to a message immediately, and before they have a chance to hit send, the other person has already sent them another text.
To further probe the potential hassles of having cell phones, the survey asked teens to respond to the following item: "It is a lot of trouble to keep my cell phone with me all the time." Just 26% of cell-owning 12-17 year-olds agreed with that statement. Again, boys and younger users were the most likely to agree: 32% of boys backed the assertion vs. 21% of girls; 33% of those ages 12 and 13 agreed vs. 23% of those ages 14-17. The largest cohort of those who said it was trouble to keep their phone with them all the time were 12- and 13 year-old boys: 42% of them agreed with the statement.