Smartphones and the Y Generation

Portable gadgetry has become part and parcel of everyday routine and is firmly established in mass consumption. Researchers have made repeated attempts to study the specifics of smartphone use. However, such studies do not reveal the part played by the phone in the user’s social contacts. That is their main drawback. The use of the smartphone is inalienable from the practical context of communication and the establishment of social contacts, which largely determine the demand for the various functions of the gadget. Once they have become a necessary part of city life, smartphones impact and even shape everyday situations in offices, public transport and catering, etc.


To demonstrate a different approach and elaborate a well-grounded model allowing precise description of “mobile consumption” and the user/gadget interaction format was the task we posed ourselves. We aimed to see how smartphones are used in everyday life, and which of their functions, options and apps are in the greatest demand in routine practice. Evidently, it was not enough to simply enumerate the basic functions as correlated with users’ preferences.

For that, we use special narrative cameras fixed on the user with his/her consent to make, once in 30 seconds. 

Our approach bases on microsociology, which includes a wide range of the latest sociological concepts, such as frame analysis, converse analysis, ethnomethodological experiment, urban ethnography, etc. All these concepts share meticulous attention to the smallest details and accurate registration of the micro situations of contacts between people and with material objects, to which smartphones belong. To cross the limits of traditional analyses of the user/gadget interaction and see how the broader practical contexts or frames determine the use of smartphones, and reversely, is our main goal. It demands tracking the link between the use of the gadget and the user’s communicative specifics (e.g., their involvement in communication, character of urban trips, and necessity to share space with strangers in a restaurant, public transport vehicle, etc.). To put it differently, what matters is the objective social context of the user/gadget interaction, which necessarily “frames” the pattern of such interaction and sets its tone. Consequently, situations may differ depending on the everyday context of the user/gadget interaction because smartphones are not statically used but involved in micro episodes of routine social contacts. When the question of the specifics of smartphone use is posed this way, it spectacularly extends the range of possible solutions. Three interaction aspects are relevant to us:
— the gadget and the demand for its functions,
— the user and everyday contexts of smartphone use,
— the user’s contacts with other people.


In the first instance we use a tracker to record the user’s every movement and so learn what he does in everyday use of the gadget. The other task demands synchronous shadowing from the position of the user not the smartphone. For that, we use special narrative cameras fixed on the user with his/her consent to make, once in 30 seconds, shots of whatever is taking place. This allows us to see the smartphone with the user’s eyes. At the same time, the camera records everything that takes place around the user to tell us how and with whom he/she communicates, the character of communication, and how it impacts the use of the gadget. All told, we plan no less than 500 hours of ethnographic observation. The study of social situations in which a smartphone is used supposes the recording of users’ contacts with others in a broader context, so it is not limited to the original sampling as it takes the form of ethnographic monitoring on 10 appointed sites – public vehicles, restaurants, offices, etc. The use of micro-sociological methods and state-of-the-art electronic recorders help us observe a broader context of everyday smartphone use. We can say precisely who uses smartphones, how, when, why and in what situations.

This study was planned with a research team led by Victor Vakhstein of the Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences
Method setter: Pavel Stepantsov
Team members: Victor Vakhstein, Pavel Stepantsov, Ksenia Tkacheva and Kirill Puzanov