Mobile technology is serving us richly by providing a way to learn and understand more about the natural characteristics of species from "the other" planet in every day life.
When it comes to mobile devices, as with that other form of mobility, the car; people who tend to be quiet about gender differences become animated and amusing when describing variations in the ways the other sex uses its mobile tools.
It's definitely a new digital-differences kind of territory. It feels a lot like those teasing moments when, as a female, one receives e-mails from Martian friends, with cheeky pictures attached of "they say it was a girl driver" with cars parked sideways in Paris, and the like.
If you want to become a social scientist and study the differences between how men and women use mobility - information is power after all - it's easy. It starts with a field trip to your local mobile store. You don't even have to attend long workshops, earnest focus groups or wade through tons of literature, to gain new understanding. I did this, and found, within minutes, the first male to enter the store provided a vivid example of all the "characteristics" of "men-users-of-mobile" that mobile pundits were telling me about.
Mobile man: Check out my tool (er, toy)!
So perfect was he, that I wondered if this fifty-or-sixtysomething gentleman was employed by a mobile men-power lobbying group, to go around making sure that the beings from Venus understand masculine users. As the (all-women) staffers - who were confirming, "men like the mobile as a toy, to impress their friends and to play with" - this Martian appeared, and produced a Motorola PDA-type device, as if it was a magic wand.
He popped it open: explaining that he needed software for it...being on holiday, he'd left the goods at home and apparently couldn't survive a few weeks without full-functionality. While elaborating on all this and getting our murmurs of sympathy for his plight, he kept on saying to us "it's such a very nice toy"
He even urged me ("here try this") to take his stylus for a whirl around the screen. It was one of those "you can drive my car, baby" moments of great honor, I recognized, and behaved accordingly. Furthermore, once he'd techno-dazzled us women, he then - delivering another by-the-book male mobile thing I'd heard about - started eyeing up a Nokia model. "Mmm, that's what I want - it's beautiful, with a color screen".
Ahead Cellular store's Heidi Oldham confirms that, definitely, men and women are different both as consumers and users of mobility. She sees divergent styles clearly in the store. "For men, a mobile is a lot about status. They want the smallest and the best. Size does matter. They want something that looks cool and has maximum functionality: a phone they can show off to their friends. Like with cars, men's phones are 'theirs' - it is a toy and a joy."
Mobile woman: Talk flows like a river
She laughs: "Women primarily want a phone that works, now - and all the time. As women we use our phones a lot more for personal calls, I'd say, while men use them more for business. Women can't be without their phones - we are heavy-duty users. Women are on mobile all day, every day."
Coming in strongly with a male planetary perspective, consultant for mobile enterprise iTouch Craig Berry reckons too that women communicate like the ever-moving river on their mobiles. He finds the female rivers, streams and tributaries of talk on mobile quite incredible. "Women and mobile: always talking, never stop...women seem to be able to talk in meetings, while having their nails done, watching the kids swim, wherever. They always take the call. I am positive that if research was done, they'd find that women turn a two minute conversation into a 20 to 30 minute-session, every time."
He adds, "Women definitely talk a lot more about personal things and more constantly. Men have shorter conversations with friends and business associates. We tend to see mobile as a business imperative and a part of our livelihood; women use the same functionality more for relationships and keeping in touch with friends. I think businessmen and women, doing similar work, naturally use the same functionality: there is no difference. Men talk about the latest amongst ourselves - we discuss these things at social gatherings and get up to speed on who's phone can do this-and-that."
Have minutes, must use
Mobile etiquette pundit, PR boutique owner and author, Carol Page, who heads up the Boston-based CellManners web site, which is dedicated to promoting cell civility, is an astute observer of the differences between male and female users of mobile. Page, in fact, has a team of CellSpies - in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Florida and Detroit - who file reports on social habits and happenings around mobile. Interestingly, though, apparently, it is women who use mobile devices very heavily - most often the Cellspies are filing reports on what-men-are-saying-doing-on-mobiles in these cities. "Oh, yes - most of our reports are about men!" smiles Page.
Page says it is likely a truism that men use their phones more for business, women for personal matters. However, this is not to say that men do not talk about personal things. "My pet peeve is the public reporting on private matters, along these lines...'I've just been to the doctor - and oh my gosh, I've got a fungus'. Yes, believe it, I've heard this from men; it's not just women who feel that need to tell a friend about a private health matter, from wherever they are and immediately! It may just be that men have a greater habit of doing this!"
Page reckons that both men and women believe that a mobile makes you invisible because the person you call is invisible: a magical feeling that results in the public sharing of private stuff. Also, equally, men and women will talk volumes - perhaps about different things, though - on mobile. There is an unwritten rule, Page sees in action every day: "Have Minutes Must Use."
The Orioles versus Oprah
Page adds, "Mobile minutes are something which we can't let go - we just have to use them. Men will tend to use those minutes for business and to call their friends to talk about, dare we say it, sport and other guy's stuff. 'The Patriots won the SuperBowl' is a constructive use of minutes for a man."
Women, on the other hand, will tend to put their minutes to work by talking about the Big R - Relationships. "You are more likely to overhear a women saying 'I don't think that is something I have to accept' and 'then he said, so I said'. We had a report in from New York City about a woman, who at 8.30am one morning on a public bus, broke up with her boyfriend - loudly and doing a good job of it - on her mobile. Can you imagine the fellow travelers on that bus, having to hear that first thing in the morning? Very insensitive!"
Women in business are traditionally advised when it comes to communication styles, to be more assertive and turn up the volume. The female tendency to be less forthright and softer in speech, though, fits well with mobile technology. Page says that men are probably more likely to yell on their mobiles: and she has even seen lots of jiggling of the device if a connection is not perfect. Jiggling - doing the CellDance as she says - is a male tribal ritual not often indulged in by women.
While men and women have different mobile styles, the one area, observes Page, where there really is no difference is the way everyone enjoys keeping in touch with their children on mobile.
"One of the greatest, greatest things about mobility, a technology we like a lot at CellManners but would just like to see people shape up a little with regards to their manners, is the way parents can keep in touch with their children now in a whole new way. Recently, a taxi driver told me the only reason he has a phone is so that he can speak to his kids. This is an area of life, where both men and women use the phone in exactly the same ways and get equal delight from."
Notably, there are other areas, too, where surprising similarities in use are being found between men and women. Along with the mobile link to children, mobile technology is also showing mobile men do enjoy access to some of the "softer" apps - like horoscopes.
World Online's mobile and fixed Internet portal general manager Natalie Thayer tells us: "You'd be quite surprised, as I was, to learn that it's not mainly women who subscribe to mobile services such as horoscopes alerts. Lots of men are subscribing to what traditionally has been 'women's stuff'. Of course, as one would anticipate, males enjoy our sports services most - but then, we find that growing numbers of women also enjoy the sports alerts. We find that women are the first to phone in if the cricket scoreboard is down for a minute or two!"
Carol Posthumus is a freelance author, analyzing how mobile technology impacts our lives. She lives in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.