Generation GSM

By Ani Eristavi
Brosse Street Journal
Saturday, December 3 2005

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Mobile phones have steadily become a technology that fewer people want to do without. This may be especially true for the younger set. "They're texting at school, in movies or at home. It's a device that connects them very socially to their friends and keeps them very private from the adults that rule their world," explains Georgian psychologist Sopio Dolidze.

Instant, fast, fun and cheap, "texting" -- the sending and receiving of brief text messages on cell phones -- has become the rage in Georgia.

Teens, techies and other early users leading the charge to text say it's a great way to communicate when they are too busy to talk or when making a call would be rude or impractical. Business people silently check facts in meetings. Teens text flirt messages at concerts and gossip with friends, anytime, anywhere.

Teenagers are highly susceptible to fashions. Fitting in is inherently important during those years. Thus, it should come as no surprise that contemporary teenage culture requires cell phones. Of course, what makes this trend even more interesting is that teenagers are literally shut out of social circles if they fail to participate in the cell phone culture.

"It is important for me to have a cell phone. All of my classmates have it. My parents bought one for me six months ago, and now I can't imagine living without it. It is easier to make friends when you have a cell phone because it's easier to text the message than to call them at home. I send SMS (short message service) to my friends and they also response in text. The only people who call me are my parents," says 14- year-old Liza Sikharulidze.

"I think for Liza, it was the 'wanting to be a grownup' thing," says her mother, Nana Pkhaladze. "Having your own phone is sort of like getting to wear makeup. I don't think that it's bad for a teenager to have a cell phone but it is not completely necessary. Usually they just use them to show off to their friends."

"I think teenagers should have cell phones not just because it makes us look cooler, but because we have our lives, too, and we need to be in complete control with our lives and friends. I always know where my friends are or where the coolest party is. They just send the message," says Sikharulize.

"Clearly, today's kids have embraced the wireless world. This is a generation strongly attached to its mobile phones, and the technology is changing youth culture and social interaction. Whereas the mobile phone serves adults as a communication tool, for young people it has become a new means of expression and identity. I think the phone is like the clothes that you wear," says Dolidze, the psychologist. "For teens it has become a complete reflection of who they are and what they're all about."

That reflection is already making a pretty penny for businesses in the mobile market.
Major Georgian communication companies such as Magticom and Geocell have already chosen teenagers as their target group. The 12-15 age group is the fastest growing segment of cell phone users.

Two years ago Geocell introduced Lai-Lai phone cards, which are cheaper, can be bought in supermarkets, newspaper stands and many other places, and allow 27 minutes of free talking time to other Geocell users. 

This July Magticom introduced Bali. "It's a new service that we introduced for teenagers," says Zura Beselia, director of New Products Department for Magticom and the deputy director of the "Bali" project. "We have built the whole advertising campaign on and for them. What you can see in the commercial for Bali are kids having fun, talking on the phones, texting and dancing to the pop teenage type of music. Even the singers in the commercial are under 20, and it worked. Thousands of kids connected to Bali service in two months. The most important thing is that Bali is very cheap. For three lari (about $1.67) you can get a SIM-card that allows you either 11 minutes to talk, or you can send 100 text messages. (A SIM-card (Subscriber Identity Module card) is a small printed circuit board that must be inserted in a mobile phone when signing on as a subscriber. It contains subscriber details, security information and memory for a personal directory of numbers. ) So more and more children can afford having cell phones. " 

It is not only mobile communication companies that have marketing strategies targeted at teenagers. Mobile phone producers are regularly introducing cell phones designed especially for kids with decorative face plates, cell phones that glow in the dark, and phones with which you can take pictures, record audio and video, play video games, e-mail and text-message your friends, and listen to your favorite music via mp3 (musical files you can download). "I think those are functions of cell phones that are mostly used by youths," says Beselia.
Natia Glonti is 18 years old. Like most university students, she believes she has a constitutional right to have a cell phone connected to her body at all times of the day. Which is not to say that her younger sister, Nino -- "who is only, like, 12 or 13 or something" - doesn't also need to be in touch with her friends 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Yesterday, we were in the supermarket, and she got about eight phone calls in half an hour. Her friends were calling about going to a movie; a guy asked her to come to the pool," says Natia of her sister. "She is on the phone all the time, either talking or writing SMS. I use a cell phone a lot, but not as religiously as my sister and her friends do. But it means a lot to me. The cell phone is the item I would be most freaked out about leaving the house without it."

Parents usually buy cell phones for their children for safety reasons.

"I bought a cell phone for my 14-year-old son to keep track of what he was doing and where he was," says 38-year-old Tamaz Chkikvishvili. "(But) there's a whole separation between their life and the parent's knowledge of that life. There's so much that goes on unmonitored. When we were young, a friend called your home phone and your parents knew who your friends were. Now, you never know because kids don't give away their home phone numbers and their friends are only calling them on their mobile phone. Their parents never really know who they're hanging out with or where."

"One of the core teen experiences is the process of finding your own identity, separating from parents and learning about your individuality. One of the things that the cell phone can do in such an amazing way is to promote that spirit of independence and individuality. It's really not monitored at all by parents," says Dolidze, the psychologist. "Parents can move computers out of the bedroom and into the kitchen to keep kids off the Internet in dangerous ways and to keep them from instant messaging all night long. Now kids have their cell phones and they're doing the same things on them."

"I have spent eight hours messaging to a friend, "says Nino Glonti. "It's a lot of fun, especially in school. When I get bored in class I start texting. We're not allowed to use a phone in the classroom, but texting can be done on the sly. I don't even need to look at the phone as I type. "

Many schools ban using cell phones in the classrooms; they must stay turned off during class. "You're not allowed, but they rarely notice if you have it under the table," says 13-yewar-old Guga Machaidze. "Teachers aren't looking around for that sort of thing. You can pass notes to people in other classes. Once, we cheated on a test by sending text messages to each other."

"You don't have to be a teenager to like texting," says Irakli Gurgenidze, 24, "When I go out, I hate to be called. I say to everyone to SMS me. The beauty of text messages is they are cheap, immediate and you don't have to talk to people to get the word out. Besides, you can say things in a text dialogue that you wouldn't normally say face-to-face or in a voice call. You can even be more flirtatious with a girl," he says, smiling.

"Mobile technology is giving these teens a chance to have more freedom and to communicate in a way that was once not a possibility until they moved away from home," says Dolidze. "It fulfills their needs."

More adults probably will begine to adopt texting as well as other new forms of communication.

"We've had speech," says Dolidze. "We've had writing. We've had the printing press. These are technologies for extending the way we think and communicate.

"That's what humans do. We come up with new ways to communicate and new ways to build civilizations."

Copyright © 2004, Brosse Street Journal.