Soft coercion: Reciprocal expectations of availability in the use of mobile communication

Rich Ling


This paper examines how the mobile phone has grown to be an essential item in daily life. It simultaneously represents a gadget that affords us freedom while also tying us to our closest social contacts. The mobile phone provides personal utility via a bewildering number of apps and functions. Through the socially enforced mutual expectation of availability, it ties us to our social sphere while also helping us to create and maintain social cohesion. We are pushed (or coerced) into being in contact via a mobile communication device. This paper draws on qualitative interviews and focus groups from the past two decades to trace the dimensions of this social expectation. The focus in this paper is not on the channel of mediation, i.e., voice vs. chat vs. texting vs. social networking, etc. The focus is on examining the development of the reciprocal social expectation for telephonic availability. The analysis shows how the generalized expectation of availability operates on a daily basis and becomes acutely operative in the case of emergencies such as in the immediate wake of the 22 July Oslo bombings.


Mobile communication, Interpersonal communication, Qualitative analysis

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