The tone of the question already ensures I am doomed. I don't know who the hell is responsible for letting Valentine's Day fall on a Saturday this year. Whoever you are, there are a few million of us guys ready to meet you in a dark alley, you dumbass. Dinner and chocolates just got upgraded to an entire day of romantic expectations. Way to raise the bar!
I try to deflect attention from my romantic ineptitude by carting out a survey the mobile social network MocoSpace just sent me. "Do you really want to go out on a date?" I ask. "Did you know that among the 10,000 social networkers they surveyed, 34% admit to using their mobile phones to flirt with someone else while on a date?"
When they don't say anything in response, you know you are on treacherous ground.
"And believe it or not, 45% of the respondents admitted to breaking up with someone using a mobile phone, and 62% of them use text messaging."
I am not sure what was possessing me to go on at this point, but a certain masculine momentum sets in when you know you are headed off a cliff.
I ask my daughter to give us a reality check and she paints a telling picture of relationships in the digital age. "Tom broke up with me on AIM. I broke up with Dick on MySpace. Harry and I broke up on the phone. And John broke up with me on SMS, then we decided to take it to IM."
"Because IM is where you engage the really deep discussions?" I ask.
This is getting me off the hook, since my fiancée, who doesn't carry a cell phone generally, is aghast at the new-fangled folkways of youth. I could pull this near-disaster out of its death spiral by pouring on the metrics about all the men out there who are more clueless and despicable than I.
I mention that of those who do break up on mobile phones, the majority are male.
"Of course," my daughter explodes. "Guys will always try to break up with you on SMS. Because they don't want to hear you cry. It makes them feel bad."
Okay, things have veered a bit. All eyes turn to me in one of those moments where I am supposed to explain or take responsibility for an entire gender.
Let me take a Twix moment here.
First, I have to qualify MocoSpace's metrics. They are interesting, but obviously skewed to the younger and more digitally social population that would congregate there. Still, I am prepared to believe that the survey roughly approximates its younger demo. Most of the people I see on MocoSpace are 18-30.
But what fascinates me about some of these results is the mixed message about mobilistas' relationship to the phone. For instance, 71% of these respondents say their mobile phone is the most important device when it comes to maintaining their social lives. The survey found that 42% of those without dates on Valentine's Day will turn to the social networks on their mobile phones for companionship. There is an incredible level of intimacy attached to this device, and yet many in my daughter's generation rely on it also to provide emotional distance from the very people they are connecting to.
Maybe I am overthinking this. But I notice my daughter and her friends spend so much more time texting than actually phoning. She says being on the phone is "tiresome." She calls it being "stuck on the phone." "With text I can choose not to answer," she says.
The multimedia cell phone offers the young super-communicator many modes from which to choose and dance across: text, voice, image exchange, social network, etc. In the same way that cell phones allow for constant connection, they also allow for optimal control of those connections.
There is also the privacy factor. She tells me that having a conversation no one else can hear is a part of her calculus when deciding which mode to use. Perhaps it is as much a matter of control as connection -- or it is communication constrained and structured by the user. Communication defined by choice and control.
I am sure there are dissertations being written throughout the world on these very issues, but it seems to me there is the glimmer of a message to marketers here. If part of the beauty and the allure of the cell phone is this combination of communication and choice and control, then you need to consider marketing strategies that not only leverage the conversational qualities of the device but also the user's desire to control that conversation.
Imagine a campaign that encourages the consumer to choose from the first point of contact how she wants to communicate with your brand. We often give lip service to "empowering the user," but are we looking hard enough at where the user locates her own sense of power?
And when you figure out how to communicate properly with consumers, send me a clue (text, phone, message board, billboard -- I am not as particular as my daughter). My Twix moment is about up. They still want me to answer for my gender.
"Men are scum?" I suggest, posing the cliché in the form of a tentative question. Even they don't believe my weak attempt at playing along. I have lost the momentum in this conversation entirely now.
"Hunnnneeee. What are we doing this weekend?"
Doomed, I say.