What’s the connection between Facebook and your mobile phone?

Facebook users know they can send each other little messages, even buy their “friends” an online drink or send them a “hug”. You can even do all that with text messages, sending little “wordlets”. But there’s a more subtle connection, a psychological one.

When text messaging was invented it was designed for mobile phone engineers to pass on bits of software coding to update parts of the telephone network; no-one thought it would have any commercial value, except psychologists of course…! Written language is used when we aren’t able to see or hear each other. For millions of years human beings and their forebears have been using coding systems, like written language, to pass on information. Early cave paintings were codes for where to find food, for instance.

However, if you were next to your cave mate, you didn’t need a painting, you could tell them caveman to caveman where the best hunting was. So, spoken language is for when we are with people, written language is for when we aren’t together. Our brains are built that way – we know the difference and use written language or spoken language appropriately. After all, it’s no good me speaking all this now, instead of writing it, because you can’t hear me now.

So texting has an obvious psychological value – it is useful when we can’t actually speak to someone. Most voicemail systems don’t get messages left on them because people put the phone down. Why? Because they know they are speaking to no-one and that’s just stupid. When no-one’s there we write to them – hey presto, texting.

So what’s this to do with Facebook. Well, writing messages on our friend’s “Fun Wall” is great when we are not together. We can write to them because they are not with us. Perfect. Even more perfect for us Brits.

We don’t like admitting it – after all we’re rather reserved – but the rest of the world knows that on the whole British people are not that sociable. A rather “stand offish” bunch we are. In fact, we’d often rather be quiet, on our own, or only with true friends. Socialising with the masses is not what we are about.

But walk into a bar in the USA and before you know it six people have started talking to you and you know all about their grandchildren and their plans to become a millionaire. The Americans live in an environment where talking to real people is encouraged. We don’t – what do we tell our children at school? Be quiet. Don’t talk. We are brought up to avoid spoken language. Guess what that means?

It means that things like texting and sending people pretent hugs and drinks is much more attractive to British people than those hug-loving French, for instance. So, it’s no surprise that two pieces of research show just how much the people in the UK love technologically based socialising because it allows us to avoid the real thing.

A study of mobile phone users across Europe has shown that we are the text champions, texting much more than our European cousins and way, way more than people in the USA. Gosh they don’t appear to know you can use the phone for anything beyond phone calls…! Talking to each other? That’s weird…!

Another piece of research reveals that we are the Facebook kings of Europe too. Brits spend more time using Facebook than any other country in Europe. That’s because they are all out at dinner parties and in bars and restaurants with their friends, while we are nice and safely tucked up, on our own, behind our computer screens.

So what can we learn from these studies? For anyone running an online business it means there are cultural differences to approaches to technology which could have a real impact on your income. Set up a web site with SMS texting facilities and you’ll do well in the UK, but not in the USA. Create a social network and have face to face meetings – you won’t get so many attendees in the UK as you would in France, say. It’s just another take on the fact that you really must get to know your audience and that means their psychological stance on things as well.

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