Marion Underwood, a University of Texas at Dallas professor, has been collecting texts sent by and to 175 adolescent students at a large suburban Texas high school as part of a study dubbed the BlackBerry Project.
Students who participate receive free BlackBerrys from Underwood’s team, as well as a data plan that includes unlimited texting and a limited number of voice minutes. The students then agree to allow Underwood’s research team to record all the texts and emails they send and receive from the phone, which they agree to use as their primary communication device.
The amount of text message the professor and her team have collected is incredible. Over homecoming weekend of 2009, Underwood’s team took in 43,305 texts over a two-day period. Underwood says her team, on average, adds 500,000 new text messages per month.
Although the students are aware Underwood and her team are analyzing the texts, emails, and phone calls, the students aren’t entirely self-censoring their conversations. In an early look at the data, Underwood found that 7% of the texts contain profane language, and that 6.6% of messages contained sexual language, which is similar to what other researchers found when analyzing conversations in teenage chat rooms.
In one instance, a friend texted one participant about selling drugs, the participant wrote back, “Hey, be careful, the BlackBerry people are watching, don’t worry, they won’t tell anyone.” Underwood respects the privacy of all participants, but does have her team monitoring for words like “rape,” “kill myself” or “older man.”
Thus far, Underwood’s data suggests that girls and boys text about the same, but that boys are less likely to reveal just how much they do. Underwood is hoping that the data collected in the last four years could be useful to psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists, but it is unclear whether Underwood will ever be able to share this data with others.
via LA Times