Reflection on my Digital Research Project – Fake Phoning

 I wanted to investigate and explore the topic of fake phoning (I’ve also seen it described as phoney phoning on Urban Dictionary – which I think is great). Fake phoning is when people pretend to text or call someone to avoid an awkward or inconvenient situation.

The idea came to me because it’s something I’m familiar with – I do it all the time and think it’s interesting that I feel so uncomfortable that my phone becomes an outlet to absorb my social anxiety. I’m, like, insanely awkward and in the age of the smartphone I’m able to avoid unwanted social situations or feel slightly less awkward in a public space by simply pretending to text absolutely no one on my phone. Even when my phone battery is dead and I find myself in an uncomfortable situation I’ll still pretentiously tap away at my dead screen as though I’m doing something of the utmost importance. In my quest to prove I’m not the only socially awkward person out there I wanted to collaborate with others and their experiences of fake phoning.


Asides from a study done by the Pew Research Centre in 2011 I couldn’t find a whole lot of past research on the topic. Instead I looked at different research focusing on the reasons people might fake phone and why it occurs in public space. I focused mainly on theories by Erving Goffman as he has a very detailed analysis of behaviour in public spaces. Despite being written in 1963 his account of how people act when they’re on their own and with other people is still relevant today and supports the concept of fake phoning.

Time management:

Oh man. One day I hope this is an area I can improve on. I had a timetable for all my subjects indicating what I had to get done each week to remain on target. But sometimes our dreams remain just that – very, very distant dreams that maybe one day we’ll achieve. I did try to be organised, and in the first week I did a whole lot of Googling and found some sources but after that other subjects took over my life. It’s actually a shame because I think it’s really interesting and I would’ve loved to have collaborated over a longer period of time and also incorporated more people. In this sense I faced some of Torsten Hägerstrand’s constraints. At this point in the session everyone is busy and organising a time that suited both the collaborator and myself was difficult.

On collaborative ethnography:

Although I know a lot of people would be viable to talk on this topic I ended up collaborating with a close friend of mine, Paige, just because in such a short period of time I think true collaborative ethnography could be difficult and I didn’t have a huge amount of time available. Eric Lassiter’s idea of collaborative ethnography “deliberately and explicitly emphasizes collaboration at every point in the ethnographic process.” I tried to include my friend as much as possible, treating our time spent talking as a conversational discussion rather than an interview. By working together with someone I’m comfortable with I was able to have honest and comfortable conversation and easily reach out to her when I needed to. Throughout the process I spoke casually and briefly to a lot of friends, bringing the topic up in conversation, just to see how many people would say, “Oh, I do that all the time!”
Asides from my time management, which I spoke about above I did also face challenges in the research process. Collaborative ethnography is still a form of research that is relatively new to me – before this session I had no idea what it was and it took me a while to understand its value. I think there’s areas I can improve on such as listening more closely to my collaborator and spending more time with them on each step of the research process.


I went with blogging because it’s what I know – I’m comfortable and confident in the realm of blogging. I wasn’t really sure what other platform would be appropriate for the digital research project. However, I do think blogging is a good way to explore the topic of fake phoning – it allows for a more casual discussion.

Why it’s useful research to media industries:

This kind of research might be useful to media industries because there is a very minimal amount available on this topic, yet it seems to be a common thing that a lot of people do. An ethnographic and qualitative approach gives a more in depth look into the situations in which people rely most on their phone. This research on this topic looks into the social dependency on our devices and also how they provide safety – at one point my friend Paige mentioned she felt safe because of her phone during intimidating situations, such as being alone at night at a train station.


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