The Text Message as a Communication Tool
In the interviews, most participants stated that the idea of providing information and counseling via text message was essentially a good one:
Charlotte3 : I actually believe it's a really good way to approach people, because you use the phone all the time.
In the quote, Charlotte highlights the fact that the mobile phone is an everyday medium in general use. So the participants' positive reception of the services is closely related to the mobile phone's functionality, and to their use of it. For example, the participants ascribe to the product positive associations about functionality, ease, availability and discretion:
Line: The good thing about receiving it on SMS is the fact that you can read it when you want, and if you do not feel like reading it, you can always erase it.
Gert: It is just easy. You just receive it on the phone. You almost always have your phone on you.
Peter: It is better than a phone conversation, because there you need time, but with an SMS it can happen during the day.
Furthermore, many of the participants conceive of the text messages as being aimed at them personally. The mobile phones are, for most people, a personal possession, and that creates the framework within which an approach can be thought of as personal:
Kasper: […] it's more personal, when is it an SMS and not a phone call. Because then it is on your phone, and you are forced to read it. I think you tend to think more about an SMS, when it is aimed at you personally, than a commercial on TV, which you tend to forget again.
Peter: It was pretty good because it was like they were meant personally for me. They were not meant for the whole of Denmark, but only for me. So I, like, got it all for myself.
Lasse: You know it is some stupid machine that sends them out, but it is still on your phone […] it is not just some anonymous information, which stands over there. It is inside your phone, and then you relate to it […] An advert on a bus, for example, has nothing to do with me: that's there for other people's sake. The SMS is different because it comes directly to me.
In the quotations, the text messages are compared with approaches in mass media such as TV and posters on buses, which you tend forget about again (Kasper); which are meant for the whole of Denmark (Peter); and which have nothing to do with me, they are there for other people's sake (Lasse). The text messages, by contrast, are thought of as personal messages you get for yourself, and you pay more attention to them than you would to a mass message.
The participants' reception of the messages seems closely interlinked with their everyday activities and routines:
Karsten: The time of day, I think, was really well chosen. Because it was, like, pretty early in the morning we got one. Then you had time to check it before you went to school. And then there was one in the evening. It was appropriate that you got it at a time when you were sure you were not doing anything.
Lasse: I mean, it's in the morning that you smoke, and it is in the evening that you smoke. That means that before you light your morning joint, there is an SMS. And the same happens in the evening. That actually makes pretty good sense.
Peter: It was very nice. You got it in the morning, just after eating breakfast, and then you got it in the afternoon, so it was there every time you checked your phone.
The extracts show how the participants seek to fit the messages into their everyday life routines, such as meals, sleeping, school and smoking. It is also worth noting that several indicate that they like the stability of knowing the times when the messages are transmitted:
Lasse: Once I turned on my mobile phone in the morning, then there was that bip-bip. That was actually pretty cool. Because then you know, like, it is that.
Peter: It was, like, the first days, where you discovered how many messages you received, when you had enlisted, then it was just, ‘Oh, no’. But after a few days, it was fine, you got used to it.
The series of messages and the regular times of transmission could risk creating text-messages fatigue, meaning that the messages would never be read. But the quotations above indicate that regularity of transmission has more advantages than drawbacks for the participants: they know who is writing, and they are able to choose for themselves when they want to read the messages.
In conclusion, the SMS medium offers a potentially new way to help young people with their cannabis abuse. It is personalized, discrete, flexible, age-appropriate, and independent of location. The young people see the messages as being intended for them personally, and they pay more attention to them than they do to mass approaches such as broadcasts on TV. It is also possible to fit the messages into the everyday routines of life, thus providing the participants with a greater feeling of self-control.
Information Versus Counseling
While the participants were generally positive towards the text messages as a new communication tool, there was a crucial difference between the ways in which they received Hashfacts and Restart. With its daily messages dealing with the facts of cannabis, the Hashfacts package was welcomed very positively; the Restart package, however, with its messages centered on helping the young people to reduce their abuse of cannabis, was far less favorably received. The difference seems to be closely linked to the different content and modes of approach of the two services.
The participants were generally positive towards the contents and the mode of approach in the Hashfacts messages:
Kasper: They were easy to read, so that was good.
Gert: I think that's fine: very short, and then you read straight through it, and you have already understood the message in it, or what it was […] That was straight forward.
Anton: The messages were very normal, very, like, neutral.
The interviewees focus on the simplicity, straightforwardness, and the intelligibility of the messages. The messages' hard, factual nature makes them easier to read and to understand. It is also evident that the messages' contents do not have an especially high level of news value for the participants:
Line: Well, it was very nice to get some information regarding hash, and some of the messages had some things I didn't already know.
Kenneth: I think it was really good. I was smoking cannabis right until when I signed up, and I thought it helped me a lot to be reminded about all the bad things the cannabis did to me.
So, some of the information was new, but most was not. Still, many of the participants were happy with the messages, which refreshed and supplemented their knowledge. Some of the participants did not even appear to focus on the contents at all, but more on the mere fact that the messages were being delivered:
I: You said it was too short? […] Should it have continued with the same type of messages? Shouldn't it have changed?
Gert: They might as well just have sent it again …
Gert: Yes. You know, just so you have something to relate to. It helps you.
Line: Is it possible [to enlist again] so that it will reappear? […] Just so it keeps going. Then I have something to be guided by.
In the extracts, the participants say it would have been nice if the messages had started again: You know, just so you have something to relate to (Gert); Just so it keeps going. Then I have something to be guided by (Line).
The Restart package, with messages involving help to reduce abuse of cannabis, was not nearly as well received as Hashfacts. As shown in the previous section, the participants' overall attitude towards Restart was good, but the mode of approach and the content of the messages came in for criticism:
Asbjørn: My first experience of it was …the way it tries to communicate in a more abstract and sort of academic way. I don't know if I can find an example. “What advantages are there for you about smoking? What advantage do you think there will be about not smoking? Find three advantages and compare them.” Well, hello-o? We are talking about a super stoned, super desperate individual who is either smoking or trying to quit […] To get through, I think you have to use much more direct language, with some really hard examples that really appeal to the smoker's language. Like,“When was the last time you got laid?” Or, “Do you know that feeling of being afraid to look people in the eye?”“Aren't you tired of it?”“Come on - pull yourself together.”“How much of your life do you want to waste in front of the water pipe, honestly?”
Asbjørn talks about the mode of approach in the Restart messages as being too academic and abstract, and suggests that it should be more concrete and to the point. Furthermore, Asbjørn recommends using smokers' language. He provides a couple of examples, such as Aren't you tired of it? Pull your self together, and How much of your life do you want to waste in the front of the water pipe, honestly? These examples are out of line with the project's intended tone of just, even communication, because the wording is negatively loaded and judgemental. Nevertheless, Asbjørn is probably right in the fact that the messages are too soft in their approach. While the Hashfacts messages are very direct in their formulations, the Restart ones are full of formulations such as think about, try to, and consider whether: The voice is amenable, inoffensive and understanding. Also, a conversation is postulated with formulations including Have you noticed situations in which you used to smoke but have not done so? and Did you try smoking less today? How did it go? Such questions give the impression of an interaction that is not there, and can seem patronizing. Combined with small assignments (Write down three things …), they create the atmosphere of a student-teacher relationship at school.
Furthermore, the idea of the Restart package seems poorly defined for participants:
I: Why did you choose Restart? Why did you choose that package?
Robert: I think that was a random decision.
I: Then you have to, like, stop smoking cannabis. You have to reduce it afterwards. Did you follow that, or did you feel that you followed it?
Robert: No, I mean … no. I actually had not thought about that. That that was the point. […]
With the Restart messages, the participants must follow the phases. The process is part of the package. This means, for instance, that they must decide to smoke less at the time of the 12th message, which is the start of a new phase. But in terms of content, the aim of the package is unclear for the participants, and they find it difficult to orient themselves towards the phases. The package has been built on a predefined progression that takes no account of discordant factors arising from the participants' actual situations, including any relapses.
Finally, those who had received the Hashfacts messages were especially negative towards Restart:
I: Would you sign up for Restart?
Charlotte: No, I don't think so.
Charlotte: I have an issue with counselling nonsense. Sometimes I just don't believe them like 100%. It is probably just an attitude thing, which can be a stupid attitude. It's a thought I have. I don't think it will work.
I: Do you think it would be good for you to try?
Gert: No, not if they describe what you have to go through. It's like […] Well, I don't know. You actually have to change your circle of friends if you want to get away from it.
In the quotations, Charlotte and Gert show they doubt whether a program in the Restart mould could have any influence. As regular cannabis abusers, both are part of the Restart target group.
To sum up: With its daily messages addressing the facts of cannabis use, the Hashfacts package was very positively received. The participants were especially satisfied with the concrete mode of approach and the straightforwardness of the messages, and they were happy about the content, since this partly gave them new information while at the same time supplementing their knowledge and calling it to mind. The Restart package, however, with its messages aimed at helping smokers reduce their cannabis intake, was not nearly so well received. The participants' overall attitude towards the product was good, but the mode of approach and the contents were criticized. The overall mode of approach in Restart is soft, pedagogical, and understanding, and participants reacted against this. As regards content, the purpose of the package was not clearly defined, and participants had a hard time relating to the different phases of the package.