Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Can You Hear Me Now?

While on the topic of dubious innovations, the Observer has an interesting article looking back at 20 years of the cell phone (the "mobile" in Brit-speak):

In two decades, the mobile phone has snaked its way into almost every aspect of modern culture. Richard Benson, former editor of the Face magazine who now works as a consumer cultural trend forecaster for mobile phone firms Motorola and MM02, says: 'Like television and the motor car before it, the mobile has created new forms of behaviour, communication and thinking. We get obsessed by being "in touch"; we get stressed by being rung all the time; we flirt more and in new ways; we have created new forms of language; we feel more exposed being alone in public. The mobile came along at a time in our history when we were beginning to move around more and have less rigid, predictable lifestyles and it has intensified those changes, shrinking space and making our relationships more fluid. And, of course, mobiles have got us mugged and given us health scares, all of which we have been happy to pay handsomely for.'

What cell phones did, along with the PC, was to rearrange the manner in which we access information, and therefore can be seen as part of a suite of information technologies including broadcast media which blurred the categories we used previously to discern "appropriate" from "inappropriate" timing and use of these technologies. For instance, in the food shopping rush before Xmas I witnessed a hapless "domestic male" at Trader Joe's calling "darling" on the phone with questions about what groceries to buy. Before, she (he?) would have accompanied him, or, more likely, written a detailed note. I've also seen undergraduates walk into the men's room and continue their phone conversation with all sorts of background sounds that, for my generation, just shouldn't be part of a phone call.

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