Benjamin Geer on 11 Nov 2000 15:06:44 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Cellphones and the Cancer of Cellspace

It seems to me that, while mobile phones certainly have all the uses
that have been described here, for many people they are above all a
new kind of fashion accessory, one which reflects the intense
loneliness that is extremely widespread in large cities.

I watched mobile phones become ubiquitous in New York, and I heard
many people walking down the street, loudly having entirely pointless
conversations, usually along the lines of: "Now I'm at 38th Street and
6th Avenue..."  I had no doubt that this was type of ostentatious
public performance was the expression of an intense emotional need.
But what exactly is this need?

I don't have a mobile, because it has always seemed to me that I would
have no use for one.  I have few friends, and no one ever needs to
contact me on short notice.  In these respects, I'm no different from
most city dwellers.  However, I believe that it's precisely those
people that have no practical use for a mobile who are most likely to
buy one.  In a city like New York, where loneliness is the norm,
people wear their social relations as a badge of superiority.  It is
bad enough, they feel, to be lonely; it is worse to *appear* lonely.
The mobile is a simple, clear statement to the world: "Look!  I have
friends!"  The sight of someone who has someone to talk to is enough
to strike shame into the hearts of passersby who do not enjoy this
privilege.  The latter then hasten to buy mobile phones of their own,
and to use them in public at every opportunity.  Perhaps, in many
cases, these conspicuous talkers are actually talking to a dial tone.
When they tire of that, they can at least pretend to check for text
messages, even though they never receive any.  Such is the stigma of
loneliness in the big city.  And in a consumer society, it is not
surprising that, instead of working to create spaces for real
solidarity and friendship, people reach for a consumer product to hide
the outward signs of the problem.

Benjamin Geer

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