Benjamin Geer on 12 Nov 2000 02:39:05 -0000

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

On Sat, Nov 11, 2000 at 11:09:10PM +0100, Marianne van den Boomen wrote:
> The need to sustain at least a private network in a society which
> had almost completely demolished public space or made it anonymous
> space. The need to be assured that you're not alone, that your
> existence is not in vain but connected to the existence of other
> people.  I'm serious about this, this is not ironic!

That's a good point.  The more public space is turned into commercial
space, the more people want to experience some kind of private space
while in public.  However, I would emphasise that, with the mobile
phone, this ostensibly private experience is mediated by a
high-profile fashion accessory, and that it isn't private at all,
since everyone can hear what you're saying.  It's more like a
*pretend* private experience, which involves going through the motions
of private conversation, in full view of the public, as if you were on

> I don't have a mobile either. But there is no reason to disqualify
> the uses other people have for their mobiles.

I didn't mean to do so, and I agree that practical uses exist, but I
don't think they account for the immense popularity of mobile phones.

> >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.
> My impression is completely the opposite. People talking in their mobiles
> seem to be completely unconscious about how they appear to passersby.
> (Otherwise they would not be talking so loud :-) They are in a private
> space, they are acting in their private network.

It would surprise me very much if they were truly unconscious of their
appearance.  Most of them seem to be ultra-conscious about every other
aspect of their appearance: hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, walk, facial
expression.  The same is true, I think, in New York, London, and
Paris: most people work very hard at the image that they project to
strangers.  They are *always* on stage, especially when walking down
the street.  This is why fashion is such big business in these cities.
Advertising is full of images of strangers admiring people who have
bought the product advertised.  This is connected with your point; in
an urban landscape that makes people feel unimportant and perhaps even
nonexistent, fashion is an attempt to say: "I exist!  I am important!"
And I think that the mobile phone is certainly part of this; it says,
"I am important, and the proof is that other people urgently need to
talk to me; they can't wait until I get home."

Surely we cannot take this at face value.  A century ago, people
managed to have rich social lives without any telephones at all.  My
grandparents (who were born in the first decade of the 20th century)
had a dense network of social relations, consisting of friends and
relatives, in an urban environment.  Today, we're used to a level of
isolation and rootlessness which makes the social fabric of 1900 hard
to imagine.  As loneliness increases, the desire to deny loneliness,
to pretend it isn't there, increases as well.  Hence the mobile phone.

> I would say the statement is: "Don't look! I'm not with you in a
> public space, I'm with my friends in my private space. Leave me
> there."

When someone uses a fashion accessory to say "Don't look at me," I
think we can assume that this is really a way of saying "Look at me!"
A basic principle of advertising is that if you tell people that
something is "private" (i.e. that they shouldn't look), it makes them
want to look even more.  In this sense, a person having a loud private
conversation on their mobile phone, in a public place, is like those
fashion photographs in which the laughing model is trying to cover the
camera lens with her hand, or like those "reality TV" shows that
promise to let you watch the private lives of strangers.  "My private
life is better than yours; you should be jealous."

Benjamin Geer

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