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Hell Phones! 2006-09-26

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Gizmo, Intolerance.
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Wired News Article by Momus

I don’t have a cell phone. In fact, I’m here today to tell you that they’re the work of the devil. Switch yours off for five minutes and I’ll explain why.

Interruptability:
Phones have always been interrupting machines. Like a screaming baby demanding to be fed, a phone demands your attention as soon as it rings. It requires you to be interruptable. And a hell phone, unlike a house phone, tags along with you wherever you go, nagging.
Health hazard

Any small, desirable consumer item you wave around conspicuously in public makes you a target for thieves, who may well injure you. Your hell phone may or may not give you brain cancer, but it certainly increases the quantity of microwaves being pumped through the air. What’s more, like any electronic device, it’s difficult to recycle.

Then there’s all the cultural pollution hell phones are responsible for: annoying ringtones, or those loud conversations you’re forced to listen to. These social aggravations affect your health by raising your stress levels; the confrontations they can spark with your fellow citizens can come to blows. Not healthy!


Surveillance:
A hell phone is a device you carry that, when switched on, tells a satellite exactly where you are every few seconds. It’s a device with a microphone in it that can transmit all it hears even when you’re not consciously making a call. You don’t have to be super-paranoid (or bin Laden) to see how this compromises your privacy, and you don’t have to read very far in the newspapers to see how little we can trust governments these days not to use, misuse and hoard whatever information they can get on you.

It doesn’t even have to be the government. It might be a sleazy tabloid journalist, a stalker or the detective employed by your estranged wife. Hell!


Private in public:

OK, now I pull on my minister’s collar; now we come to the ethical stuff. Hell phones encourage a privatization of public space. Whereas once the voices in public places were always directed to other people who were present, a great back-turning seems to have taken place. A voice on a bus is now as likely to be speaking to someone invisible and absent as someone else sitting on the bus.

As a result, the public zone becomes a sort of refuse tip, cluttered with the useless chaff of private conversations intended for someone somewhere else. Like a freeway built through a village, this prioritization of what’s elsewhere degrades many of the pleasures of being here, now.


Flexitime:
Have you noticed that no one makes firm appointments anymore? Everything is sketchy, provisional, pencilled in. “I’ll call you when I get there.” “Something’s come up; can we reschedule?”

The hell phone may be a boon to the spontaneous, but it’s also a license for the slippery, the evasive and the passive aggressive to mess with your head.

Detached:
Just as hell phones allow you to avoid committing yourself to a specific time and place, so they allow you to remain detached from other commitments. We switch our phones off in the cinema because without bracketing all other concerns and giving our undivided attention to the drama unfolding on the screen we’d be wasting our time and money.

But what about the drama of our lives? Why is it OK to interrupt that? Is there such a thing as “emotional multitasking”? Maybe that’s what you were doing when you struggled to suppress rising irritation as you waited for my hell phone call to end … I’m sorry about that. And I’ll be sorry next time, too.


The auction:
(Let me clip on red devil horns for this one.) Okay, I’m here right now, but I’m just waiting for a better offer to come along. Hold on, my cell phone is ringing. Listen, I have to go. I’ve decided to spend my evening somewhere else. I might not even stay there, either. I run my social life like an auction, and the offers come in by phone.

One convenient thing about this is that it really takes away all incentive to stick around long enough to hear bad news about myself, or to attempt to change myself in any way. With new offers coming in all the time, why would I even do that? Later, dude. Call me.

Me and my friends:
A telephone connects you, potentially, to everybody in the entire world. But when was the last time you cold-called “somebody in the world” just to say hi? Mostly, a hell phone lubricates habitual links to a small circle of people you already know. Whereas the internet feels like a public and global space, a hell phone feels like a private, local one. Just as most cars visit the same five or six places, so most hell phones call the same five or six numbers over and over.

It’s not exactly horizon- or mind- expanding. Combine that restricted form of sociability with other social developments like gated communities, filtered news sources and a security-obsessed state and it leads to a dangerous narrowing of the mind.


The world’s worst text input device:
Why, when there are laptops with proper keyboards, do people insist on tapping out text on a hell phone’s alpha-numeric keypad — the world’s worst text-input device? Are you guys insane? Why evolve freak thumbs — and turn the English language into mulch — when you could just use a writing machine actually designed for the purpose?

Desire:
Confession time: I’m not immune to excitement about the hell phone as a consumer object. I got my first in 1993, and abandoned my last in 2003. Browsing in a branch of Bic Camera in Osaka earlier this year, I marvelled at just how gorgeous and tempting Japanese hell phones have become. Slim, pearly-sleek and futuristic, they incorporate TVs, still and video cameras, mp3 players, portable game systems, GPS mapping.

Compare them with plain old cameras, computers, watches or any other once-desirable gadget and there’s no competition; it’s quite clear that the all-consuming, all-converging hell phone is the star of the store, the only machine that’s truly compulsive at this point.

The hell phone is where the most passionate consumer desire resides right now, and where all the design ingenuity is going. It’s just a shame that so few people seem to know the designer’s name: Satan.

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Comments»

1. Cell Phone and GPS? « devine - 2006-11-04

[…] Looks like I am going to have to replace my mobile Cell Phone. Trouble is, I don’t know which one to go for.  I like to keep things very simple indeed.  In fact, Ruth and I share a dislike for unnecessary complexity; we live by Occam’s Razor. The cellphone fad seems to have peaked now, a lot of people are getting out (according to the article: Hell Phones! 2006-09-26).  Maybe it is because they can be used to track us  (according to the article: Tracking People By Their Mobile Cellphone 2006-03-24). A stolen phone can help people to steal identity, and infidelities have been discovered by partners looking through cellphones for incriminating pictures, numbers and messages. […]


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