A Conversation for Mobile Phones
Mobile Phones - Prove Humans are Herd Animals
This space for rent Started conversation May 22, 2003
After the excellent description of what a mobile phone is,
and why we look so silly using them, and how annoying they can be,
it seems natural to explore what has made them ubiquitous in spite of
their fundamentally offensive nature.
I feel that the mobile phone is the ultimate proof that humans are
herd animals. You can talk about independence and self-reliance all
you want, but people don't take any notion or event seriously unless
it has been shared with the other important people in their lives.
The mobile phone allows herd members to travel great distances, but
at the end of the day the herd actually moves in tighter coordination
When mobile phones first became really common, I tried to imagine
what all the conversations I saw around me we about - what was so
important that it had to be discussed NOW, not later on when the
parties were back in physical proximity, not the virtual proximity
a mobile phone net facilitates. I finally decided (well, not
being able to avoid the near half of most conversations makes
eavse-dropping routine) that most of these conversations were
not really about the matter being discussed. They had more to
do with maintaining the bond between the persons conversing.
I was particularly impressed when I realized that some of the people
I work with, who ride a bus (I live in Southern Calfornia - a land
with no functional public transit) not to make a statement, but for
the simple reason that they cannot afford car payments, who carry and
use a mobile phone. In one case, when one of these folks became
curious about the time, he pulled out his phone and checked the time
it showed - I noticed then that he did not wear a watch.
There are other wonderful new electronic gadgets we might carry
about, even some whose primary design defects are >not< hidden
by their secondard design defects, that are roughly the same
cost as a mobile phone. GPS comes to mind. Do you know anyone
who owns one of these devices and knows how to use it? Carries
it around on a typical day? I submit knowing where one is does
not come close in significance to the average person, as knowing
how to get in contact with the important people in one's life.
I suppose of the other gadgets I might consider that cost roughly
what a phone does, one of the more commonly used and carried items
might be a camera. How interesting that newer mobile phones are now
incorporating cameras! Now we can communicate with each other and
to some extent share our actual view on the world. I saw an
advertisment for one of these new phone/camera combinations that
had, as the reason that such a device has become indespensible,
a scene showing a fellow sending a photo to his brother, showing
a miraculous pancake that happened to contain a feature that
resembled their mother. I suspect that as lame as this excuse
for chewing up bandwidth is, it is a fair depection of the sort
of junk that is bound to be sent from such devices. It may even
qualify as a reasonably significant usage, compared to the parade
of body parts one might anticipate flowing over such a
So, now that we can talk to one another over essentially any distance,
we can keep our personal links continually refreshed and current.
News, particularly bad news, can travel from person to person in
record time. I gather that books have been written about the effect
this has already had on what was once called a mob. With a nucleus
of connected members, a crowd can be assembled with remarkable
swiftness, and directed with frightening accuracy.
Monty Python famously asked how history might turned out if Napoleon
had had a B-52. We should perhaps ask how Prague might have
turned out if the average person there had carried a mobile phone.
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