Mobile phones (cell phones)









A reduction of contrast between places
A reduction of contrast between public and private
A reduction in experience
Mobile phones and the theatre
Not strictly legal - jamming
Links and quotes

See also: The Culture Industry

A reduction of contrast between places

Venice, Florence, Rome, Krakow, Prague, London, Paris, Vienna, Salzburg, Dublin, the Cotswold villages, the Lake District villages, most of the inhabited places of the world, given an increase in sameness, uniformity. Mobile phone users are everywhere, in the Piazza San Marco, the Rynek Glowny, Trafalgar Square, the courts of Trinity, Cambridge, sometimes in places unauthorized for the exchange of gossip and trivia, such as libraries, as well as the authorized places - nearly everywhere.

All the older guidebooks and travel books have to be reinterpreted, read in a different way: Morris's 'Venice,' all of Morton, D H Lawrence writing about Sicily or New Mexico, to reflect this lessening of the spirit of place. Recent guidebooks are silent about the anything but silent mobile phone, even the ones with justified claims to caring about art, culture, travel that goes beyond 'great shopping,' 'great beaches,' 'great people.'

This reduction of contrast was preceded by another gadget, of course, the camera. The ruining of places by tourism has a great deal to do with the fact that tourists are forever taking pictures of buildings, lakes, rocks by the sea, friends or family grinning in front of buildings, lakes, rocks by the sea.

'Slow Cities' began in Italy. 'The Citta Slow manifesto contains fifty-five pledges, such as cutting noise and traffic; increasing green spaces and pedestrian zones; backing local farmers and the shops, markets and restaurants that sell their produce; promoting technology that protects the environment; preserving local aesthetic and culinary traditions; and fostering a spirit of hospitality and neighbourliness.' (Carl Honore, 'In Praise of Slow: how a worldwide movement is changing the cult of speed.' Page 86). Beyond praise! But there's a need for a fifty-sixth pledge. The mobile phone clone is a jarring intrusion in this vision of urban loveliness, as jarring as, let's say, ring tones in a hushed auditorium. Sergio Contegiacomo, a young financial consultant, says "In a Slow City you have the licence to relax, to think, to reflect on the big existential questions. Rather than get caught up in the storm and speed of the modern world, where all you do is get in the car, go to work, then hurry home, you take time to walk and meet people in the street. It's a little but like living in a fairy tale." (Carl Honoré, Page 87.) Well expressed, but all jeopardized, made impossible, in fact, by the over-intrusion of the mobile phone.

A reduction of contrast between public and private

Anyone travelling by public transport should be spared the details of other people's one-sided opinions, comments - literally one-sided, of course, given the fact that you can only hear half the conversation (which makes it twice as irritating.) Given the cost of public transport in this country, travellers are entitled to look out of the window, read a book or newspaper, think, engage in whatever quiet and peaceful occupation they choose, without being disturbed.

If I walk rather than use public transport, I want to be alert to my surroundings - perhaps to lift my eyes and look at the swifts, swooping and soaring, if it's summer - to think, to do anything rather than listen to someone talk about things of no value to me or anyone else but that person.

Any survey of public transport ought to avoid alignment, the implication that all the advantages are with public transport, and cite as a disadvantage the cacophony of ring tones, prolonged phone conversations, snatches of mobile phone conversations.

A reduction in experience

Intense experiences made less likely, more commonplace, humdrum and banal experiences made more likely. The use of mobile phones is banned during concerts and theatre performances for one overwhelmingly obvious reason, which some mobile phone users don't seem to understand, of course: it interferes with immersion in the music or drama, with giving undivided attention to the music, with the intensity of the experience. There's a complete disproportion between the vision of Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Bach and others, and the mind of the mobile phone user who uses the phone during a concert.

Most people addicted to their mobile phones aren't limited enough to make use of them during performances. They obviously are limited if they ignore the fact that there are other peak experiences which are made difficult or impossible by their habit (('habit' as in 'drug-user's habit'). Flowers, leaves, songbirds, swallows and swifts, all of nature, potentially, the fascination of the urban environment, made far harder to appreciate by these people, most of them with the poetic appreciation and general awareness of a gnat, others, I know, people with substantial awareness. Advanced technology may involve the atrophy of some higher human abilities, such as the ability to look and feel, to look and feel as Ruskin or Gerard Manley Hopkins could look and feel.

Mobile phone users who have the sense not to use their phone during a concert, a meeting or some other event are often found fidgeting with the phone just before the event starts, and as soon as they possibly can after the event finishes. I think of a film I attended, concerned with Sophie Scholl and others of the White Rose Circle who were executed for their opposition to Hitler's regime. A man in the row in front did just this. He walked through the darkened auditorium with his phone glowing, used the phone until the film began and as soon as the film ended, with the guillotining of Sophie, he returned to his main priority at the time : not reflecting on evil, courage, tyranny, but returning as soon as he possibly could to this constricted world of the mobile phone.

Ring tones are an accurate reflection of this debased consciousness. One available is 'Jesu, joy of man's desiring.' (From Bach's cantata 'Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben.') An example of a complete disproportion between original and copy.

A reduction in concentration. A lack of concentration can cause accidents, of course, as when a driver uses a mobile phone. Except in schools where they're banned, effectively banned, mobile phones have had a disastrous impact in the classroom. Instead of concentration on the task in hand, the chance to fritter away time.

But an adequate survey should include the harmful effects of lack of concentration when no one risks being injured or killed as a result.

There's an overwhelming need to apply limitation to personal communications. This urge to communicate almost everywhere - whilst standing in a queue, whilst opening a car door, whilst walking on a beach - has to be resisted.

Mobile phones obviously have their uses, including very beneficial uses. They can save lives (mountain rescue has been transformed by their use, but there are many other instances.) Working people often find them essential to their businesses. Anyone whose vehicle has broken down on a dark night on a lonely road will feel gratitude for mobile phones. Mobile phone users have the most varied reasons for using them. Reality is awkward and I recognize that mobile phone users, even some mobile phone addicts (and there are a huge number of these) include outstanding people as well as mediocrities. But this is not to give anything like a full survey of their use, or of mobile phone users. Mobile phones are overused and misused on such a scale that they amount to a major problem: yet another contribution to a moronic society. I feel enraged by so much use of mobile phones, but extreme rage is better directed at the worst abuses.

Mobile phones and the theatre

Overwhelming call for phone blockers in theatres

'Seven out of ten theatre professionals and theatregoers want mobile phone jamming technology installed in theatres to prevent audience members' ringtones interrupting shows - an occurrence which has reached epidemic proportions, according to The Stage's survey...Equity is planning to lobby government to change legislation to allow phone blockers to be used in theatres.'

Shakespeare and 'the plague of mobiles'

The phrase is from the drama critic Fiona Mountford, of the 'Evening Standard,' , who found things to criticize in a performance of 'The Tempest' but criticized too some members of the audience, who 'resorted to constant text messaging.' She asks why it shouldn't be possible to rid all theatres and concert halls, 'all cultural auditoria,' of the 'plague of mobiles.' Whether a performance is outstanding and revelatory, good, so-so or poor (and often, there's room for disagreement) the members of the audience who resort to text-messaging are stupid and insensitive, showing contempt for the performers. These people are cretinous, and there's surely no room for disagreement about that. The performers have a complete right to the concentration of the audience - inner concentration, or, if not, the appearance of outward concentration - at least to the extent of avoiding using phones, doodling, staring at the ceiling, eating or drinking.


A coach journey to Ulm in Southern Germany - nearly 24 hours travelling time, with a wait of a couple of hours in London. Beeps as email messages were sent or received. I protested to the woman sitting in the seat in front. Told that she was sending out invitations to a party. No explanation as to why she couldn't send out invitations to a party silently. Ring-tones throughout the journey. Not many in the middle of the night, but some passengers carried on long mobile phone conversations. At 5 in the morning, when someone had talked and talked on the mobile phone I lost patience. 'It's 5 in the morning ... you idiot, you fool!' I slept for no more than 5 minutes. On the way back, more ring-tones and mobile phone conversations.

Not strictly legal - jamming

Matt Rudd, 'Silent but deadly, the jammer's revenge on mobile prattlers.'

Extract: 'This is the drawback of being a commuter. Sevenoaks to London and back every day and I always end up sitting next to the pinstriped idiot who can't grasp the fact that everyone else on the train might not be interested in his share-dealing prowess.

'...If only there was a button you could push to kill the conversation.

'Well there is. It's a little black box called a phone jammer. Illegal in this country, the United States and most of the European Union, the basic version costs as little as 25GBP in Hong Kong. By sending out a blizzard of radio waves, the cigarette packet-sized gadget will knock out a mobile phone signal within a radius of five to 10 yards. A more expensive version can take out a whole train. Very James Bond..

'Ofcom, the UK's communications regulator, is quick to point out that the jammers are illegal for good reason: "They cause deliberate interference to the radio spectrum which can cause a nuisance to other users and at worst are dangerous - potentially jamming the frequencies used by the emergency and safety-of-life services.

'I like the bit about causing a nuisance - an eye for an eye and all that. But the risk to safety-of-life services? Oh, come on, I'm on a train. I'm going to switch the thing on for only a few seconds to ruin Derek's blow-the-bonus-in-Barbados chat. It's hardly going to bring the London Ambulance Service to its knees.

'And what about the health-giving properties of a phone jammer? Stress-free travel to and from work could save the National Health Service millions in reduced coronary distress. I, for one, would have lower blood pressure.'

Bryan Appleyard and jamming

He recommends the 'Mini Phone Jammer.'

Links and quotes

1. The writer Christopher Hitchen, revising The Ten Commandments

Turn off that fucking cell phone - you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us.

2. Jem Turner

Mobile telephones — what an irritating invention. Noisy, over-used, "trendified" gadgets that teenagers will tell you are a must have to increase their social status. Rubbish. I have a mobile phone and it hasn't enhanced my "social status", but then I couldn't give a monkeys about the latest gadgets. My phone was bought when I was younger (when I tried to be trendy, admittedly) and now only gets used to phone relatives at Christmas.

As if getting your brains fried by the microwaves isn't bad enough, there's cases of mobile phone masts causing unusual epileptic attacks, hearing words in your head (even in those who are deaf), electro-hypersensitivity (EHS), etc.

There's an increase in robberies relating to mobile phones (28% now compared to 8% three years ago) and a violent "happy slapping" epidemic caused by the ridiculous invention of camera phones.

I don't want my photo taken thank you very much; respect my privacy. I don't want to hear another one of those bloody irritating repetitive ring tones and I certainly don't want to see a naked frog dancing around your screen. I couldn't care less whether or not your phone can record 3 hours of video and the fact that you get 500 free text messages a month is not important. I'm not impressed that you can remove all of the vowels from a word to make a sentence shorter and that your flip-top, spin-round, super thin phone does GPS too. Get it out of my face and stop pretending you need your phone.'

3. Giles Coren (in 'The Times')

'The iPod that cuts off the kid from the aural community, the gobbing in the street, the mobile phone used to connect to elsewhere because "here" is briefly tedious. They're all part of the same blurring of boundaries between private and public space. The abnegation of society.'

4. James Katz, Director of the Center for Mobile Communications, Rutgers University

'If anything characterises the twenty-first century, it's our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people.'

5. Suzi Gablick, 'Has Modernism Failed?'

'If the great modern enterprise has been freedom, the modern hubris is, finally, the refusal to accept any limits. If previous societies were formed on the limitations of man's destiny, our own suggests a definition of life which meets with no limitation whatsoever, and allows the individual, as a result, to abandon himself to himself - without any communal obligation that might regulate freedom and prevent it from becoming narrow and selfish.'

6. The UK Noise Association on mobile phone use: