05 April 2005

Mobile Desire

William Burroughs was wrong, drugs aren't the perfect product, mobile phones are the perfect product.

They assimilate the fundamental insecurities and desires of humanity into an easily marketable (and largely unrestricted) package, covering all the class/gender divides (cf. socio-economic target groups) and letting rip a vital, viral meme throughout our culture, one that says (imagine angry parent voice): this isn't a product, this is like your arm, do without it, I dare you, go on, just try and see what happens...

From the 80s Gekko bricks to now they've becoming a concrete representation of fashion as essential, something indelibly associated not just with status (the old Alpha-primate desires to be chief bone thumper) but also tapping into the vague sense of unease that's associated with the feeling we might be alone

I don't have a mobile and you only really appreciate how thick the meme has become when you tell people this: you become a hermit before their eyes, you can almost feel the hair growing in your ears.

I did have one, but people kept ringing me, mostly for no reason. When a friend phoned me three times while on his way to our house - 1)I'm just leaving the house now, 2)I'm at the station, 3) I'm just around the corner - none of which seemed to give me the information I needed re: his arrival.

I decided enough was enough and I gave up my sim card.

Now I'm like an ex-smoker...the buzz of a mobile phone sends me into a quiet rage, especially if you're in the middle of a conversation and suddenly someone says: Sorry, I'll just take that...

I mean, exactly what process of value-judgement has been attempted here that decides that this unknown conversation is to predominate over the current known one?

The fear of somehow missing out seems to looms larger than ever.

For me, mobiles have peversely forced people to talk less; people daren't talk on trains, walks etc unless it's to someone they already know and they're paying for it; the person opposite, however attractive they might seem on the surface, is a million miles away, as if the thought of non-guaranteed cultural history is enough to send shivers down your spine.

My students ring each other frantically on the way to the Refectory; utterly terrified at the idea of spending 15 mins alone in the world. They ring each other to say that they're on their way to class, in class (before my rule that any mobiles glimpsed even out the corner of my eye must immediately be drop tested from the window) and on their way out of class.

What awful existential void are they trying to resist? Are they that scared of their internal language that they need to fill it with meaningless crap? Are they scared of contemplation? What might they contemplate? Head-sawing? Kneecapping? Ritual dismemberment?

And while we're at it, can't we re-develop the old terminology for mobiles? Cell phone seems far more appropriate...

Rant over, here's the Tape Beatles via Ubu.Com

The Tape Beatles - Desire


sweet billy pilgrim said...

Had friends over for dinner recently, and one of them held a text-based conversation with someone while we were all chatting. She kept apologising (didn't stop though), but - as a group - it was like trying talk properly in a pub with a TV. Impossible. You're right... It's the absolute terror of not being included... of missing out, and being the only one to miss out. And the thing you're actually missing out on while you're using the bloody thing is the one thing you wanted it for in the first place: some kind of real contact... Why I oughtta...

Anonymous said...

Music with Sound is possibly the best tape-manipulation album since Burroughs did his '60s experiments... thanks for posting this reminder.

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