Against the Poverty of Language and Thought
16 Theses on the Cell Phone
Cell phones are an overpowering, ever present factor in society. A factor which has multiplied at a staggering rate.
They help to deal with the fear of the unknown. It is imagined that they provide for the protection of children, assuring that the child will never be stranded or outside of the watchful parental gaze. If a car breaks down, one no longer needs to risk getting a ride from a stranger--a risk which is primarily having to confront the overwhelming alienation of our community.
The cell phone allows the user to avoid the risk of missing the updates they are constantly bombarded with. It is simpler and more convenient than having to risk making mundane choices yourself. The user is never difficult to contact about anything, no matter how banal.
The cell phone fulfills the need to be hip and current. Those without mobile communications devices are constructed as being outdated, in the cultural lag, backwards. By owning a cell phone one can feel progressive and up to date.
The underlying motivations for cell phone ownership are fear and convenience. Ultimately fear avoidance and convenience are the same thing- the avoidance of ambiguous situations.
It is no extreme statement to say that capitalism creates false needs. Fifteen years ago cell phones were a rarity, certainly no necessity. How did we live before? They are now a need. We need it like a fix of cellular smack.
The cell sell is the easiest imaginable; the consumer does it themselves. After the initial convincing, the consumer signs a contract, which they suffer monetary penalties for breaking. Once trapped, the job of persuasion is internalized by the consumer, so as to not face their contractual trap.
It is now standard at many jobs, even low paying ones, to expect ownership of a mobile phone. Employers can constantly contact employees. Labor engulfs everyday life.
Due to the addition of text messaging the cellular communication is trapped between orality and literacy. It has neither the improvisation and open ended nature of spoken language, nor the complexity and depth of written language.
This contributes to a poverty of language. The exchange is constant, yet nearly meaningless. This poverty of language contributes to a poverty of thought.
The 911 system, required by law to be included on all cell phones, allows the location of any cell phone to be triangulated, via GPS, within a few yards. The communication device becomes a tracking device. The cell is a cell.
Paranoid? Maybe. After all, they can’t be tracking everybody all the time; there are just too many people. Precisely the point. The 911 system fulfills the concept of the Panopticon analyzed by Michel Foucault. We know they can’t be paying attention to everyone at every given moment. At the same time we know that they have the capability for surveillance on anyone at any given time.
This position causes the internalization of the control of surveillance. The oppressor is no longer a clear external force, it is now a formless totality which impersonally constrain us. This formlessness makes it difficult to remain autonomous against it; it can not be pinned down. Furthermore, the user knows that they consented.
Cellular technology is transforming man into a cyborg. The technology grows more ever present. The user becomes more and more integrated into the totality. McLuhan argued that the integrated circuit and the television were extensions of the nervous system. He seems to have been premature. The cell phone is closer to the realization of this extension of the neurological system. Remember, McLuhan’s often forgotten companion point, every extension is also an amputation.
The cell phone is becoming a permanent extension. It is responded to nearly automatically. This interaction forms a feedback system; a cybernetic system. What thoughts are ours, in this cybernetic system? This cybernetic transformation is particularly noticeable in the case of ear pieces and other hands free devices.
The question this brings up is not one of right and wrong. It is a matter of admitting that these devices cause major shifts and determining if these shifts are what we actually want. It has been pointed out to me that the picture I present may even be too optimistic.
Dec 11, 2013
Insurrections of Imagination
A Speculative Review
a review of
The Collected Writings of Renzo Novatore. Translated by Wolfi Landstreicher. Ardent Press, 2012, $13, 300 pp., ardentpress.org
The Italian insurrectionary and individualist anarchist, Renzo Novatore (the pen name of Abele Rizieri Ferrar, 1890–1922), died at the brink of a great confrontation with Fascism. His comrade Enzo Martucci claimed that at his death, Novatore “was preparing to strike at society and tear from it that which it denies the individual.” Unfortunately, he died in a gun battle with carabinieri in 1922 who had ambushed him.
Jun 30, 2014
The Virtuality of Reality
Way back in the 1990s, the bleeding edge of the cyberpunk counterculture was in conflict over what the next stage of technological transformation was to be. On one side were the psychedelic, techno-shamans of virtual reality (VR). On the other, the data pirates of the web. The advocates of virtual reality argued that cheap VR units would soon appear in every home, providing an endless array of sensory stimulation for all participants, a world of unheard of experience.
Nov 7, 2014
The Control of Computerized Television
Predicted by Fifth Estate 30 years ago, but it arrived in an unexpected form (except by Dick Tracy)
In another age, in a different lifetime, David Watson (under the name, George Bradford) wrote in the Spring 1984 Fifth Estate:
“While there may be reason for concern about computer threats to privacy, it is generally overlooked that deepening privatization, with a computerized television in every room as its apotheosis, is itself at least as great a threat—a threat which makes the police almost superfluous.”
Jul 30, 2015
What happened to the new century we were promised?
What happened to the future? The twenty-first century was supposed to be a new era; an age of liberty, love, and lucid life. The old world of misery was scheduled to be destroyed.
Instead, all we got is more slavery, hatred, and hyper-alienation.
Where are the dreamers? Why do we continue living on a prison planet? Why does it seem that it is each one of us alone against the universe?
Jul 31, 2016
Crime as Struggle
Crime as Spectacle
Law is the framework that props up the state, the matrix that nourishes authority. Law is a web of prohibition and mandate. It is one of the mechanisms that ensure that each individual fills an assigned role. It is a particularly complex and abstract system of power.
While there are attempts to use law in constructive ways, such as discourses on rights and liberties, the law is not something that can be used for liberation. It must be rejected and overcome.
Jan 22, 2017
Subversive Ideas & Recuperative Media
The X-Files, the science fiction television series that aired from 1993 to 2002, featured fictional FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully concerned with unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena and aliens. Its popularity was such that it made many young people aspire to be FBI agents of the same type. However, I never wanted to be Mulder or Scully. I wanted to be a member of the Lone Gunmen, three geeks on the program who published a conspiracy research zine which was often Mulder’s source for information related to his cases.
Dec 12, 2017
What does it mean to be human or transhuman?
a review of
The Transhuman Future: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. Tor Books, 2003
Cory Doctorow has a clear vision of the future. In a way, I hate him for that, because it is not a future in which I want to live. But he is probably right.
He extrapolates current situations and trends to create a realistic vision of the future. Often these include business trends, making them even more fleshed out visions. However, he is not a world builder. He writes humanistic stories, but about transhumanism, the idea that people can evolve beyond our current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.
Sep 12, 2018
Dismantling the Biomechanical Leviathan
If Pavlov’s dogs can decondition from obedience to authority, so can we!
In Raoul Vaneigem’s 1967 Situationist treatise, The Revolution of Everyday Life, he recounts what resulted from the flooding of the basement of Ivan Pavlov’s laboratory where the Russian physiologist kept his famous salivating dogs as experiments in classical conditioning.
It was a traumatic event for the dogs that had to struggle to live in the rising water. The ones who survived completely shed the conditioning Pavlov had worked so diligently to place in them.
Jan 9, 2019
How Rational is Rationality?
How rational thought functions as social control
There is something faulty with the concept of humans as rational animals. It defines humanity by a limited criterion and tries to separate humans from our animal being. This sets up a hierarchy in which the true human is defined by the portion of the brain that is rational. Perhaps, even worse than the idea of the rational animal is the idea of the “rationalizing animal.” Pratkanis and Aronson in their 2001 Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, place this as a central factor in how we are manipulated.
Apr 20, 2019