Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mobile Telephone: The Kaleidoscope of Connection (2005)

“The affluent society is a society of voyeurs. To each their own kaleidoscope: a tiny movement of the fingers and the picture changes. You can’t lose: two fridges, a mini car, TV, promotion, time to kill, then the monotony of the images we consume gets the upper hand, reflecting the monotony of the action which produces them, the slow rotation of the kaleidoscope between finger and thumb.”
The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem

It has taken around a decade for levels of ownership of mobile phones to reach 90% in some European demographic groups (1). The implications and behaviour modes related to the mobile phone as a cultural artefact are of interest as social phenomena and as indicators of the impact Information Technologies (IT) are having on Western Cultures in other areas of implementation (i.e. Internet, P.C., Satellite). I shall briefly attempt to outline examples of how this product is presented to consumers in some European markets today (the signs), some of what consumers are using the product for (the signified), and one of the many functional implications of this interaction in regards to the mobile phone as an artefact of culture.

“A life management tool for business, office, and leisure” (2) is the rather all-encompassing statement made by the Nokia Corporation when they released the Nokia 9210 Communicator. The Communicator is “a cellular phone with mobile Internet, PC office applications and multimedia capabilities” (3). Although the Nokia Internet site promotional video features images of a man and woman singing happy birthday on a phone screen to the user (who seems to be alone for the occasion), the primary focus in relation to applications of the phone are work related (although there are several game applications available). Nokia state that they are “Connecting People” as its logo, while Vodafone asks, “How are you?” in a recent television advertising campaign. Vodafone and Motorola market a “Teenage Phone” with special text message features, the ability to “personalize” the phone with choices of visual displays, ring tones and colour cases. France Telecom has started marketing a prepaid cell-phone service designed for 7- and 8-year-old children (4). It is clear from these few examples that mobile phones are marketed toward the young and the employed, resulting in an accommodation of the artefact throughout the community. In all the advertising and information examined for this essay the elderly were completely unrepresented.

Mobile phones are of course a commodity and therefore the deciding factor of legitimate ownership is money. This point raises an aspect of deviancy in regard to mobile phones, that of mobile phone theft. Judging by media coverage and even a parliamentary debate in Britain, this is deemed a growing problem particularly in London, where people are being “Connected” in an entirely different setting to that initially thought of by the Nokia Corporation. Quoting from the letters section of The Guardian, a girl who is dealing with the realities of mobile phone ownership in an area of poverty writes: “Over the past year or so, I've had two phones stolen, or "jacked" and I've been threatened with a knife countless times. Someone tries to jack me probably every week……….. I would never walk down the road playing with my phone. It shows you have something worth stealing…” (5). The present situation in Sweden is somewhat different with mobile phone ownership running considerably higher among teenagers than in Britain.

Cultural researchers in central Gothenburg conducted their study on phone sharing based on observations conducted in cafes and on public transport. The research assessed how teenagers use their mobile phones, and the surprising result was that many groups of friends share phones, even if they have phones of their own on their person (6). The subjects involved in the study had no reservations about displaying their phones in public, even going so far as leaving them unattended on cafe tables for short periods of time. With the Scandinavian countries having the highest percentage of mobile phone users among youth in the world, perhaps the impact (novelty, desiring, curiosity) of a mobile phone is considerably less. A final interesting point regarding users of mobile phones is the high degree of uptake by females. It has been stated that: “numerous studies show that technology is associated with masculinity” (7). However, mobile phones are an area of technology where women are equal if not above males in usage.

It is clear that many believe themselves to be “Connected” when owning or using a mobile phone. The idea of being “off-line” was viewed with great negativity in the Gothenburg study, hence the loaning of phones within the groups of friends to remain “Connected”. However, when the issues of mediation or representation are included in the equation then the exact nature of “Connecting” is not as clear as Nokia would have consumers believe. The “Tracking” element of mobile phones for example, where users can be positioned moving toward and away from appointments by a phone call inquiry (in essence the meeting is beginning or continuing or is it?). With this mediated communication taking an expanding role in daily life, the eventual necessity of being connected 24 hours a day 7 days a week becomes realisable. “Business” has the possibility of spilling out from the “Office” and into “Leisure”, connected by the invisible lines of microwave communication, and therefore defined by it.

1. Mobile Phones, WAP and the Internet- The European Market and Usage
Rates in a Global Perspective; 2000-2003 [SUMMARY] by Carl H. Marcussen, Senior Researcher, PhD, Centre for Regional and Tourism Research,, Denmark

2. Consumption As Knowledge Production –Narrating the Use of the Communicator
Päivi Eriksson ( and Johanna Moisander (
Helsinki School of Economics


4. Business Week Online July 12 1999 Issue. At:

5. Guardian Unlimited Homepage Special reports “Be Prepared and Be Polite”

6. Local Use and Sharing of Phones A. Weilenmann & C. Larson. In B Brown, N Green & R. Harper (Eds.) Wireless World: Social and Interact ional Aspects of the Mobile Age. Godalming and Heidelberg: Springer Verlag pp 99-115

7. Eriksson & Moisander p5

Further Bibliography:

Vaneigem R. The Revolution of Everyday Life Being a translation of TRAITÉ DE SAVOIR-VIVRE Á L’USAGE DES JEUNES GÉNÉRATIONS by John Fullerton and Paul Sieveking 1972 anti-copyright 1998

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