Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Phone Space

Even though the topic of our seminar is such a current issue, one of the most insightful descriptions of how people adapt to constant connectivity I read during the course of my research came from a study published in 2000. The paper is "Life in the Real-time City: Mobile Telephones and Urban Metabolism" by Anthony Townsend. It examines the effects of increasing mobile phone usage on urban dynamics. Although it was largely speculative, one observation Townsend made has proven to be extremely accurate, even today:
"Individuals live in this phone-space. They can never let it go, because it is their primary link to the temporally, spatially fragmented network of friends and colleagues they have created for themselves. It has become their new umbilical cord..." (94).
I love this quote because it is a great figurative representation of how people become dependent on constant connectivity. They pick it up for the convenience or the novelty, but then they restructure their lives around it. Most of us got cell phones in high school so that our parents could keep track of us. Now, however, many of our social interactions would not be possible if our friends were unable to contact us at any time through our cell phones. This is the phenomenon to which Townsend refers. Our communications either occur in, or would not be possible without, the "phone space."

The "phone space" is becoming even more pervasive with the introduction of Smart Phones, which allow us to be constantly connected not only by text message and phone call, but also through the Internet. This evolving "phone space" is the root of many of the issues we have discussed throughout the quarter. Doing homework on our iPhones is just the beginning.

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