The Invasion of the Cell Phone

In W. J. Mitchell’s essay, “Post-Sedentary Space,” the fundamental question that is discussed is whether or not wireless connection and portable access devices are redefining our community and shared spaces, or disrupting them entirely. This is an issue that reoccurs in the additional readings of this week and is therefore worth further exploration. I would argue that in the bigger picture constant technological connection has benefited our society because it has made distances smaller, and indeed permitted different parties to connect to one another with ease. However, in considering the smaller picture, such as perhaps in a classroom or among a group of friends, I have found that it has ironically fostered a level of disconnect.

In his essay, Mitchell refers to how mobile phones have overwhelmed us, meaning, everyone has one. The advantages of cell phones are that they allow you to communicate with your contacts and connect to the Internet in a variety of ways. However these points are also the problem with cell phones, depending on how you argue it. I am arguing that cell phones have hindered public space. Speaking as a Blackberry user, I am often distracted by my cell phone and recognize that it can be a troubling addition to a classroom. In large classroom environments it is easy for a student to text, BBM, and simply just not pay attention – disconnected from their actual physical environment, their teachers, and their classmates. The same can be said when looking at a group of teenagers. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat around with my friends and watched as each of us perused our cell phones instead of engaging in conversation with one another. It is deeply unsettling to realize how just one portable access device can interfere with our ability to connect to our spaces, as well as with other people.

This is a link to a video clip of Jerry Seinfeld on Conan O’Brien. He is comically emphasizing my point on how mobile devices upset our physical interactions, therefore increasing the gaps in our community.



  1. You bring a very important point to the table. Cell phones definitely open up communications in a very convenient way, however, if you are not plugged directly in (have a cell phone, for example), you are disconnected and otherwise lost in “cyberspace”. In regards to your example about sitting with a table of friends – to raise your head and see that there is no “company” is definitely an example of poor “tech-etiquette” or “tech-e-quette” (:p). In reality, all of the texts we are examining take for granted the fact that not everyone is as technologically “strapped-in” as everyone else – in other words, there are varying degrees of digital connectedness. In another light, it is important to note the irony that although technology is designed to bring people closer together on a macro level, on a micro level, it is pushing us further from each other. In a world not too far away, methods of technological connectedness, based on varying shades of availability, choice and execution may very well reflect not only a social division, but also divisions that reach through our ideological institutions…(Althusser)…but we can save that for another discussion…Nice post!

  2. I think it is interesting that, based on Mitchell’s ideas about post-sedentary space, you can use the same arguments to argue for and against cellphones and how they hinder (or widen) public space. In your blog post (rcl12), you argue that phones can be a “troubling addition to a classroom” because students are constantly on their phones. Couldn’t this argument also be used in favor of the cellphone and how it widens public space? For example, cellphones gives students direct access to the internet. Without even leaving their desks, students can browse hundreds of libraries, websites and encyclopedias that could perhaps help them to better understand a difficult topic being discussed in class. In this sense, the classroom space has widened and can reach out further than before. Mitchel would agree when he says: “Professors delivering lectures began to wonder if they had the undivided attention of students crouched over their wireless laptops and were surprised in seminars as their interlocutors silently downloaded salient information to interject into the discussion (84).

    However, Mitchell would also agree with your comments when you say: “In large classroom environments it is easy for a student to… [be]disconnected from their actual physical environment, their teachers, and their classmates”. This can be seen when Mitchell says: “kids equipped with wireless devices began to order pizzas in class, pass SMS notes, and … circulate answers to test questions” (84).

    Perhaps the real argument at hand is based on how we actually use technology. Mitchell has made the point that wireless fields of presence have extended or widened public space, however, users are in control of these wireless fields. Therefore, they are in control of the space as they manipulate the ways in which it can be vast and public, or closed and personal.

    I think Mitchell is indirectly saying that wireless technologies provide us with the ability to widen our public space; however, it is up to its users to utilize these technologies to do so. In the end, if we don’t, we will ultimately be reverting back to our old confined spaces, like the singular classroom confined to just four walls.

  3. That Seinfeld clip you included is particularly illuminating, as Seinfeld really discusses, even if just in passing, the issues surrounding the cellphone: the split in attention between face-to-face and phone conversation, the redefined social mores, the smart phone as a status symbol–he even ends on one of the chief advantages of the landline, its physicality.

    The growing shift from face-to-face communication reminds me of a novel by the sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov: The Naked Sun. In the novel, he depicts a civilization that has fully embraced this separation: each member of the society lives in their own giant mansion and never sees another human being in person; they communicate solely through viewscreens. As a result, they develop an accute psychological dislike for the company of other people. Obviously, this is meant to be a little satirical, and it’s a far, far step from texting on a smart phone. But the important first step is consciously choosing the long distance communication over the face-to-face content.
    Again, it’s a very extreme extrapolation. But that’s what sci-fi is known for.

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