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Blabber jammers

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Monday, Nov 5, 2007

A friend forwarded me this NYT article about semi-outlaw devices you can buy to jam cell-phone transmissions, an aggressive tactic in the guerrilla war to reclaim public space.


As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.


The technology is not new, but overseas exporters of jammers say demand is rising and they are sending hundreds of them a month into the United States — prompting scrutiny from federal regulators and new concern last week from the cellphone industry. The buyers include owners of cafes and hair salons, hoteliers, public speakers, theater operators, bus drivers and, increasingly, commuters on public transportation.


The development is creating a battle for control of the airspace within earshot. And the damage is collateral. Insensitive talkers impose their racket on the defenseless, while jammers punish not just the offender, but also more discreet chatterers.


An either clueless or totally disingenuous Verizon spokesman is quoted: “It’s counterintuitive that when the demand is clear and strong from wireless consumers for improved cell coverage, that these kinds of devices are finding a market.” Actually, it’s completely intuitive. People want to talk into their own phones, and they don’t want to be disrupted by other people talking into their phones. Nobody cares about cell coverage for people other than themselves, except for maybe the people they are trying to call. And nothing angers people more than strangers who don’t acknowledge their existence, yet using a cell phone indiscreetly—in public, with no attempt to remove oneself from shared space—showcases that indifference to the existence of others. It’s a way of demonstrating just how entitled you feel to claim every place you go as your own private space. There’s a reason that when telephones were first introduced, they were placed in booths; it was inconceivably rude that you would conduct a conversation in the presence of others that would pointedly not include them. No one in their right mind would want the ability to carry out such conversations.


But technology’s reach and the insidious promotion of personal convenience over common courtesy and civic cooperation has made the unthinkable ubiquitous. The article touches on this: ” ‘If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people,’ said James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University.” Basically, cell-phone jamming is the spirit of road rage transferred to a more personal medium. Technology and the values made pervasive by advertising (which address us directly and tell us that we are always the most important person there is) have led us to expect total convenience and complete freedom from the compromises incumbent with getting along with others. So we feel outraged when those absolute, inalienable “rights” to total isolation in a crowd are “violated” by someone else operating by the same principles. What ensues, absent a belief that government can force us to recognize a public sphere where a collective good supersedes any selfish individual preference, is an arms race: on the road, bigger SUVs; on the phone front, cell jammers.

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