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Cell phone as security blanket

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Thursday, Apr 13, 2006

I see this a lot when I ride the subway at night, women clutching their cell phones, seemingly concrete lifelines to safety. When we are underground, they seem to pensively gaze at the screen, perhaps to give them something to focus on to better ignore the creepy guys (like me, I guess) who might make eye contact with them, who will make them feel scrutinized and thus insecure. Perhaps they are contriving text messages to send—“on the train. bored.” Then as we come above ground in Queens, they listen to messages or put in calls to people they will likely be going home to in a matter of minutes. Perhaps the familiar world piping through the earpiece serves a kind of forcefield that obliterates the present space they actually occupy and all the unpleasant or inconvenient things about it. This seems to explain some of the inconsequential conversations people with cell phones seem to be having at every possible public moment; it’s an attempt to reject the world, or at least the reality of one’s solitary presence in it, in favor of the illusion of constant companionship. I imagine the paranoia that starts people down this road of continual communication only worsens as it is indulged; one feels even more vulnerable in public if one isn’t brandishing a cell phone as a shield, as proof that you’re not alone, not really, that you have friends you can summon at the push of a few buttons. This seems to ready the way for the society of constant surveillance, where having a tracking device on you at all times makes you feel secure rather than invaded.

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