Induced indecisiveness

[15 September 2005]

By Rob Horning

In Central Park in New York there’s a large open yard called the Sheep Meadow where people play frisbee and lay out in the sun. It’s a place where people apparently decide to meet, but because it’s bereft of permanent landmarks, this prompts many absurd cell phone conversations: “I’m near the fat guy in the blue shirt with a bike,” “Do you see the black guy with a poodle?” “I’m waving my arms, do you see me? I’ve got shorts on.” “I’m near the boy blowing bubbles.” Because I don’t have a cell phone, I am not ordinarily privy to such conversations, though I’m told a cell phone makes everything easier. From my perspective, it seem sto make everything harder, because no one ever has to commit to any plan; everything becomes contigent and open to last-minute modification. “I’ll call you when I get there, and then we’ll figure it out.” This way calls multiply themselves, to the delight of the carriers who are paid both by the minute and by the call. Companies profit by the indecisiveness their devices promote. Just one of the many small ways in which tech companies profit not by making your life easier or better but by complicating it needlessly while catering to your dormant bad habits. Cell phones enable bad habits like rudeness, indecisiveness, vagueness, irresponsibility, etc. Rather than facilitate better communication, it promotes wasteful inexplicit communication, wasted words; it complicates communication by making it seem inordinately easy, by making us comfuse accessibility with mutual comprehension. The very premise of the technology seems to demand that you become more indecisive to take advantage of the “convenient” flexibility it provides you. You have to become more irresponsible to justify carrying one, and this pattern reinforces itself until you are blabbing about your every move to someone as you’re walking down 57th Street. 

The two people try to rendevous in the Sheep Meadow, both on their phones, both moving, both narrating their movements as they try to navigate their way nearer to each other, but neither getting any closer. The freedom of movement always them to speak to each other without ever really reaching each other. This seems to epitimize our society, the way we foil intimacy with technology. The cell phone inscribes an implacable distance between us—the distance from the earth to those satellites orbiting above us and back—no matter how close to each other we may seem to be.

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