The Metro/Elctro Polis

The “new hybrid space” that is being created by our behaviors and use of mobile technology is a fact, but I don’t see it as a negative, it’s just a reality. I am from the mid-west, and lived for ten years or so in Chicago. Chicago is a terrific city, and the people there are genuinely friendly. I have known many people from the East, New York and Boston in particular who have visited Chicago and experience genuine friendliness; something which is hard to come by, especially in New York City. In Chicago, if you ask for directions you usually get them; in New York you are more likely to get the “finger.”


I lived in Chicago in the 1990’s, before cell phones, PDA’s, and mobile technology took over the planet. And, even though, as I described earlier, Chicago is a friendly city it wasn’t like everybody knew your name, helped you with your groceries, gave you rides, it wasn’t a utopia of communication and openness. There seems to be an underlying tone to this article, and many others I have read on similar subjects, that the mobile tech movement is destroying some Shangri-La type existence. I don’t buy it.


People are at there core, and by their very nature cautious beings. I am certain that this is part of the Darwinian survival inclinations that are deeply rooted in all animal life forms on the planet, especially humans. If you are an outgoing individual, you will still be that way, even though you have a cell phone, and use it while you walk down the street, or ride in a cab. Sure you might not talk to the cab driver if you are on the phone, but most conversations, at least from my experience with big city cab drivers, are not very poignant, are mostly small talk, and usually very difficult to understand.


So, if my option is to be able to talk to a colleague, a friend, or my wife instead of making small talk with a person I will never see again, about things neither of us cares about, I choose the former. Mobile communication technology is simply another tool that makes us more efficient and allows us to reach out to people, regardless of physical location.


As a mobile technology is a tool, we all have the choice to use it or not. We can actively participate in our surroundings, or not, but we have always been able to do that. We could check out long before there were cell phones. One could argue that mobile technology has probably done more to help the shy and introverted than it has to harm the sacred “metropolis,” and its members. Those who don’t like face-to-face interaction, now have several alternative ways that allow them to participate with the world on their own terms, or at least terms that they are more comfortable with.


Siegel and Schore argue very strongly and support the concept of face-to-face interaction between developing infants and their primary caregivers, and as a father of two, I agree fully with their observations and assertions, but I don’t really see where it applies to adult communication. Most infants, toddlers, and even children under 10 that I know don’t have or rarely use mobile technology. Sure, my seven year old has asked me for a cell phone, but he doesn’t need one, and rarely uses one.


Adults, because of their early neurobiological development are capable of communicating with each other though mediated methods equally as well as they are face-to-face. There may be times, during a negotiation, or an interview where it is beneficial to infer additional information from the conversation, where a face-to-face meeting may benefit one or both parties. However, in general, for everyday communication via mediated methods are full adequate, and sometimes beneficial for most users.


One of my favorite modes of communication is Instant Messenger. It is quick, free, it requires no small talk, I can check in with someone, ask them a quick question, tell them I can’t talk, and be done with it. I don’t IM my mom, if I want to talk, but if I need an address, or a quick question for someone, it is the perfect mode of communication. Low overhead, easy to ignore, and completely passive if that is what the user desires. Someone can send me IM’s all day, and I am not required to respond if I do not want to.


Of course there are times when you want communication to be up close and personal, but there are probably more times when you don’t. Technology meditated communication is perfect for all those times you don’t.




Play the tape machine make the toast and tea

Play the tape machine make the toast and tea

When I’m mobile

Well I can lay in bed with only highway ahead

When your mobile

Keep me moving…

– Pete Townshend

Mr. Townshend, besides being a talented song writer, a great guitar player and a rock and roll icon also seems to be quite the visionary. Although not talking specifically about mobile technology, he is singing the praises of being on the move, with everything at his finger tips, with nothing to encumber or slow him down. He describes all of the advantages of being “mobile” before you could truly be “mobile.”

Innovation of mobile media and communication has absolutely freed us from need to be grounded. We have become islands of one. Our own home bases, our own mobile offices, we are free of the constraints of physical place. One can judge whether this is a good or bad, and that answer is subjective. But the objective fact is that we have all become mobile, whether we know it or not, and whether we like it or not.

I am sure that most of us feel that the good of being “mobile” out weighs the bad, but there is, as with most new trends, innovations, movements, some bad to deal with. Prohibition was probably seen as a “good” thing, but the net result was Al Capone, organized crime and the Kennedy family. Some may feel that there isn’t much difference, but that is another debate.

Technology, when accepted on a mass scale brings with it inherent vulnerabilities. As we move to a paperless, digital age, the opportunities for fraud and criminal activities unfold at exponential rates. Hackers have been plaguing online servers and terminals since the late 1970’s. We all, well some of us remember Mathew Broderick in War Games. Besides changing his grades via a phone and a phone terminal, he almost started world war three…

“Do you want to play a game?”

“Yes… global thermal nuclear war”

Whew! Good thing Matthew Broderick is so smart…

Today it’s e-terrorism: cell phone hacking, credit card fraud, fishing, spamming, viruses, and all kinds of fraudulent activities. We have even seen, although I am still on the fence on this one, “Cyber Bullying.” The notion that your avatar is getting harassed or even “raped” seems very out there to me. Here is an idea… get out of Second Life and start living your first life. Turn off the computer, get rid of the Anime pink Fox outfit and go outside, change your cell number, and your email address.

Perhaps that sounds cold, but there are much more serious cyber crimes and cyber costs to be dealt with before we worry about getting beat up in Second Life. As a web developer and hosting provider one of the most costly cyber issues in simply spam.

Who knew that a small potted meat food product would become one of the most used terms and biggest issues for large companies in the twenty first century? Hawaii is the spam capital of U.S.A, with “residents consume nearly 7 million cans of Spam a year, an average of about six cans for every man, woman and child.” (Honolulu Star Bulletin, March 2004) But Wall Street is where spam does the most damage. The Boston Business Journal estimates that Spam costs U.S. companies over $70 billion dollars per year – “$712 for each employee in lost worker productivity.”

Spamming issues are just the tip of the iceberg as a service provider. Our servers are under an almost constant sate of siege. We are bombarded by hackers, spammers, and other attacks on a 24-7-365 basis. But that is life on the high tech cutting edge.

These are the modern facts of life. Technology is so inexpensive that soon, everyone will be connected at all times. For less than $1,000.00 you can get a phone, PDA and a Laptop and be hooked up to the Internet. The market is growing with each new generation. The baby boomers, which are the next round of seniors, have been connected for years. There are not too many individuals, at least not that will be around for much longer, that are not connected. Sure there are always outliers that skew the norm, and choose to unplug, but for the most part we are a plugged-in society. No wonder mobile tech is one of the largest growing industries.

We have all become part of the “Mobile-sphere.” We can produce, publish and participate with almost no barriers to entry. Video, audio, and the written word can be turned around in no time at all, and disseminated in even less time. This connection to the live “mobile-sphere” has moved from a fun or cool luxury to a staple, a requirement. The phone is fashion. Have you asked yourself which Ipod defines you? Do you judge your neighbor by the connection he keeps? Most of us would say of course not… but how many of us are going to trade in their perfectly good PDA for the new Ipod that was just unleashed on the world.

Being consumers is nothing new. Detroit has been changing models slightly each year so there is always something new to buy. There is always a reason to trade in the old Chrysler for a new one. The fashion industry has been doing it for decades. Who’s holding on to a Member’s only jacket, just waiting for them to be cool again? No one needs thirty pairs of shoes, unless you are a member of the fabulous Sex in the City crowd of course. But, we are all guilty of it. I have way too many video game systems. I think I have them all; from a Sega Genesis to an XBOX 360… The funny thing is, I rarely play any of them.

The mobile phone providers are not doing anything new with their advertising that Madison Avenue hasn’t done before. You don’t have to show them they need it; just show them why they should want it. No one needs cigarettes, but Big Tobacco, had successfully managed to show us that we should want them. How else could you grow up to be a cowboy, other than smoking Marlboro Reds? I bought my first cell phone because I needed it for emergencies, but I bought my first PDA because I wanted it.

Speaking of marketing and advertising… I wonder how long until Mr. Townshend sells out and we hear his soulful, distinct high-pitched voice pushing the new Verizon Razor, or the special edition “Who’s Next” Iphone… with a Union Jack emblazoned across the body of the phone? You can be “Mobile” while checking to see if “The Kids Are Alright.”