1.2 Cellspace: The Prototype for a New Society

Society has recently gone through a popular technological leap. There has been a widespread and rapid adoption of mobile phones over the last ten years and they have swiftly migrated from work tool, or emergency communications device, to becoming the beating social heart of the lives of the majority of the developed world. This has not only had major economic ramifications but also a social and, more importantly in this context, spatial impact.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

With the advent of mobile phones our portals to ‘bridging space’ have become unbound. We exist in a constant potential of becoming tele-present: existing both in the location where we physically reside and in the location of the person with whom we are speaking on the telephone. ‘Many mobile users have become adept at operating as though in two worlds… in a way the mobile has created a new mode in which the human mind can operate, a kind of bi-psyche’ (Plant, 2002: 4). Our minds take us outside of the spaces we physically inhabit, instead residing in a hybrid space in which the conversation takes shape.

By simply possessing a mobile phone we now have the ability to slip in and out of such spaces at will, wherever we are – as long as we are within signal range of a mobile phone mast. These ranges of ‘magical’ communications spaces that now exist, in blanket form, across vast swathes of our cities – and increasingly countryside too – allow us to remain in constant contact with every part of our lives. There is often a fanatical search for a better signal, characterised by waving handsets through the air, fishing for that elusive extra ‘bar’ on the signal meter. It is now a daily occurrence for many people across the planet to witness someone seemingly talking to themselves on the street.

We have unquestioningly accepted the permeation of every part of our lives by the constant potential of communication. We allow our lives to be in constant risk of interruption. ‘A ringing mobile will often take precedence over the social interactions it disrupts: the need or desire to answer a call often outweighs the importance of maintaining the flow of face-to-face conversation’ (Plant, 2002: 1). This is equally true for the use of SMS (Short Message Service), commonly termed text messaging or ‘texting’. Beyond ‘texting’, our existing, traditionally wired, virtual spaces are penetrating the wireless mobile phone network, enabling the use of email and simple web pages of text. David Bennahum describes such spaces as ‘Cellspace’. This simple hybrid space is a forerunner to a more profound change described later in this chapter.

Although cellspaces remain temporal, time is often skewed and squashed according to mobile phone usage ‘…the mobile introduces a new sense of speed and connectivity to social life, establishing new kinds of relationships.’ (Plant, 2002: 6) These relationships span complex social networks over a range of distances across space. People share what they are writing and even collectively draft messages to others.

[Teenagers]…often use their mobiles collectively, sharing information and showing each other messages, as well as comparing the frequency, the nature, and the variety of the calls they make and take in rather competitive ways: did their last 10 calls come from parents or from friends? How cool are their stored text messages? (Plant, 2002: 3)

Cellspace has provided society with a new set of social tools with which to make sense of the ‘leakage’ of virtuality into our actual world. These tools are the ideal preparation for the continued and more prolific overlapping of our actual spaces with rich virtual spaces.

Posted by Sam at February 28, 2004 03:03 PM

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