Hi all. While chatting with a friend in SF from my location in Chicago, his signal suddenly died. While the implications of mobility and nomadic enabling telecommunications has been written about quite a bit, I am interested if anyone has conducted any artistic or anthropological research on the telecommunications reality of the Faded Signal. There seem to be some implications here on the way in which theses technologies have sculpted new social landscapes, but in which the glitches inherent in the technology are taken for granted by the users, whose navigational instincts then guide them through the anxieties of Sudden Potential or Actual Communication Loss. I mean it seems obvious, but I think that's only because we have so seamlessly adopted (adapted) our habits around the inevitability of the Glitch.
Some quick scattered thoughts:
1) Can Total Information Loss provide comfort in a paranoid age of Total Information Awareness?
2) Episode of Friends: Phoebe fakes her way out of a phone conversation by pretending that she was on a mobile and 'just about to go into a tunnel—(makes static noise with mouth)–OK bye now!'. A good comic bit, but also a riff on the social phenomena (batteries dying, signal cutout, needing two hands to do something) of deceit which is enabled by taking the Glitch for granted.
3) Is anyone else struck by the sadness of the "Can You Hear Me Now" guy–a rootless lonely cell-phone ronin endlessly repeating his mantra to the electronic void…
4) Business etiquette as practiced by international executives has the severity and rigidity of bushido. I wonder what mannerisms and professional attitudes of conducting business have emerged as a result of having a potential signal loss wiping out a delicate deal-in-progress. What ethnic and cultural biases come into play as different countries' incompatible cell networks and methods of social protocol compete?
5) STD-ISD: You will never get lost in India no matter what–it is THE most wired nation in the world. I was impressed that literally everywhere, on practically every street corner, were booths that allowed one to make cheap, clear, and fast phone calls to anywhere in the world. To say nothing of the frenzy of the (now increasingly regulated) cell industry out there. A sane response to an otherwise glitchy and congested society.
6) Why is the loss of email and TV reception met with frustration and near-hysteria, but cell phone signal loss is met with, at best, mild aggravation and more often than not, if you think about it, mild relief at the outside interruption of what was a (good but) banal conversation? What are the statistics on resuming conversations following a signal loss? What does this say about the flexibility of our habituations?
7) Everyone experiences 'dead zone' areas in cities–certain places that are clearly delineated– where one's cell simply will not get a signal. These electromagnetic topographical black holes create anxieties once encountered and perhaps permanently alter one's desire to return to the area or skirt the virtual perimeter. But at the same time they offer zones of retreat and reflection, a telecommunication Zen garden deep within the city's canyons.
7a) In other words, these 'Dead zones' produce yet another psychogeography overlaid on the several we carry already navigating our urban habitations, but rather than a social or technological map, it is one of neuroses. The ability to be gotten ahold of at all times creates a neurotic condition about being out of touch, even if it's just for minutes at a time.
8) Why do we apologize when our signals fade or are crappy? I believe this is leftover cultural collateral anxiety along the lines of, say, choosing a crappy car or buying a cheap TV set. Picking an inferior wireless provider or a cheap phone is, by nature, indicative of a careless or insuficient identity/personality as manifested through its consumer choices.
9) The potential Loss of the Signal is the perimeter around any new works or social acts. The new activist phenomena of spontaneous, cell-phone motivated organizations and happenings is undermined should there be a sudden relay power loss, or should the targets of protest engage in the counter-practice of picking-or creating- 'dead zones' in which to house their activities. Or, in terms of art practice, Golan Levin conducted a cellphone symphony by casting his own frequencies at the audience (is this correct?), eliminating the need to stage the event in a universally receptible location..
10) The Matrix, among other things, creates a world where survival depends upon clear signals and defined 'exit points' via the Operators. These 'real people' diving into the Matrix are the metaphorical Initiates embodying present-day cool 'Wired' individuals– Infonauts spelunking into consumer-zombie society along the lines of privileged demands for free and instantaneous access to technological communication. Is Neo the equivelant of the cell-phone yapping, SUV driving Silicon Valley millionaire, creating the need for science-fiction-like access to technology for a society he secretly holds in contempt?
Feel free to add to this list of observations. Again, while the implications of mobile empowerment is interesting, I'm even more compelled to explore what's happening on the ragged edges and empty spaces–
Look around and see how you and others around you seamlessly absorb signal loss into your daily existence.