Elsewhere

Now that every single human being on earth has a camera phone, where are all those UFO pictures? Remember you used to see those pictures. Some guy just happened to have a Polaroid when the UFOs appeared? Either it was all bullshit, or my theory is that the martians have decided, ‘Don’t go down there, man. All those fuckers have cameras now.’

George Clooney, cited by James Bridle in Writing in Newspapers and Magazines via booktwo.org

My story is by no means unique. It has long been a rite of passage in our culture of rugged individualism to spend a summer in Europe, or to hike the Appalachian Trail, or to bike down the West Coast. It doesn’t matter how far you go, just as long as you disconnect, cut the umbilical cord, get lost and end up with stories to tell your kids someday (edited for public consumption, and perhaps a tad exaggerated). Time away from our social networks as young adults helps us figure out who we are, and become fully individual.

As of late, however, our time in the social wilderness has been eroded by omnipresent connectivity — that is, the mobile telecommunications device. And I’m afraid that with no solitude, we will become less, not more, connected to our friends and families. Without loneliness, our society will innovate less.

[…]

Today, we carry our phones with us almost all the time — so we can’t truly be alone.

Yet we all need solitude. It is necessary not only for individualism but also for developing self-awareness and intimacy. Let me explain.

Time spent alone allows us to see ourselves as others see us. It’s important to have a backstage — a safe, private space where we don’t have to worry about folks watching us, where we can let our hair down, practice our social routines and strike back against the indignations of life in the public square. The backstage is where our “true” self resides, as distinct from the front-stage self we present at the office or on the street.

The mobile phone in the garden erodes that private space. And, in turn, it precludes intimacy: Until we have (and can protect) that private self, we can’t be intimate with another. Intimacy, to extend the theatrical metaphor, is like giving backstage passes to a select few. It rests on the private self remaining distinct from the public self, so that you have something to offer chosen friends and family members.

- Dalton Conley, Cell Phone Weighs Down Backpack of Self-Discovery

I have written a bunch about the need for solitary time as a cost of being a creative — to gain mastery of complex skills, to think deeply — but Conley’s demonization of cell phones is too narrow.

It is the friends calling us that intrudes, and the struggle of the creative for a private space in which to practice is a struggle with those friends, and our desire to be with them. It’s not a struggle with movie houses, restaurants, or living rooms. It’s not cell phones, Tumblr, or Twitter that are distracting us, but other people, and ourselves, because we want to remain connected.

As Shakespeare has Julius Caesar tell us, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings’.

At Northeastern University in Boston, network physicists discovered just how predictable people could be by studying the travel routines of 100,000 European mobile-phone users.

After analyzing more than 16 million records of call date, time and position, the researchers determined that, taken together, people’s movements appeared to follow a mathematical pattern. The scientists said that, with enough information about past movements, they could forecast someone’s future whereabouts with 93.6% accuracy.

The pattern held true whether people stayed close to home or traveled widely, and wasn’t affected by the phone user’s age or gender.

"For us, people look like little particles that move in space and that occasionally communicate with each other," said Northeastern physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, who led the experiment. "We have turned society into a laboratory where behavior can be objectively followed."

Only recently have academics had the opportunity to study commercial cellphone data. Until recently, most cellphone providers saw little value in mining their own data for social relationships, researchers say. That’s now changing, although privacy laws restrict how the companies can share their records.

Several cellphone companies in Europe and Africa lately have donated large blocks of calling records for research use, with people’s names and personal details stripped out.

"For the scientific purpose, we don’t care who the people are," said medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis at Harvard University, who is using phone data to study how diseases, behavior and ideas spread through social networks, and how companies can use these webs of relationships to influence drug marketing and health-care decisions.

His work focuses on “social contagion”—the idea that our relationships with people around us, which are readily mapped through cellphone usage, shape our behavior in sometimes unexpected ways. By his calculation, for instance, obesity is contagious. So is loneliness.

- Robert Lee Hotz, The Really Smart Phone

There is order in our randomness, it seems.

Phones Used More For Data Than Voice

via Jenna Wortham, NYTimes

The number of text messages sent per user increased by nearly 50 percent nationwide last year, according to the CTIA, the wireless industry association. And for the first time in the United States, the amount of data in text, e-mail messages, streaming video, music and other services on mobile devices in 2009 surpassed the amount of voice data in cellphone calls, industry executives and analysts say.

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