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THE MOBILE PHONE – PRETENCE OF INTIMACY

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                             PRETENCE OF INTIMACY IN FRANCE1
                                             Chantal de Gournay
                                           France Telecom / CNET


    This paper analyses the reasons for the development of the cell phone in France. The
    description of customs, values, social structures and institutional frames is obviously
    characterized by a specifically French context which limits interpretation to France. The
    citatations used by the author to illustrate her argument are drawn from a survey carried out for
    EURESCOM P 903 in Paris and Montpellier between September and November 1999. The
    survey consisted of six focus groups composed of 10 people each, with a mixture of cell phone
    owners and subscribers to Internet, and non owners.




In France the mobile phone, launched in 1987, developed slowly at first, before suddenly
taking off two years ago. Since then its annual growth rate has been about 120 percent, with
the number of subscribers rising to 14 million today, a little under 30 percent of the
population. This success needs to be analysed not only in light of the exceptional speed of
diffusion but also because of the mass phenomenon (quantitative threshold) it expresses. For
once sociologists of technology are not asking the question: "what is curbing adoption and
use of the tool?"; on the contrary, they are wondering: "what are the limits of growth" of a
tool which, no one doubts – least of all non-subscribers themselves – is destined for universal
ownership? In many surveys non-subscribers mention their awareness of a prevailing
injunction to acquire a tool for which they have no need2 but to which they will eventually
give in.


With the exception of the corded telephone (and, to a lesser extent, television), no other
medium has had the same potential for universality – although the telephone became
accessible to the entire French population in the 1970s only, nearly a century after its
invention, thanks to deliberate efforts to catch up with other industrialized countries. Yet,
unlike the other two systems, the cell phone is neither revolutionary nor the founder of a new
technological capacity. It merely reproduces existing properties of the telephone by shifting


1
  Published in J.E. Katz & M.A. Aakhus (eds.) 2002. Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk,
Public Performance. Cambridge: CUP (pp. 193-205)
2
  Two focus groups, each composed of 10 non-subscribers, were formed in France for EURESCOM, in
September 1999. Even though they did not use mobile phones themselves, they were fully aware of all the
possibilities offered by the tool because the people around them were subscribers. The majority said they
intended to acquire one in the near future because "everybody's got one"; "it's difficult to fight against the cell
phone. You're old-fashioned if you haven't got one"; "It'll be a must for everyone. It's like the Minitel for
students: you can't register at university anymore without using the Minitel".
                                                                                               2

them onto new ground and into previously inaccessible residual situations. In this respect the
diffusion of other, more revolutionary systems such as the fax and Internet have been
mediocre in France, despite the fact that they paved the way for the transmission of writing
and data, of more fundamental importance to the economy and social organization (not to
mention the computer revolution, for the diffusion of microcomputers in the home has already
been outpaced by the mobile phone).


Let us examine these properties of the cell phone: reachability, immediacy (direct contact
combined with voice interaction) and mobility. Immediacy is an advantage that both the cell
and the corded telephone have. Reachability is an advantage of the cell phone which
nevertheless depends on the willingness of its owner, for if he or she is unavailable the result
is the same as on a corded phone. Mobility is unquestionably the difference between the two
mediums.


Mobility should be seen as a secondary or accessory attribute of the cell phone. The
extremely rapid development of this tool in the past two years – way beyond the group of
initial users consisting of professionals who travelled a lot – coincided with the identification
of private use that extended to a public with few constraints as regards mobility (young
people and women, in particular). At this point I wish to point out that my analyses in the
early years of the development of mobile phones now need to be revised. At that stage I
perceived in socio-economic developments in France "the emergence of nomadic trends in
society" (De Gournay, 1994). However, after examining current statistics on users' actual
mobility, the trend observed in that early analysis clearly needs to be relativized. Daily and
occasional travelling for work have hardly increased, as regards distance, but have been
spread more evenly throughout the day (there is little difference now between peak hours and
the rest of the day, for people move about at any time, including in the evening, for their
leisure and especially shopping).


The success of the mobile phone cannot be explained by structural factors of economic or
social change, for neither the organization of labour nor the family sphere, nor transport
infrastructure and urban structures have undergone any objective changes coinciding with the
advent of this medium. Paradoxically, for the first time in France the trend towards national
centralization and urban concentration (constant since the industrial revolution) has been
                                                                                              3

reversed. The probable consequence will be a decline in forced daily mobility and travelling
(home-work journeys), due to the effect of greater accessibility of employment, leisure
activities and culture, even if occasional mobility (holidays, tourism, professional trips) has
increased owing to high-speed transport (air transport). Now, we know that most use of
mobile phones concerns the local coordination of everyday interaction and proximity
relationships.


We therefore need to look for explanations elsewhere, other than in structural factors of
mobility, and reconsider the tool not from the point of view of its functions (the properties of
the vehicle or the technical network) but rather in the symbolic register of the forms of
communication and interpersonal relations it allows, promotes or disqualifies in relation to the
social norms, codes and conventions established for earlier media. In other words, my
assumption is that the mobile phone has encountered a favourable social context for its
expansion, and that this context is defined by a change in social behaviour and representations
and not by a stage in the material organization of interaction, work or the domestic sphere.
Although this tool may not be a technological innovation as such, it does offer an
"opportunistic" communication format that enables users to transgress codes of human
interaction and to redefine, or at least individually to renegotiate, the collective norms
governing social and emotional relationships (courtesy, reciprocity, publicity/confidentiality
of interaction, etc.). That is why the success of the mobile phone is based on an opportunity of
an ideological rather than practical nature.

This type of assertion is obviously valid only if one abandons a more convincing explanatory
factor, that of the drop in prices which propelled the mobile phone into the orbit of regular
consumer products. But should sociologists not go further than the price argument
(Carmagnat, Robson, 1999) ?

This normative redefinition concerns the following points, to be developed later:
-   circumvention of institutional authority in order to obtain direct access to people, in both
    professional and family relations;
-   decompartmentalization of the private sphere and the occupation of collective spaces by
    forms of communication and rituals formerly reserved for intimacy;
-   reduction of the public sphere, combined with the restriction of possibilities for mediation
    and circulation of speech, due to the generalization of an exclusive form of two-way
    (dyadic) communication, excluding third parties;
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-    simplification of the formal structure of verbal language operated through the mobile
     phone.


I.      The question of accessibility: a symptom of deregulation of civil coexistence


The mobile phone both revealed and triggered off what can be called a revolution in
communication practices – one that sometimes resembles a "guerrilla" struggle due to
contradictory attitudes and aspirations, with everyone trying to convince those around them of
the validity of their own ways. It would be futile to try to find any coherence in the
expectations and practices of cell phone users; many studies on the subject show that they
frequently contradict themselves, depending on whether they are talking about making or
receiving calls. In particular, there is a contrast between the desire for omnipotence (through
personal and immediate accessibility) fulfilled by the cell phone, and the refusal of reciprocal
accessibility, consisting of avoiding being reached by others, either by keeping the number
secret or by systematically channelling calls to the voice mail box.


Most cell phones owned by young people were given to them by their parents, in the hope of
controlling them at all times, even in places that were hitherto inaccessible (school, the street,
while travelling). Those same parents, however, refuse the idea of being reachable by their
colleagues or clients while travelling or on business appointments. Previously legitimate rules
guiding individual conduct in interaction with others, such as the minimal obligation to be
accessible to the public when one is engaged in contractual relationships (at work, in any
professional service) have become obsolete with the use of mobile phones. For example, a
firm or public organization in France does not have the right to keep its telephone number
secret (i.e. unlisted), yet cell phone numbers are de facto secret because their listing in the
directory is voluntary rather than automatic. As a result, whole categories of professionals
have become inaccessible to the public because they are reachable only on their mobile
phones. Deontologically this is unacceptable.


This insidious deregulation of public life reflects the increasing multiplicity of roles that
everyone is obliged to assume in situations of communication, and that already has an
equivalent in modern transport. Today, most individuals are at once motorists, pedestrians,
train passengers and sometimes cyclists or motorcyclists as well. Individual motorists often
                                                                                                 5

behave as if they were their own worst enemy in so far as they are also intermittent
pedestrians or occasional cyclists. These modes all relate to irreconcilable interests and
incompatible attitudes. Similarly, the communicating individual adopts strategic behaviour, as
if multi-modal communication had become the scene of competition between modes of
transmission. That is the case of corded telephone users who refuse to contact their
correspondents on their mobile phones because they know that the excess cost of their calls is
used to finance the mobile phone network. (The same logic would have pedestrian taxpayers
financing motorways if these did not have tollgates, to the benefit of motorists.) Conversely,
owners of mobile phones who systematically re-route incoming calls to their voice mail box
are fully aware that they have obtained relevant information and that only the caller has paid,
especially in business contexts.


The recent development of individual strategies concerning the management of accessibility
on the telephone, in both private and professional contexts, has resulted in an increase in
asymmetrical communication relationships. This asymmetry is particularly questionable
because it does not relate to the symbolic sphere of personal relations only. By involving
factors as concrete as the cost of services or access to them, it challenges the principles
governing the contractual sphere of relations between governed and governors, service
providers and customers. If work, as an institution, is no longer able to guarantee
unconditional accessibility of staff during working hours, and if those same staff consider it
illegitimate for their telephone to be publicly identified (the case of the majority of mobile
phones used by working people during their day), then we are in full civic regression.


The fantasy of absolute and individual freedom of access to communication masks the need
for collective regulation, without which that freedom would be nothing but a theory and
would necessarily lead to the negation of the actual functionalities of communication. Such
regulation exists in the transport field, where a driver's license is required and the same traffic
rules apply to everyone. With the current rapid expansion of communication systems, what is
the code of communicational interaction that offers norms and conventions shared by all?


Not only has no such code been defined, but the one that progressively took shape through
social experience of the corded telephone is being destroyed by chaotic and divergent uses of
the mobile phone. The aim of this paper is to account for the evolution of telephone customs
                                                                                               6

through use of the mobile phone, and to show how this evolution is likely to corrupt the goals,
rationality and performativity of the tool.


In support of the argument that the success of the mobile phone stems from factors outside its
actual functionality as such, we note that of the 60 individuals questioned in the focus groups,
nobody mentioned the social or professional utility of the device. In almost all cases they
spoke of its predominant role in personal life, highlighting its advantages in terms of "ease" of
use (compared mainly to the Internet) and the part it plays in interpersonal communication.
Other tools were classified in terms of their "informative" value, clearly distinguished from
communication:


"The cell phone is reassuring, it's to reassure parents."
"It's so that my parents' phone isn't engaged all the time."
"The mobile phone's not a communication tool. Lots of young people have one just for the
image."
"It's spread so quickly because it's easy."
"I don't give my cell number to anyone at work. Elsewhere I give it to everyone."
"My parents [who live in the country] feel better about me having a cell phone. When there's
a bomb blast in Paris they immediately check."
"The cell phone is easier to control [than the corded phone, i.e. one can switch it off or screen
calls]; the disadvantage is that one doesn't know where the other person is."
"What is bad is that we have the feeling they use it for anything. It should be kept for
emergencies only."
"In supermarkets it's a kind of tyranny."
"Mobiles get on my nerves. It's a form of pollution. It's a fantasy not being alone. They're
scared of being bored."


II. The primacy of private life


Veering away from its original rationality (communication in mobile situations, between
people whose programme contains imponderables and who therefore require quick answers to
problematic coordination and inconvenient occurrences of an urgent nature), the mobile
phone today serves the needs of people who are hardly mobile and communicate mainly with
                                                                                               7

those with whom they have "strong ties", usually spouses or other family members (and
whose daily movements and schedules are therefore predictable, implying a fairly routine
coordination), without any major motivation other than "keeping in touch". This shift in the
role of the mobile tool – through which routine coordination of family relations engulfs
communication channels normally intended for the management of emergencies and
professional demands – would not have been possible in France without an underlying reform
of social relations and a challenge to the legitimacy of boundaries between the private,
professional and public spheres.


To be sure, the decompartmentalization of the public and private spheres has, for a long time,
been presented as an inevitable effect of the proliferation of technological networks in the
home. Futurology has, however, analysed this phenomenon mainly from the angle of
importation from the outside world into the domestic cell: thanks to television and Internet,
the home would have "a window open onto the world". With the mobile phone this viewpoint
has been reversed: it is a bit of their intimacy that people are taking outside the home, so that
the public is put into the position of a "voyeur", involved whether it likes it or not in the
secrets of households or couples, hearing by chance private conversations exteriorised in
public places via the cell phone.


The idea here is to analyse the decompartmentalization of the two spheres as a phenomenon
of an ideological nature, which is not reducible to the rationality of technological
developments but, more profoundly, affects the legitimacy of social norms and institutions.
The confusion of time-space references stems from a slow maturing of the modern pattern of
individualism, reflecting a transformation of the meaning and values attributed to social
success, independently of any issue of technological mastery. This transformation can be
identified in several points.


Traditionally, at least since the bourgeois revolution of 1789, criteria of social success have
been spread over four scales of performance, at least two of which are found in the current
paradigm of individualism:
-   professional career;
-   qualifications associated with the possession of knowledge and culture (cultural capital,
    according to Bourdieu);
                                                                                                 8

-   amplitude and strength of an egocentric social network: society life in the sense of the
    Enlightenment thinkers, social capital in the sense of Bourdieu, social networking in the
    US sense;
-   family set-up, with the domestic sphere reduced to its main purpose of transmitting a
    heritage (goods and moral values), something which can only be performed through
    filiation (progeny).


By virtue of these four criteria, an ambitious individual could climb the social scale without
having to prove any personal (intimate) success regarding the enhancement of his or her
emotional (love), spiritual (religion) and physical (health, sexuality, etc.) dimensions. This
point characterizes the profound cultural difference between France and North America (cf.
the Clinton Affair). Now, it is on this very ground of intimacy that the transformation of
norms, consisting of the association of social success with personal fulfilment, is taking place.
Private life and professional life are entangled, and their values are cumulative on the social
and individual levels. In reality, both structures demand the same degree of personal
investment and organization, without which the deterioration of one results in failure of the
other. Psychoanalysts and psychiatrists are witnesses of this, for most of the cases of
psychological distress they treat today stem from this interdependence of professional stress
and family tension.


We note in passing that of the four criteria of social success mentioned above, two have
become obsolete: cultural capital and social capital. It is precisely in the void left by these two
values that the dialectic of intimacy has, so to speak, found its new legitimacy. In France the
waning of these two pillars of social competition is not unrelated to the expansion of the
media, which have undermined the role of those institutions that formerly guaranteed the
transmission of knowledge and culture (schools and universities have to compete with
television and now also the Internet). They have similarly weakened the role of the group in
the control and legitimization of sociability (regulation of society life, in the Proustian sense,
based on elaborate codes governing the cooptation of individuals by the circle that they are
supposed to "frequent", i.e. the recognized places in which they are supposed to "be seen").
Modern sociability, by making it possible to maintain social relations "from a distance",
primarily by means of the telephone, has abolished the protocols of public life and thereby
eliminated criteria for the evaluation of a "social capital" or simply for the "classification"
                                                                                                9

constituting bourgeois "distinction" (good manners, verbal skills, signs of refinement in dress,
level of education, etc.). With the use of a screen or telephone, nobody is required to display
the slightest social competence of this nature. This is an egalitarian effect of distance
communication which disqualifies the concept of "social capital" if not that of a "social
network", for the former cannot be controlled by any outside judgement and classification of
competence (such as taste or good manners).


Given the role of society life as an exceptionally strong determining factor in the
legitimization of social status (or class) in France (see Habermas and Agulhon, particularly on
the role of the public sphere: parlour, theatre, opera, etc.), the current return of a lifestyle
centred more around intimate circles is an unquestionable sign of the ideological decline of
the bourgeoisie and its values, now relayed by the influence of the middle classes. Like a
pendulum, the deficit of society life is offset, symbolically, by greater visibility or show of
private life, needed to fill a public sphere emptied of its substance. Not only has work become
the only legitimate occupation of society, but the rest of human existence has to be devoted to
the accomplishment of the emotional success of the home, leaving no place for socialized
activities. Personal fulfilment is the only value with as much legitimacy as work, requiring the
same attention and displayed in a way that is visible to all. That is why the intrusion of
personal communication in workplaces is now not only tolerated but even promoted as an
indicator of the worker's balance and therefore of his or her performance. From this point of
view the mobile phone acts as a medium for the "publicization" of emotional fulfilment. At
work, in town, while travelling: every call on the cell phone secretly expresses a message to
the public: "look how much I'm in demand, how full my life is". The phenomenon is,
moreover, confirmed by statements denouncing the "void" or apparent absence of significant
content – and necessity or urgency – in cell phone conversations.
"The content of communication hasn't improved with the cell phone. It's always a little
muddled, it's skin-deep contact via satellite, it's merely a fuse that we've put between us."
"One feels uncomfortable [in situations of telephone conversation in public places] especially
when it's not for work and it's not urgent, it's just to say: Hi."
"It's a way of multiplying contacts even if the conversation is shorter."
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III. From forms of conversation to the informality of cell phone conversations


Society life, essentially bourgeois (formerly aristocratic), implemented two forms of
externalization of the personality: that of the body (appearances, clothing, gestures) and that
of speech (conversation skills, rhetoric of seduction and argumentation). In modern social
relations, owing particularly to the predominance of a mode of reduced, distance
communication between two speakers, not only has the obligation to "appear" become
superfluous, but the content of communication has also got rid of formal attributes previously
required in verbal exchange with the outside world. In other words, the constituent formality
of verbal competence (sequential organization of speech, logical sequence typical of
argumentation, virtuosity of eloquence and seduction) disappear with the decline of society
life. We are witnessing the dwindling of bourgeois ethics and aesthetics of communication,
both of which defined precisely, if not the very concept of conversation, then at least its art.


It is therefore hardly surprising that it is in the field of conversation – or its content – that the
mobile telephone is judged by its detractors. In reality, however, it is the absence of
"formality" in the conversation that they perceive, for after all, this type of talk is hardly
different from what one says at home, between people who are so used to each other that they
no longer have to "converse" but only to affirm an emotional presence ("Pass the salt please.
Are you cold? What did you do today? I missed you. I love you.") But this intimate talk
(between close friends, between "us two"), put on the public scene via the cell phone, seems
emptied of its substance, the zero degree of conversation, the phatic proliferation of
communication.


From this point of view, we witness a "fetishization" of communication in so far as the cell
phone, through its personalization, is used not for interaction but rather for a "fusional"
relationship3 with someone the user is close to. It is a part of the other person that one takes
with one, guaranteed of their availability for permanent and total possession. This is attested
by women in Italy who possess several private cell phones, each devoted to pre-identified
correspondents: husband and children, lover, friends (see Fortunati). Fetish-object rather than
medium, the cell phone is credited with the power of fulfilling all fantasies of power and


3
 This desire for fusion was expressed remarkably well by a user (quoted above) in the following spontaneous
metaphor: "it's merely a fuse that we've put between us".
                                                                                               11

exclusive possession: possession of the person close to one, like one's mother… While the
corded telephone has often been compared to an "umbilical cord", the most appropriate image
for the mobile phone might be the child's teddy-bear, seen almost as part of the body,
intended to reassure and compensate for all emotional wants.


This evolution is simply the continuation of a trend observed by Sennett (The Fall of Public
Man) concerning, in particular, the sources of contemporary narcissism as a symptom of a
society unable to cope with symbolic transitions or mediations between internal life and
external life. Yet this trend, which in France began at the end of the nineteenth century, is
now based on new opportunities for transgression afforded by the media and above all by
television as a space for the exhibition of intimate dramas (psy-shows and reality-shows).
Through public talk, this space allows for the redefinition of the status of the obscene
(literally, that which cannot be shown on the public scene, but which is finally revealed by
television). By means of this protocol of exhibition of personal problems, individuals demand
that the community take charge of them (as witnesses). Through this act they name their
solitude by highlighting the inadequacy of their social links to fulfil the role of mutual aid and
listening – which brings us back to the problem of interpersonal communication.


This problem relates, in turn, to a loss imputable to the generalization of the telephonic form
of interpersonal communication, of which the cell phone is the ultimate avatar. How can one
talk of oneself – and, above all, how can personal drama have meaning – if the subject is
unable to use the language resources required for a narrative, an account? When Habermas
talks of the "subjective emancipation of bourgeois society" in the eighteenth century, he is
referring precisely to the rapid growth of writing and the intimate account, through letters,
private diaries and the use of conversation in parlours (Mme de Stael asked her guests to think
up scenarios as a game). By using the telephone "format", subjects are limited to a
discontinuous sequential organization of talk, with a requirement for alternative dialogue in
the form of questions and answers. This deprives them of the possibility of recounting their
story. In other words, the telephone format is a device ill suited to listening (and reserved for
the mise en scène of talk, where one of the protagonists must accept a passive position); it is
more appropriate for informative exchange of an interactive nature. This inappropriateness is
accentuated by the lack of sound quality on the cell phone, constantly muddled by noise.
Paradoxically, the place where subjects can find a substitute for listening is not with the
                                                                                                 12

intimate friends and family with whom they communicate, but on television where they are
granted a limited time only to speak!


IV. Telephone sociability: from the dispersed social network to the concentration of
relations


Areas of sociability in the modern world have been reconfigured to a large extent by means of
distance communication and the withdrawal into the nuclear family. It would be an illusion to
think that the morphology of relations and social networks had not been affected by this dual
process, as regards both their quality and their perpetuity. The sociological and
anthoropological theories that have served thought on the complexity of the social link are
insufficient for explaining new dynamics, especially when they are based on the metaphor of
a network borrowed from science and technology.


The current configuration of relations of sociability (excluding functional and organizational
relations) can no longer be likened to the image of a "network" in so far as these relations are
no longer maintained by encounters which are situated (in physical and social space) but
depend primarily on the use of telephony which confirms a form of exclusive and bilateral
relation. As soon as relations are partitioned into segments functioning as binomials or pairs,
they cannot form a network because they are intransitive, that is, they cannot be switched to
a third party by an effect of contiguity (contiguity being of a spatial nature, a relationship
cannot be formed without initial face-to-face interaction, except for functional relations).
Transitive or intransitive relations: that is the whole difference in the nature of social relations
and intimate relations. I can be the friend of my friend's friend, but I can't be the lover of my
friend's lover, just as the relationship between mother and child is unique. We also know that
the conditions of relations of sociability change when individuals move in together to live as a
couple. The intransitive nature of these relations are more evident because they fall apart
when the couple splits up, and common friends generally have to choose between one of the
partners. By contrast, in traditional societies the perpetuity of social relations withstands the
rupture of intimate relations because the social group (whether a cast, class or clan) ensures
mediation between those concerned, in keeping with the concept of a network.


"When friends divorce it's complicated, you can't invite everyone at the same time."
                                                                                               13

[after divorce] "We tried to keep our friends and in fact we lost them."
"Everyone has his own life. We see each other less. We do not have this idea of a clan
anymore."
"Nowadays ICT helps you to have a clean conscience: people keep in touch with family and
friends with speed phone calls, but in this way there is the bad tendency to avoid face-to-face
contact."


What can be observed in uses of the mobile telephone is the demand for the exclusivity of
telephone relations in the fusional mode of couples or the umbilical cord (mother-child).
These demands express a desire for closure of the relational network, reduced to a few close
friends and the family core. First, through the wish to control the secrecy of their phone
number, users limit random connections with other people not recognized as special relations
(a practice out of keeping with the very aim of the telephone which, through the directory,
promoted "democratic accessibility" by violating the rules of the social hierarchy structured in
terms of personal rank and status).
"It's better if there's no mobile directory because a cell phone is personal, it's more intimate."
"Mobiles generate groups, they introduce social differences."


Secondly, through the wish to eliminate intermediaries who occasionally latch onto
interpersonal relations when they are situated in a shared space, the "chain reaction" effect of
chance relationships is reduced. This is striking in new demands by parents to remain in
constant contact with their children even when they are outside the home. Claiming to care
about their children's safety (another leitmotif in the success of mobile phones), they develop
a "paranoiac" vision of the community, reflecting the same lack of trust that people now have
in social institutions and in any environment other than the family (for example, teachers who
are suspected of no longer being attentive to or understanding children's needs, or children in
the neighbourhood that have to be avoided because they are seen as "a bad influence").
[of the mobile] "It's a prison. I'm scared people shut up and have no more contact with
others".
"What annoys me is that people speak loudly with their mobile phone. As they do not speak
with their neighbour on the train, they use their mobile instead".
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The desire to control the exclusivity of parent-child relations, through the possession of a
mobile, generates effects of inequality on territories of the republican institution which has
always taken care to limit outside attributes of individual possession within it. How do
children from poor families, who do not own mobile phones, feel when their fellow pupils
exhibit their telephones? Formerly, the School imposed uniforms to symbolically limit social
inequalities. And what about the discrepancy between pupils and teaching staff who, in
carrying out their functions, do not have personal access to the school's telephone lines. (The
same can be said for hospitals where the medical staff share one telephone per ward, whereas
patients who can afford it have a private telephone).


Conclusion


The examples developed in this text enable us to assess the excesses of a medium which has
conquered its market not by meeting structural needs of economic and social organization, but
rather by complying with a symbolic demand in keeping with the modern individualist current
in civil society. The reader should not, however, see this critique of the mobile phone as the
implicit denunciation of a presumed crisis in face-to-face sociability, assumed to have
declined to make way entirely for "distance" sociability. Thorough research has highlighted
the complementarity of both types of sociability – telephone and face-to-face (Smoreda &
Licoppe, 1998; Rivière, 1999) – entangled on the basis of a cumulative logic. It even seems as
if the mobile phone, by leaving room for improvization, sometimes favours meetings or group
outings because it makes it easier to contact and co-opt an individual at the last minute, when
the opportunity for a meeting arises.


More precisely, the critique relates to a recent definition of sociability which tends to eclipse
the role of conversation as a fundamental form of the expression of social life. Since
conversation remains the form through which any disinterested face-to-face encounter has to
operate, the lack of formal conversation in cell phone calls prevents us from confusing the
two types of relation. We cannot claim that these two types of sociability can be cumulative
or even substitutive; they do not fulfil the same relational function.


Interpretation of social networks in recent or current sociological studies tends to reduce
sociability to a theory of resources (systems of mutual help, trading of services, mechanisms
                                                                                                15

of solidarity) (Granovetter, 1982; Wellman, 1992), based on an updated model of the archaic
community, and in the image of family solidarity. There nevertheless remains a disinterested
dimension of public life, of a profoundly non-utilitarian and non-convertible-into-service-
delivery nature, which defies this interpretation of social relations. Conversation, like the
series of images that people give of themselves, constitutes the very substance of this
disinterested sociability at the roots of modern societies. It would be regrettable if sociologists
failed to question the evolution of this dimension when studying human interactions via the
cell phone and Internet.


                            BIBLIOGRAPHIE (restreinte aux notes)


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