chapter  1
10 Pages

Introduction: Cell phones as global media

In late 2008, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) declared that the number of cell phone connections in the world had passed the four billion mark (GSM World 2009). In 2010, the figure will soon exceed five billion subscribers. Driving this growth are countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China, with their momentous economic and social changes. Also responsible for the rise and rise of the cell phone are those living in smaller, poor, developing countries, and indeed across continents such as Africa, where the technology is finding not only new users, but new uses too. In Europe, the US, Canada and the Asia-Pacific, subscribers have embraced the cell phone even more intensely. Already taken-for-granted the cell phone comes with a welter of new applications, and has achieved an even more prominent place in commerce, work, intimacy, family, social networking, culture and politics. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the remarkably plastic technology of the cell phone continues its seemingly unstoppable career – emerging largely unscathed even from the prolonged and profound world financial crisis that hit in 2008. In Japan, people read cell phone novels on the way to work. In Tanzania,

a farmer finds out market information, and sells produce with his phone. In Bangladesh, the famous ‘phone ladies’ of the GrameenPhone provide a communications service for all and sundry. In Seoul, avid social networkers upload photos and updates on their mini-hompy. In the US, Iran and many other countries, friends, colleagues and celebrities micro-blog with Twitter. In Belarus an underground theatre company performs its plays in people’s houses, and other clandestine venues, and audience members are contacted by cell phone to let them know details of where the night’s performance will be. In the city of Barcelona three North African immigrants listen to music on their cell phones, swapping tracks via Bluetooth. In Australia, avid fans follow the cricket on mobile television. In trains, planes and automobiles, people watch short video, and downloaded programs on their handsets. Pretty much everywhere people take photos with their cell phones, and show them to their friends, families and colleagues – or message the images on, and upload them to their blogs or photosharing site. Devotees brandish their iPhone like a Nintendo Wii,

Walking or driving, people in motion navigate with their various mobile location technologies, whether SatNav, Google Maps or mobile location finders. Standing out front of a store, a would-be customer receives an ad on their phone. People wake up to text messages from their lovers, and fall asleep bathed in the consoling blue light of the console, beeping to signal the arrival of another communiqué.