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I Can Be In Two Places at Once, And So Can You. Here's Why.

Always present, always watching. Following you into every single space you inhabit. It sees you laugh; it sees you cry. This object hears your most intimate secrets. Yes, that’s right, it knows about that verruca on your foot that you can’t seem to get rid of, and how you listen to cheesy 2000s bangers on repeat ‘til they lose the prefix ‘guilty’ and just become a regular pleasure. It is tethered to your body, and in a Philip Pullmanesque[1] way of putting it, it is similar to a Dæmon in that it is a manifestation of your inner self and how this reflects outwards. The object in question is your phone. 


We live a tethered existence[2] in which we straddle between existing in both the digital world, and the physical world. We can be in two places at once, because whilst our bodies can exist in a physical space, like sitting on a train, our minds can be elsewhere, like being engulfed in the infinite and inescapable void of cat edits on Instagram. You know the ones I mean. There is an undeniable solace that can be found in escaping the world around us and scrolling social media, never knowing what will be suggested to you next. That algorithm always seems to hit the nail on the head, doesn’t it? I’m not hating on you for seeking this escapism, I am guilty of this myself. I simply think it is important we understand the centrality of phones to our lives and their overarching social significance.


Mobile media scholar David Beer[3] emphasises that we have an emotional attachment to our phones, and they are embedded into our bodily practices. Beer references the philosopher Žižek[4] who defined the difference between the spaces of the home (oikos) and the shared public, or ‘city state’ (polis). Between these two spaces exists the cogito which is a more undefined space in the gaps between public and private life. Our phones utilise cogito, the moments in between our routines, to shift our habits and change the nature of shared spaces. We can have a private discussion in a public place, meaning more defined boundaries between the public and private sphere, that existed before technology, have blurred. Beer suggests that this social collapse into the cogito ultimately reflects,


broader notions of collapsing social bonds and the endemic processes of isolation and individualization.


Similarly, this shift in social norms made me think of a time on the train, when I looked down at my phone and an elderly man tapped me on the shoulder. He looked at me aghast, as if I had committed the worst crime known to man. I confusedly asked if everything was ok and he responded that back in his day, trains carriages existed for learning new things about people and for open spaces for creating human connection. This interaction made me reflect on how the world around us is changing – I was texting my friends which I viewed as social interaction and connection, though I understood the man’s perspective that phones have isolated us from physical human connection. 


You may think that I am trying to reinvent the wheel by regurgitating another spiel about our phones and the dangers of them. There is certainly a rhetoric in society about addiction to phones and how awful they are. However, I am merely arguing that we are conditioned to seek our phones in times of boredom, sadness or just as a routine to try and fill gaps in our day, and that it is not productive to label this negatively as an addiction or to try to go cold turkey. But it is by understanding and recognising the mechanisms of communication and our daily practices that we can try to make these more mindful. 


Furthermore, it is not only the social practices on our phones which we must investigate, but also the infrastructure which creates our phones as physical objects which we acquire. All objects which have rechargeable lithium batteries, such as phones, require cobalt to function. Cobalt is a metal which is predominantly mined in The Democratic Republic of Congo, specifically in Kolwezi, and demand is expected to rise by 500% by 2050[5]. Children as young as six risk their lives to mine cobalt everyday climbing through tunnels that could collapse and bury them alive at any point. The tech companies demanding this cobalt profit trillions of dollars, and yet those at the bottom of the supply chain receive a meagre 50p per day[6]. We must understand that the infrastructure our supposedly advanced and digitalised world is built upon is inherently unequal and abusive of those most vulnerable in society. You would not be reading these words without unethical cobalt mines. As Siddharth Kara addressed tech companies in an article for The Guardian,


From stone to phone, they must be accountable.


There are not many ways other than reducing consumption and buying less technology that can help this cause. But it is important to understand that these objects that we have been conditioned to value in our everyday lives such as our phones, are built upon issues such as child labour, injury and death, environmental harm and human trafficking. Our phones promote mindless consumption and exploitation, not merely through their physical production, but also through the exploitative and capitalist culture (even more targeted thanks to algorithms) which they encourage us to subscribe to, to feel satisfaction. Consumption is destroying us in every sense. 


I’m going to try not to be all doom and gloom now and propose an avenue for resistance to consumption culture. We consume so much information every day, and our bodies are not naturally built for this. Often conflicting messages from the media we consume can feel overwhelming and time seems to escape us when we mindlessly scroll. Instead, a more unconventionally productive use of our time is to lean into silence. Tricia Hersey[7] galvanised a movement upon the simple phrase:


Rest is resistance 


The moments that we spend sat with ourselves, napping, on long countryside walks or doing things we love like producing art, are the moments we are pushing back against the norm. Hersey proposed that the power of napping is,


seeded within the soils of Black radical thought, somatics, Afrofuturism, womanism, and liberation theology, and is a guide for how to collectively deprogram, decolonize, and unravel ourselves from the wreckage of capitalism and white supremacy. We believe our bodies are portals. They are sites of liberation, knowledge, and invention that are waiting to be reclaimed and awakened by the beautiful interruptions of brutal systems that sleep and dreaming provide.

Similarly, Pauline Oliveros[8] suggested that ‘sonic mediations’ or meditative listening to music is a form of activism. By listening into ourselves we cultivate the ability to listen out. By caring for ourselves, we grow the power to care for others. In a world torn apart by conflict and injustice, there is no better time than to start listening in


If that message sounds a bit to hippie-like for you, and your existence in the digital world is overwhelming you, your best bet is to just sleep!







P.S. I don’t have a verruca on my foot, I just couldn’t think of a medium gross example lol 


References

[2] Turkle, S. 2008. Always-On/Always-On-You: The Tethered Self. In: Katz, J. E.   

[3] Beer, D. 2012. The comfort of mobile media: Uncovering personal attachments with everyday devices. Convergence. 18 (4), pp. 361–367.

[4] Žižek, S. 2006. The Parallax View. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


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Francesca Wang-Smith is an undergraduate student studying Communication and Media at the University of Leeds. Always teeming with a million and one ideas, she enjoys putting pen to paper to gather her thoughts. Her interests lie in meditation, sustainability, and dreaming about returning to visit Taiwan, where her mother is from. In her spare time, you can catch her deep diving into current affairs on Leeds Student Radio, rapidly scribbling down thoughts in her journal, collaging, and fangirling over every cat she sees… ever. She can be found on Instagram at @whatfransupto. Find her Left Brain Media profile here.

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