Cell Phone Class Action Lawsuit News- 1/27/2012: RFID readers, GPS phones and motes all emit electromagnetic energy over the airwaves and cover areas as large as six square acres (Albrecht & McIntyre, 2004). Further, readers are installed and operational in walls, floors, doorways, shelving, cars, security, and payment devices with RFID slated for release in clothing, refrigerators, medicine bottles and other everyday objects imminently (Albrecht & McIntyre, 2004, pg 51). Yet, as of January, 2007, there is no published research on electromagnetic energy impacts on human health and well-being (OECD, 2006). Sometimes cell phones and the Internet are the catalysts for social change, and sometimes they reflect social change: either way, these technologies are contributing to subtle changes in American values and to how different groups (based on age, gender, class, and race) use those changes to define individual and group identities. This book is about the changes that cell phones and the Internet—the dynamic duo—are bringing to American life, where the technologies always seem to be “on.” As a cultural history, this book examines how these two technologies—separately and together—are contributing to a change in American attitudes, behaviors, and cultural values.
It is probably human nature to want to believe that all technologies make our lives easier, better, or more efficient. After all, commercials for these products and services promise us better control over the chaos of our lives. When we first start using a new technology, we experience a learning curve. For those who learn quickly, expectations for what the technology can do for us can be wonderful. Those who struggle to learn how to use the technology may experience greater stress or anxiety. Some people try something, only to realize that they don’t really like or need it. But those who do master the technology tend not to notice how they begin to rely on it. The instantaneous nature of communicating with cell phones and the Internet leads us to transmit and receive information faster and with less consideration for how it might affect our lives. Our ability to connect immediately, anywhere, anytime, to someone conditions us to think of all activities in full operation twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. That hum we feel in the air may be constant, invisible potential for immediacy—or it may well be anxiety, particularly for those who allow these technologies to infiltrate so many aspects of daily life. Or, it may accompany the unspoken reality that our daily activities, both private and public, are changing our culture in ways that we don’t yet truly understand, and for that reason, we feel uncomfortable.
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Is there a relationship between the growing use of cell phones and the Internet and the pressures we feel in our lives to do more, to spend more time online, and to consider using even more technology? Part of our anxiety may be caused by the instability we feel while we negotiate the new social rules, norms, and uses of technology and as we figure out how to match our expectations with what is really possible, and yet, there seems to be no turning back to a simpler time. The continuous dance between technological innovation and social use of cell phones.
At first it may sound like a stretch to claim that technology has the potential to shape the way we think about other things in life. After all, many of us have been led to believe that technology has no real power in itself and that it’s how people use technology that matters. Neil Postman wrote a book titled Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology,9 in which he explains how using technology leads us to think of everything in technological terms. According to Postman, human beings have a need to fit the pieces of their lives into something that gives the impression of coherence, and the technologies themselves structure our interests. That’s why we often seek technological solutions to technological questions and why we often reach for more technology to solve the problems caused by present technologies. We may not be consciously aware of the many ways in which technology structures our thoughts, but at the unconscious level, the same characteristics that are inherent in the technology begin to creep into our daily practices. This affects both our behavior and attitudes, but also our assumptions and expectations. Throughout the twentieth century, American society embraced the belief that technology equaled progress and that if we could get technology into the hands of more people, we could all participate in the great American Dream of consuming products and enjoying better, more comfortable lives.
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These wonderful inventions have done so much to liberate us from traditional ways of working or communicating with friends or family, but we often are unaware of the “speed-up” in our lives. We tend to be working more, playing less, and finding that by being always connected by phone or computer to responsibilities and obligations, our stress levels increase, rather than decrease. The technologies make it easer to react in moments, but at the same time, we can speed through tasks and ignore thinking about their consequences or their quality. It’s hard to relax when the constant barrage of messages demands our attention. Like Pavlov’s dog, we become conditioned to respond immediately to electronic messages. Our nerves and senses become keenly attuned, we viscerally need to respond, and we therefore contribute to the constant hum of information and message flow and exchange. People who jump to grab their cell phones when one rings in a public place, even if it isn’t their own phone, know about this type of conditioning.
On the surface, changes to the Internet may seem less obvious, but in reality they are even more profound. The ubiquity of accessing the Internet through a host of technologies and the growing functionality of cell phones to access the Internet is throwing the traditional media companies into a tizzy to find suitable content for delivery to the small video screen. Advertisers are fearful that they may lose their traditional revenue streams if they continue to promote products the old fashioned way. Subscription services that don’t include ads or content that had been designed to catch someone’s attention change the way people may be motivated to think about a purchase of a product. The biggest change, though, is how pop-up ads, animation, and design factors punctuate content on the computer screen, competing for attention and immediate action from the consumer, all of which can be seen more legibly on a large computer screen, but which suffers when reduced to a two-inch cell phone screen.
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