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The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication; Chapters 5 & 6

October 18, 2010


I really enjoyed this book. It seemed like an ethnography that really tried to capture the influence of a certain technology (cell phones) on a certain group of people (lower class citizens of Jamaica). It’s easy for us to say something like, “Oh yes … I know that quite a few people have cell phones.” But it is entirely different to see that the cell phone has now become the extension of self … so much so that we do not even think twice about using it to extend relationships (i.e. calling dad for money, or calling your office to let them know you have a doctor’s appointment); so much so that if we did not use the technology, we may not achieve – or at least it would be harder to achieve – certain goals we have set for ourselves.

Horst and Miller look into these examples, but also look at the cell phone’s relationship to family and economy!


–       Networked societies vs. Networked Individuals: Horst and Miller say that we should not look at this world in the society v. individual binary, rather “what is needed are detailed case studies that show how much more subtle the relationship between individuals and wider networks can be today and how much more complex their relationship has been in the past” (pg. 81).

  • What is the status on the complexity of relationship building today, due to the increased use of mobile technologies?

–       “The introduction emphasizes the capacity of the cell phone to assist in the micro-coordination of activities and networking of relationships (e.g. Ling 2004), but this assumes greater significance when, as in Jamaica, one starts to appreciate that what we call a ‘network’ is such a complex, multi-stranded, overlapping, contradictory formation” (pg. 83).

–       The cell phone’s duty/relationship to us is one that “can transform the phone from a device that connects into a device whose importance lies in its capacity to keep multiple strands separate” (pg. 83).

–       Chapter 5 shows that the cell phone’s “integration” into modern life is both one of agency and one of the “development in one’s social life” (pg. 83).

–       With the arrival of Digicel, families no longer had to wait in line at call boxes or walk a ½ an hour to get to one. Family members living abroad could finally connect with family members in some of the most remote, rural areas of Jamaica. For parents (who are living abroad), “This allowed for much more involvement of parents in their children’s intellectual and emotional development” (pg. 87-88).

  • Can the same thing be said with Internet use? (i.e. Internet Cafe)

–       Yes, the first example Horst and Miller gave hid certain aspects of the relationship from Mr. Levy via the phone, but in our own lives … what has been the role of the phone/cell phone in our educational/family experiences? In times sense past, how would these experiences have been different with such technologies being nonexistent? (application to an educational institution/traumatic experiences)


–       The first thing Horst and Miller seemed to suggest was that no matter how much mainstream media would like to say that cell phones have radically changed our (business and individual) daily lives, that simply is not true … in response to small businesses being afforded the opportunity to have a larger cliental and/or being able to sell their products to farther away places, “Although this aspect was not entirely absent, the cell phone did not appear to radically transform employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. Particularly noticeable was the relative absence of evidence that the cell phone is used to find employment” (pg. 103).

–       But the phone is used as a means of survival, especially when 70% receive some money from family members, partners/spouses/boy & girlfriends, friends, and others (local or abroad); 48% received 1/3 of their income from others and 38% received money exclusively from social networks and others (pg. 108).

–       I will read a quote from page 118 (1st paragraph, 4 lines from the top).

–       Do you agree with Horst and Miller’s statement that,  “In many established economies a great deal of institutional and personal work is done to try and separate the moral and intimate from the economic as incommensurate forms of value”? (pg. 119-120)

–       I will conclude with a quote from page 121 (bottom of paragraph, about 9 lines from the bottom).

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