Mobility as a Behavioral Object of Conditio Humana
Mobile Life, hypothesis of a phenomenon
We are wanderers, commuters, tourists, refuge seekers, travellers, nomads or whatever modus or role we are into. We are always on the move. Human active life – Conditio Humana or Vita Activa – is based on mobility. Mobility is the ability to move from one place to another. We move not only in actual, say physical space but also in virtuality. We take the train to move from one place to another, walk around or drive to some place. And when we make a ‘move’ on a social hierarchal ladder, we call it mobility as well. Henri Bergson, the last characteristic of temporal progress is mobility. In Bergson’s view, freedom is mobility. Can we then argue that being mobile is being free? And to add a layer of complexity, has the up rise of mobile phones in our daily activity helped us free ourselves? I argue that mobility is a behavioral object of Conditio Humana; mobility is indissolubly interconnected with our lives.
Mobile and Mobility, a definition
What is the meaning of the word – the conception – of mobile? What do we want to express when we use the word? The phenomenon of mobility requires clarification as it employs many connotations. Mobile is generally considered to be an adjective of the noun mobility but in the case of a Mobile, there are at least two commonly used connotations, the one being a movable as in a carefully equilibrated composition of sticks and ropes that hangs e.g. over a cradle, the other being a portable and wireless telephone, a mobile phone. Those are obviously quite controversial conceptions.
Given the significant controversies in the conception of what Mobile and Mobility actually express, let us determine what the can be and in what manner it affects human life.
According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, ‘Mobile’ as an adjective of mobility has several connotations e.g. being capable of moving or being moved (movable a mobile missile launcher). It can also mean changeable in appearance, mood, or purpose: mobile face or adaptable, versatile or migratory which may also refer to a certain ‘movability’ conception. And then, mobility may also refer to being characterized by the mixing of social groups, or having the opportunity for or undergoing a shift in status within the levels of a society: socially mobile workers. And marked by the use of vehicles for transportation: mobile warfare and relating to a mobile phone.
Mobile also refers to being capable of moving or of being moved readily from place to place: a mobile organism; a mobile missile system, capable of moving or changing, fluid; unstable: a mobile situation following the coup quickly from one state or condition to another: a mobile, expressive face, marked by the easy intermixing of different social groups: a mobile community, moving relatively easily from one social class or level to another: an upwardly mobile generation, tending to travel and relocate frequently: a restless, mobile society, flowing freely; fluid: a mobile liquid.
In On the Mobile, Sadie Plant has also delivered us an interesting list about Mobile. She treats us to different foreign language words for the mobile phone:
- French: le portable, or le G which stand for GSM.
- Finnish: kanny.
- German use the word handy.
- In Spanish the word is el movil.
- Americans say Cell Phone.
- The Arabs call it a telephonesayaar or makhmul or gowal, which stands for air phone.
- The Thai name the mobile moto.
- Japanese say is keitai denwa.
- The Chinese use their sho ji
If we translate these names, all deal with either portable, ‘air’ or to be carried in the hand (handy, kanny) (Plant, 2002).
Traditional sociology categorizes mobility in the realms of economic and social mobility. Economic mobility in sociological terms is when a person ‘moves’ from one economic status to another. This status is usually measured in demographics, specifically income but also the appreciation of certain city areas and, disputably, ethnic roots are or can be indicators of economical mobility. Economic mobility researches two main movements intergenerational, the status movement from two exceeding generations (“today’s generation performs better than its parent’s”) and intragenerational mobility (status movement in one person’s lifetime). As you may notice, the word “status” is mentioned here. Status in the context of mobility is also referred to as “milieu” in a sense in the connotation of sociocultural environment (class). ‘The structure of classes – milieus – reproduces itself constantly due to indissoluble differences in lifestyle, social participation and political ideology’ (Bordieu, 1984). This particular phenomenon is also referred to as Social (im-) mobility; a node in a specific sociocultural milieu may experience difficulty in trying “to move on”, being sociologically mobile.
As we see, there are different connotations for different domains of mobility. Henri Bergson added the element of time – duration – to the contemplative conception of mobility. By doing so, he conditioned the concept of qualitative multiplicity i.e. a singularized, continuous, dualistic and temporal and not representable in a symbol. “Here “multiplicity” is employed as a barely nominalized adjective. And it’s true that Bergson often expressed himself thus. But at other times, the word ‘multiplicity” is employed in the strong sense, as a true substantive, thus, from the second chapter of Time and Free Will onward, the number is a multiplicity, which does not mean the same thing at all as a multiplicity of numbers’ (Deleuze, 2007).
‘Bergson calls the last characteristic of temporal progress mobility. For Bergson — and perhaps this is his greatest insight — freedom is mobility. (Deleuze 1986) . For him, there is always a priority of movement over the things that move; the thing that moves is an abstraction from the movement. The elastic band being stretched is a more exact image of duration. But the image of the elastic is still, according to Bergson, incomplete because no image can represent duration. An image is immobile, while duration is “pure mobility” (Deleuze 1986). Later in the second half of last century, philosophers like Deleuze and Foucault in particular dissociated qualitative multiplicity from time and associated with space
Can we then draw the conclusion that mobility, as an abstraction of movement and Bergsonian freedom are laid in the realm of space? Truly, mobility is real, at least, movement can be observed and its effects can be described and interpreted. In the attempt to fathom the enigma of Mobility, to this stage three elements are conceptions of relevance: movement, duration and space.
To replenish our list of connotations and interpretations, there are even dwellings and towns that are called Mobile. There is one in Alabama at the firth of the river Mobile that flows into Mobile Bay. The town is renowned for the US Civil War ‘Battle of Mobile’ in 1781. Then there are Mobile Cities in Arizona, California and Newfoundland & Labrador in Canada.
To end this retrospective intermezzo of what the conception of Mobile may refer to, there is one Mobile with an apropos; it was the Mabila, a now extinguished Indian tribe that gave its name to the city of Mobile in Alabama. Apparently, movability as the primary meaning of the conception has nothing to do with that glorious town in the Deep South of the US of A.
Mobility as a behavioral object of Conditio Humana
The conception of Mobile bears a near inexhaustible list of connotations that may be tabulated in four main conceptions:
- Mobility as a conception of physical movement; moving from one place to another.
- Mobility as a conception of space and time; duration.
- Mobility as a conception of sphere; spaciousness in a figurative manner.
- Mobility as a conception of freedom.
Now the question rises whether Mobility is a natural behavior of man; are we mobile? Is mobility a behavioral object of being, our “dasein; human existence” the Conditio Humana or is Mobility a contraption of a human desire to be movable, flexible perhaps? If that is the case then Mobility may well be a human imaginary, a dream of freedom perhaps more than rather a scanty hope of being free? In this respect, Daniel Dennett refers to freedom like the air we breathe, freedom like democracy, freedom as an illusion or even more poetical, freedom of the birds (Dennett 2003); not captivated within either moral, social or political boundaries; freedom is having no borders. In Freedom Evolves (2003), Dennett quotes Nicholas Maxwell as he defines freedom to be ‘the capacity to achieve what is of value in a range of circumstances’ (Dennett 2003). Of course this confronts us with the open question of what value actually is. For Dennett all in life is “up for grabs” as there is no constraint on what we, within our unique (human) ability to (re-) consider is worth living for, say, what we believe to be of value. In this sense Mobility, as we believe it to help (assist) us at least to consider “movement” in either place, space or perhaps sphere is freedom, freedom not necessarily to choose values to life by but a freedom of (re-) consideration thus relaying one’s life in order to make it worthwhile to live that life.
Perhaps Mobility is a behavioral object of what Hannah Arendt calls Conditio Humana that can be contemplated in the tradition of Vita Activa, her interpretation of the problem of reasserting the politics as an important broadening of praxis, human action, and the world of appearances. This requires some deepening.
In The human condition, Hannah Arendt argues that the Western philosophical tradition has devalued the world of human action that attends to appearances (the vita activa), subordinating it to the life of contemplation that concerns itself with essences and the eternal (the vita contemplativa). She continues: ‘argues for a tripartite division between the human activities of labor, work, and action’ (Arendt 1958). Moreover, she arranges these activities in a hierarchy of importance. For Arendt, the hierarchy of importance as a central driver in political freedom characterizes our modern times.
The basal principle of action (vita activa) lies in its ever-present freedom and its role; to Arendt it is an end in itself with no subordination. Arendt argues that it is a mistake to take freedom to be primarily an inner, contemplative or private phenomenon, for it is in fact active, worldly and public. We sense of (inner) freedom comes from having had experiences of ‘a condition of being free as a tangible worldly reality. We first become aware of freedom or its opposite in our intercourse with others, not in the intercourse with ourselves’ (Arendt, 1958).
Furthermore, in defining action as freedom, and freedom as action, we can see the decisive influence of Augustine upon Arendt’s thought. From Augustine’s political philosophy she takes the theme of human action as beginning: To act, in its most general sense, means to take initiative, to begin (as the Greek word archein, ‘to begin,’ ‘to lead,’ and eventually ‘to rule’ indicates), to set something in motion. Because they are initium, newcomers and beginners by virtue of birth, men take initiative, are prompted into action.
‘And further, that freedom is to be seen as a character of human existence in the world. Man does not so much possess freedom as he, or better his coming into the world, is equated with the appearance of freedom in the universe; man is free because he is a beginning…’ (Arendt, 1958).
Hannah Arendt argues that today’s ideas about freedom, specifically political ideas, really deal with freedom as action. If, as she has taken from classical philosophy, politikos is about being acting – acting – then freedom is in fact action. ‘The raison d’etre is freedom and its field of experience is action’ (Arendt, 1958). This then means that our actions are in fact exposures of our freedom. Mobility is action. We can now argue that Mobility is freedom is politics: politics in a connotation of Homo Poltikos; the operating or accomplishing man. Ergo, the man of action.
But then, according to Vilém Flusser the [new] human being is not a man of action anymore but a player: Homo Ludens as opposed to homo Faber, the producing (working) man. Life is no longer a drama for him, but a performance. It is no longer a question of action but of sensation” (Flusser, 1999, p. 89).
For Flusser the new human beings seek experience rather then perform or produce. In Flusser’s discourse, experience may well be synonymized with enjoyment and as a concretizing of this believe, Flusser speaks of man having programs instead of problems. To modern man, problems, if any, are failures in programs. Might it just be that modern man – man as in human beings therefore including women – experiences software as program failures, software that is embedded in devices that enrich life. Flusser, in this context refers to apparatus rather than what popular discourse may refer to as machines. A machine is often seen as a mechanical device whilst an apparatus is either a set of materials or devices designed for a particular use
In Flusser’s day and age, the shift from machine to apparatus must have been a shift in paradigms; now apparatus as complexities of supportive contraptions to mankind were the enablers of freedom; apparatus as supportive objects of Conditio Humana?
Another transition has since been observed. It is the transition from a, as Rik Maes writes, ‘things-oriented’ culture to the information culture that ligatures with the up rise of apparatus. That up rise happens currently.
What do human beings who are no longer interested in things but in information, symbols, codes and models look like? According to Maes, we can compare our era with the days of the industrial revolution; “we resemble the citizens of the French Revolution rather than we resemble our children” (Maes, 2011): we experience a intergenerational socio-economical mobility in which the baby-booming generation has lost track of its offspring as if we experience paradise lost; a new generation, as always, commissions new social playing rules, a new order.
This new generation refuses to in a world of collective, steerable achievements from the decades of the reign of machines. The new generation desires the unsteerability, undoablity of “bottom-up” society. This new generation (and those who attract to the new fashion) life is increasingly becoming a combination of man and apparatus. Maes speaks of “society as cyborg” .
On a very general level – and following the seminal work of Marx and Weber – one can say that classes are positions in the order of production into which individuals are placed. This means that a class structure is a form of economic structure embedded in social relations and culture (Crompton and Scott, 2005: 186). This particular connotation refers to a definable group of people with the same qualifications; a groups sharing the same economic and or social status. For Marx, a class is the outcome of the capitalist fashion of organizing society. It has to do with property, physical property such as real estate and money in the bank. But just those characteristics as there must also be a certain “way of life”, a resemblance in the way exponents of that class think about issues on possession, politics and power. Marx’s labor theory has long been an, at least, influential hypothesis for generations, far into the midst of the twentieth century.
For Weber (1978; 2004), a person’s “class situation”, or her membership in a particular [socio-] economic class, is determined by the life chances, which inhere from her position within a capitalist market.
But then, in today’s world we also see the rise of a different class, not necessarily based on economical principles and with a different perspective towards “life chances”. These groups of people – communalities – can be referred to as “milieus” and in the context of this paper “mobile milieus”. A milieu is rather an ambience, a sphere in which the group acts; a what Peter Sloterdijk refers to as a bubble, an immune system in which people may have different economical status but still all (or most) in the bubble “belong” together. Thus, a milieu is not based on economical principles per se but on cultural and or motivational such as peer-acceptance seekers. And in a
Let us consider some of the effects of the use of the mobile phone on our society. Just walk in a street of a town, wait at a bus stop, sit in a train or wait for a plain to board: big chance what you will see (and hear) is people staring at handheld mobile phones, not necessarily talking in the phone, as many of those devices also function as very small communication computing devices. According to Benson, ‘this major change in human behaviour has come about within a remarkably short time, but its implications need to be considered. Many people have willingly taken this option of continuous communication; and many more have been forced to accept it as a condition of their employment’ (Benson 2011). And, to be constantly available, for instance in work-related issues, make the employee find himself in a changed role since the days before the breakthrough of the mobile phone; there is no excuse anymore not to be addressable at any given moment during the twenty four hours of a day. ‘Even while making a meal at home, or travelling on the bus, one might be interrupted by a business call’ (Benson, 2011).
It is a common sight in Dutch cities to see young girls, in the age scope of, say, 15 to 25, walking in a more or less hastened tempo, fiercely avoiding eye contact with their surroundings. In their hands they all carry a Blackberry and while on their path, they very regularly watch their Blackberry with a facial expression that suggests the expectation of a very, very important telephone call. Observing this particular group of female adolescents one may very well distinguish more communality in the group’s nones. If not inspecting their communication artifact, he girls all carry their Blackberry well in range of the observers’ scope. Skeptics may add extra artifacts to visualize the group. Our girls mainly have long blond and slick hair. Their feet are covered in elephant-shaped booties with a brand name that stands for ugly. When less than, give or take 18˚C, they may wear one specific brand of coat of the type that has a fur brim at the hood. When moving from one place to another, the girls drive a certain brand of, preferably, custom made motor scooter of Italian make. Commonly, the girls are observed to be of ethnic Dutch origins and in many cases, they belong to milieus of middle to higher social status.
In recent years, we have observed a rather interesting movement, a true example of what we may call an attempt of social mobility; an interesting case as it deals also with the mobile device; Blackberry and other peer group-connoted artifacts (such as specific brands of bags and baseball caps, apparels and garments, perfumes and accessories).
The movement is observed in groups of ethnic minorities, mainly of Moroccan and Turkish descent. Adolescents in these groups are of third and fourth generation and socio-political discourse claims a concern regarding the perception of identity of these people; it is currently a popular believe in The Netherlands that these people perceive themselves as neither true Moroccan (or Turkish) in a cultural sense of the word, nor do they feel truly Dutch. In this context it is relevant to mention that vast majorities in these ethnical minorities are of lower social status milieus.
One observation in this context is that groups of Moroccan adolescent girls ‘dress up’ not only as their all-Dutch peers but also even exaggerate the outfitting and the associated behavior.
Obviously some of the behavior may be explained in the context of general adolescent behavior, regardless of culture. Otherwise one may argue that certain behavior is due to the desire to move from a certain sphere an ethnical adolescent find herself in (or himself for that matter) to a socially higher appreciated sphere.
In the context of (social) mobility, Blackberry appears to be an important artifact for adolescent groups in terms of ‘growing up’ and intergenerational social mobility, at least in The Netherlands although one may question the true relevance when observing the mobile OS (Mobile Operating System) statistics in the region; it is clear that Blackberry has only limited market share with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android as supreme market owners currently.
An interesting question rises: what makes Blackberry specifically so interesting for these groups of users? An article in Het Parool dating 10 April 2010 may bear some answers.
Amongst adolescents in Amsterdam, Blackberry, especially business-type devices of the brand were most popular, even exceeding iPhone. According to a spokeswoman of KPN’s youth brand Hi, Ping with which one can send and receive free of charge messages unlimitedly, was the magic application that did it all. Back in 2010, Ping was a Blackberry-specific application; if one would want to ping, one needed a Blackberry. According to the spokeswoman, this fact explained the business success.
However, since 2010, Blackberry has met some troublesome market challenges. Strangely enough, expected sales of Blackberry amongst adolescents in The Netherlands apparently still seem significant.
Ethnicity might thus be understood as a status marker that differentiates between groups and individuals. As we have mentioned above, immigrants and ethnic minorities often belong to the most deprivileged socioeconomic categories in the societies where they live. It might though be hard to tell how much of an immigrant’s disadvantage that springs from him or her being labeled as different in terms of ethnicity, and how much is related to his or her class position, a class position that often changes through migration as such: downward mobility from the position in the country of origin to the country of settlement is common (Portes and Zhou, 1993). When disadvantage in terms of lacking opportunities to upward mobility is reproduced in the second and even third generation, it is even more likely that discrimination is involved. In this way, “symbolic” distinctions between ethnicities come to have concrete socioeconomic consequences for those who are shut out from good job opportunities because of factors such as their names or looks. Once again, the categories of class and ethnicity are often entwined.
The exceptional popularity of the cell phone among youth can be linked back to their need for an individual identity, maintenance of friendship networks, and emancipation from family ties. Moreover, as Geser (2004) points out, without possessing fixed addresses and stationary resources, cell phone connection is the only thing that anchors them to the society. Ling (2002) states that the use of the cell phone helps define adolescents vis-à-vis older generations. Its real impact is in terms of its ability to define adolescents’ identity. The “emancipation” of adolescents from their parents is a contributing factor to the formation of their identity. Höflich & Rössler (2002) state that adolescents in order to challenge the social world of adults and to show resistance to it, thereby strengthening a subculture as well as constructing an identity, sometimes use the obtrusiveness of cell phones in a provocative manner. Besides the emancipation from adults and maintenance of friendship networks, cell phones contribute to identity assertion by being highly personal devices, with a vast scope for further personalization. Pertierra (2005) reports the sentiment that the cell phone as a personal device is a style statement.
The question of whether the cell phone is seen as a symbol of status within the adolescent subculture has been dealt with in a number of studies. The unexpected rate at which cell phone technology has been developed and adopted has made it a very popular phenomenon, and as such it is no longer associated with prestige, as was the case only a few years ago (Höflich & Rössler, 2002; Lorente, 2002). However, some studies indicate that the cell phone might in some ways still be a source of social prestige. For instance, the cell phone might act as the barometer of an adolescent’s social life in the amount of messages and calls he or she receives, thereby contributing to aspects of social prestige (Lobet- Maris & Henin, 2002, p. 110). Likewise, a significant percentage of adolescents in Finland who did not have a cell phone reported feeling left out of social interactions and sometimes felt pressured by friends to get a cell phone (Ling, 2004).
‘Wireless communication is changing the way people work, live, love and relate to places—and each other’, says Andreas Kluth In The Economist;s Special Report on Mobility. Urban nomads have started appearing only in the past few years. According to Kluth, modern nomads have a lot in common with their ancestors in the desert; nomads carry only what the need stricktly to survive during their travels. All the rest can be gathered at oases or other – temporary – dwellings. Modern nomads do not carry paper. They have all their documents in their laptop or, better, somewhere in the cloud. Kluth furthermore enlightens us on the fact that e.g. Google executives travel only with their iPhone and a Blackberry: ‘if ever the need arises for a large keyboard and some earnest typing, they sit down in front of the nearest available computer anywhere in the world, open its web browser and access all their documents online’ (Economist 2008).
Like their antecedents in the desert, they are defined not by what they carry but by what they leave behind, knowing that the environment will provide it. Thus, Bedouins do not carry their own water, because they know where the oases are. Modern nomads carry almost no paper because they access their documents on their laptop computers, mobile phones or online. Increasingly, they don’t even bring laptops. Many engineers at Google, the leading Internet company and a magnet for nomads, travel with only a BlackBerry, iPhone or other “smart phone
As a species, Ms. Turkle thinks, we run the risk of letting the permanent wireless social clouds that surround us steal part of our nature.
I am mobile therefore I am, a conclusion
Persuasive rhetorics of advertising cuddle us in techno-utopic imaginaries of virtual mobility, happiness and freedom; by the push of one button we control our social networks, digital profiles, bank account and we deliver status updates in less than 140 characters at any given time, place and circumstance. An entire global industry pounds us with handy to have and easy to use applications, regardless of operatings systems and current location. Whilst gaming singly or multi-player hypes like Wordfeud on mini screens is for killing time at non-places (in a pure Augé-fashion of the word), locative services guide us to our destinations all around the world. According to Business Insider, the best selling top three iOS apps ever are 1) Angry Birds, 2) Doodle Jump and 3) Bejeweled 2.
But then, we are merely talking about “killing time”. According to the same source, the top ten app “we” cannot live without (at least if you are in the US) are 1) Twitter, 2) Kindle for iPhone, 3) Instapaper, 4) Angry Birds (can’t live without?), 5) Touch Mouse, 6) Weather Channel, 7) ESPN ScoreCenter (US only sports statistics), 8) iFitness, 9) MLB (Major League Basketball), 10 Golfshot. Obviously, this list is a US one; the assumption is that European lists are more or less similar in essence.
According to de Vries, “mobile communication devices are the self-evident technological expression of a presumed ‘natural’ progression in the quest for perfected communication” (de Vries, 2009). But it is not just perfected communication that is the quest. Today, in a country like The Netherlands, the assumption is that there are more mobile phones then there is capita, which is confirmed by TNO’s market report # 35593 of December 2011; in Q2 of 2011, there were 19.376.000 mobile telephone connections. Do facts and figures like these presume that mobility, in this context mobile communication and Internet access, means freedom? Is the mobile phone the “Liberator” of mankind?
Mobility – being mobile, movable in place, space and sphere – can be seen as a behavioral object of our being human; Conditio Humana. It is not just a genuine believe that “man moves”, it is a fact. We move because we must, we have to go from one condition (position) to another. In this alliance, the up rise of the mobile phone came at a right time as a supportive tool for our “Dasein”, our existence, our being human, our Conditio Humana; I am mobile therefore I am.
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 Merriam webster
 De ondraaglijke lichtheid van het mobieltje. Rik Maes
 De ondraaglijke lichtheid van het mobieltje. Rik Maes
 Ethnicity and Social Divisions (PDF)
 This tekst appears somewhat speculative. The reason for it is the highly protective attitude of Dutch providers and devices makers; trustworthy figures are not made public.
 Ethnicity and Social Divisions: Contemporary Research in Sociology (PDF)
 The Cell Phone as an Agent of Social Change. PDF
 The Cell Phone as an Agent of Social Change. PDF
 Marktrapportage Elektronische Communicatie December 2011