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Monday, July 16, 2007

Can you hear me now?

Cell phones are sold as a convenience or even as a necessity for safety, but we ought not to forget the power they have for tracking and regulating our lives in ways that were never possible before. You are now reachable at all times and in all places, as your boss probably knows. Some bosses are now using cell phones to track their employees at work and, in fact, you're now traceable all day long. Increasingly, the police are subpoenaing cell phone records in criminal cases - there goes your alibi! Consider the case of John Wesley Womack, arrested the other day for theft:
A prosecutor says 34-year-old John Wesley Womack's downfall came when he stole an upscale maroon purse from his last robbery at a Papa John's pizzeria. Womack didn't know the purse contained a cell phone that was equipped with Global Positioning Satellite technology.

Police used the phone to pinpoint the location of Womack's residence.
We are supposed to be relieved to know that the reign of terror of the "Papa John's bandit" has come to an end thanks to his unwitting participation in the system via a stolen cell phone. And didn't that woman get her cell phone back, thus reinserting her safely back in the soft bosom of the surveillance society?

Meanwhile, in part thanks for grants from Homeland Security, 911 centers across the country are developing the capability to track down calls coming from cell phones.
Jeff Walker, director of Homeland Security, emergency management and 911 services in Licking County, said the county has spent almost $50,000 for emergency system upgrades that included a separate screen for a map to show where the caller is and a router that has a database of local towers.

By the end of the year, the center will be adding two additional emergency lines, bringing the total to eight, McNamara said. If all six lines are busy, they roll over to Heath police to be answered.
Further, cell phone records can be called up, ironically, even in the case of the many accidents caused by failed attempts to drive and talk cell phones at the same time, as this recent Indystar article demonstrates:
An accident eyewitness told The Noblesville Ledger that she approached the truck and found Cooper pinned against the dashboard of the Insight Communications van, clutching a cell phone.

"We'll pull his (Cooper's) cell-phone records to see if he was on the phone before the crash," Noblesville Police Lt. Bruce Barnes said Friday, adding that due to the condition of the van it's unlikely Cooper was conscious after the impact with the Republic Services of Indiana truck.

Sandy Colony, spokeswoman for Insight Communications, said the company has received no confirmation from police that Cooper, a technician for the company since December in the Anderson/Noblesville district, was talking on a cell phone at the time of the crash.
Cell phones have effectively reduced the space in which we have to operate free from surveillance and, as a result, have increased the control that authorities of various kinds have over our lives.

As with most tech, the relatively small benefits that cell phones actually do provide (most of which could be provided in other, less-intrusive ways) are hyped while the giant downsides for our freedom, autonomy and possibly our health are rarely discussed. In a truly Orwellian move, cell phone companies frequently sell themselves as enhancers of personal freedom, despite the reality.

When it comes to selling the supposed benefits of tech, up is down and down is up. For instance, as we saw above, cell phones are widely known to contribute to many quite injurious car accidents every year. Nevertheless, as we see in this quite typical editorial from Anderson, South Carolina's Independent Mail, the technology is sold not as the threat to health that it actually is, but rather as a saver of lives, and our fear is primed with an exceptional situation in order to justify a bigger intrusion on our freedom.
To date, the sheriff’s office has given out about 30 phones. And while that may not seem a large number, according to Marlene McClain, director of the department’s victims’ services since 2005, at least two people were able to use the phones to call for help.

That’s two lives that might have been lost.

These days, we expect that everyone has a cell phone. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in 10 years, the number of cell phones in active use in the United States has grown from 34 million to more than 203 million. Worldwide, there are more than 2 billion people who carry cell phones. But twice that number, more than 4.5 billion people, don’t have a cell phone or access to one in case of any emergency.

By definition, an emergency is an “urgent situation.” That could also be a good description of what a victim of domestic violence or an older person who is ill and alone might experience on a regular basis.

If you have old cell phones and chargers just gathering dust and taking up space in the kitchen junk drawer, pull them out, dust them off and take them to either the city police department or the county sheriff’s office.
In essence, we are being asked to conclude that it's actually dangerous for those 4.5 billion people that lack cell phones to remain outside the system of total safety that is modern life with a cell phone? After all, what if there is an emergency? Their independent life is dangerous, it is alleged, so we are urged to bring them into the system as soon as possible through acts of goodwill and charity. We are urged, in essence, to forget the ironic telecommunications worker cell phone accident we read about earlier and support the further expansion of this dangerous technology so that, ironically, people don't get hurt in unforeseen emergencies - like car accidents, presumably. The only danger the system and its apologists want us to recognize is the danger of being outside the system. The dangers the system causes are to remain invisible and largely uncommented on, safely hidden in plain sight thanks to their ubiquity.

Further, because the development and application of these technologies is overwhelmingly in the hands of those at the upper end of the hierarchy, their supposed benefits, such as saving time and effort, rarely pan out for those of us down here. Despite the clear hand of the elites in controlling these technologies, most radicals continue to maintain that technological developments are merely neutral "advances" or "discoveries" rather than recognizing them for what they really are: interventions by the ruling class into the lives and organization of the working class, not for our benefit or safety, but for theirs.

We live in an age now where technologies that are in fact very new in our lives have actually begun to be viewed and presented as essential to basic human existence - despite the fact that most of us have quite clear memories of a time when most of them were either non-existent or nowhere near as prevalent. This is a hell of a revisionist bit of doublethink, when you really think about it, and tremendous victory for the ruling class. They have not only erased our memory of our independence, but they have successfully made us view that independence as dangerous and scary. Thus, a cell phone is sold as a tool for finding your way around the city, replacing the basic human necessity of knowing your way around your environment and at the same time transforming an exceptional situation (being lost) into the rule. Being lost is scary. Thanks to tech, we can avoid that rare yet terrifying situation forever.

So, it was with some satisfaction that I greeted the news that John Patterson, an ex-employee of Australian telecommunication giant, Telstra, had gassed up a British APC that he had been restoring and then attacked seven cell phone towers, downing six of them before stalling out and being arrested. Patterson claimed that radiation from the cell phone towers owned by his former employer had caused him health problems, against whom he had filed a claim.

On a related note, as you drive north out of Phoenix on the I-17, somewhere around Black Canyon City, there's a church on a hill that has rented out land for a cell phone tower. You can see it from the highway. Not wanting to waste an opportunity, apparently, the church has affixed to the tower a gigantic cross. New god meets old god.

Below is a link to an article about it and a clip from Australian news:
Vengeful worker's heavy-armour rampage silences mobile phones



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