19.337 contemplation and computing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2005 07:20:32 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 337.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (45)
         Subject: overheard conversations

   [2] From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois (29)
         Subject: cellphones and SMS was [Re: 19.333 contemplation and

   [3] From: Alan Sondheim <sondheim_at_panix.com> (6)
         Subject: Re: 19.333 contemplation and computing

   [4] From: "Patrick T. Rourke" <ptrourke_at_methymna.com> (16)
         Subject: Re: 19.333 contemplation and computing

         Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2005 06:59:48 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: overheard conversations

While I do appreciate Bob Amsler's annoyance at being subjected to
mobile phone conversations in public spaces -- dull conversations are
worst of all -- my experiences on trains and tubes presents a more
complex situation. In this country, apparently, people are somewhat
more circumspect. Rarely nowadays am I nearby when a conversation
happens on a mobile, and when it does, the conversation is very
difficult to hear because of the noise in the tube train. (Thus a
combination of admirable social mannerisms and decrepit public
services comes to my rescue.) Time in Rome riding on the underground
will make one immediately conscious of how restrained the people here
are: we all sit minding our own business, often glumly, while the
more robust Romans talk to each other volubly, enjoying themselves
very much indeed, all the time -- or so a Northern visitor is apt to
think. One comes back from Rome with a sigh and, while on the tube
home, a vain attempt to figure out how life is more fun here, while
watching people send text messages furiously.

Then there are the individual situations which stick in mind and
continue to entertain long after the conversation has vanished
forever. On the Stansted Express, back from the airport one evening
about two years ago, I sat behind of a young woman who couldn't keep
off her mobile. Across from her sat a middle-aged man. She was on the
phone first to a girlfriend, to discuss her boyfriend in some detail
(amazing detail, in fact), then to said boyfriend, to see what he had
on for the evening &c, then back to her girlfriend to discuss what
she had just learned. The possibilities for gossip and negotiation
exhausted, she then switched off and began discussing the boyfriend
with the man sitting opposite, who by this point knew the fellow
rather better than would have been possible otherwise. He did have
cogent observations to make about the boyfriend, too, though it is
true that neither he nor I had heard the boyfriend's side of the
story. Then the train pulled into Liverpool St Station, and we departed.

About two years later I am sitting in a pub in Victoria BC Canada
with a Norwegian friend. I take a picture of him with my digital
camera, he uses his mobile to take a picture of me. I remark that I
will show the photo to friends in London when I return. He remarks,
"your picture is already in Oslo." His wife knew what he was up to
without exchanging a word.

Computer-mediated communications result in unexpected if not also
unwanted intimacies but also become modes of culturally specific behaviours.


Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/

         Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2005 07:00:35 +0100
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: cellphones and SMS was [Re: 19.333 contemplation
and computing]

Robert's comments about the cellphone and the commute lead me observe that
the cellphone is not only used for vocalized chatter. There is a
significant amount of text messaging that can be observed. As well, as
Robert indicates, the increased volume of more overheard conversations is
compensated by some with devices designed to bath the listener in a
soundscape of their own. Digital play back devices such as the iPod are
of course the descendents of transitors radios, cassette tape players, CD
players, all paired with suitable earphones. Deaf people and those that
have learnt sign language remain unplussed by all the talk of encroachment
of private space in public venues...

The agora also affords the ubiquitous opportunities for chance exchanges.

That said, the fee structure for telephony services (flat rate, metered,
etc.) impacts how various users in various nation states choose to
structure their interactions.

See the commentary for Jill Walker's entry at jill/txt


Short Messaging Service. A wireless messaging service that permits the
transmission of a short text message from and/or to a digital mobile
telephone (CDMA, including CDMA 1xRTT and other CDMA-based
implementations; TDMA; GSM; or ESMR) terminal, regardless of whether the
transmission originates and terminates on a mobile telephone, originates
on a mobile telephone and terminates on a computer, or originates on a
computer and terminates on a telephone. French: SMC.

Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
~~~ to be surprised by machines: wistly and sometimes wistfully
         Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2005 07:01:13 +0100
         From: Alan Sondheim <sondheim_at_panix.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.333 contemplation and computing
Gads, it's not defense, it's that we're better at multi-tasking in
the universe. Television was supposed to create havoc; in the
19th-century locomotives were the cause of 'railway spine.'
Cellphones or any other noise (here, fire- and police-alarms) only
bother me when I'm trying to sleep; I'm often listening to several
sound sources at once. - Alan
         Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2005 07:01:45 +0100
         From: "Patrick T. Rourke" <ptrourke_at_methymna.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.333 contemplation and computing
What exactly is the qualitative difference between one person talking
into his cellphone on a subway car, and two people having a face-to-
face conversation on a subway car, vis-a-vis "intolerable background
chatter?" Are subway cars sacred spaces where never a word must be
uttered? Certainly they are not in Boston.
On Oct 12, 2005, at 1:23 AM, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of
Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:
 >The cell phone is altering public space.[...] Today there is
 >virtually a guarantee of at least one cell phone conversation in
 >progress per subway car for the entire duration of a commute. The
 >question is how many cell phone conversations can public space sustain
 >before this becomes an intolerable background chatter. Just like
 >cigarette smokers who didn't care for secondhand smoke, cell phone
 >themselves may begin to notice that it is hard to have a conversation
 >amidst multiple other conversations taking place simultaneously.
Received on Thu Oct 13 2005 - 02:33:02 EDT

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