Since the invention of the mobile phone in the early seventies and its commercialisation in the following decade, the device has well and truly disrupted traditional communication. Generation X and retroists alike are keen to point out that those early mobiles (or cell phones, for our cousins across the pond) resembled house bricks; some were even the size of breezeblocks, rather than the tactile elegance we’re now accustomed to. But despite the size, there was a paradigm shift taking place. Suddenly communication was (mostly) mobile. No longer were we tethered to a cord or a wall, or reliant on paper messages through fax machines or the letterbox.
There was something fetishistic about the mobile phone, making it a desirable status symbol. This is less the case now, as the phone has become fundamental to our existence, woven into the fabric of our societies and no longer a simple commodity. In many regards, it has become a basic human right. In our review of Future Diary, we discussed how the phone has evolved beyond its initial capabilities into a tool of social and political activism. Charities like WITNESS, which relies on the power of video to document abuses to create a library of evidence, adopted the mobile into its social tool kit, with its video capabilities. For some, the influx of cameras on phones (most of which are now equipped with forward and backward facing cameras) presents some Orwellian nightmare, a society continually observed. But others argue that this is helping to create a fairer, freer society, one which is able to rid itself of abuse, inequality and iniquity.
A case in point is the controversy in America, the police force, or pockets therein, riddled with systemic racial prejudices. And there is definitely a chronic problem, in the number of African American men who have been shot dead by white police. In many of these cases, the excessive level of violence has been unjustified, either in the actions or motives of the victim, but especially when compared with how police have treated white criminals – the ‘one of our own’ mentality. One of the most startling and shocking shootings of late, and one that sadly adds to the growing number of similar cases, was the fatal shooting of 32-year-old Philando Castile by police in Minnesota back in July. Castile was reaching for his ID and wallet after allegedly being stopped for a broken tail light. The cop shot him four times. But what set this incident apart from others was that Castile’s alleged partner, Lavish Reynolds, live-streamed the event via her smart phone. While some have attacked and derided her for doing so, and despite the subsequent revelations about Reynolds’ personal life, she hit back saying nobody, including police, would believe her otherwise.