Forget the Giants and the Patriots… Big screen TVs and mobile devices are going head-to-head at this year’s Super Bowl. This is also the first year that you can watch the game live online.
At the American Anthropological Association meeting late last year, Joshua Bell, a curator from the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., presented his recent fieldwork on mobile phones in Papua New Guinea. While recounting some of his experiences, he digressed by sharing a particularly interesting story. As he was conducting an interview late one night, he received a call on his cellphone from an unknown caller. His interviewee warned him not to answer the phone, as unidentified numbers received at night were believed to be sorcerers trying to steal your voice.
In the West, technology’s omnipresence makes it a neutral means of communicating but, as this story suggests, it might be worth taking a more serious look at the aspects of our personal lives that technology allows us to so freely share, and what we give up in exchange.
Cellphones and the array of digital-based modes of communication, from hand-held computers and social networks to The Cloud, accelerate the sharing of information as well as increase its accumulation. Of course, often this gives us the feeling of being heard more than ever before: we can call almost anyone anywhere at any time and tweet free of charge literally anything we want to say to a potential audience of millions.
Yet it isn’t because we have more platforms to inscribe and articulate what we want to say that we are necessarily more heard, quite the contrary. Facebook is a platform where all of our voices are engulfed in this constantly evolving wall fed by other voices. And not only are they lost in cyberspace, far from collective consciousness, but they are stored in large data-bases from which our voices can be bought, traded, shared – even stolen – without our control.
In a sense, what makes us mute in the West is the swift technological evolution of larger storage, faster updates, growing platforms and billions of voices that steal our intonations: forces that are as mysterious and uncontrollable as what the Papua New Guineans may identify as sorcery.