The Economist newspaper identified 2019 as “peak smartphone.” The “most successful consumer product in history” had reached four billion out of the world’s five and half billion adults. Umberto Eco reimagines David Lean’s Dr Zhivago (1965) for our own times, recalling: “the tragedy of Zhivago, who after years sees Lara from the tram (remember the final scene of the film?), doesn’t manage to get off in time, and dies. Had they both had a mobile phone, would we have had a happy ending?” But there’s another side to this seeming cornucopia. The World Privacy Forum proposes that we inhabit a One-Way Mirror Society, where power accretes to corporations through the supposedly even-handed tool of interactivity. The once true-believer editors of Wired magazine see the internet undone by the corporatization of knowledge and the sealed-set model of phone applications. Dan Schiller describes the displacement and deracination of modern life as a blend of individuation with mobility. He argues that political-economic arrangements mean that mobile telephony has emerged in a form befitting divided societies. and the story of how these phones are created, used, and disposed of is a very dirty one indeed.
Toby Miller is Distinguished Professor of the Graduate Division, University of California, Riverside; Sir Walter Murdoch Professor of Cultural Policy Studies, Murdoch University; Profesor Invitado, Escuela de Comunicación Social, Universidad del Norte ; Professor of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University/Prifysgol Caerdydd ; and Director of the Institute for Media and Creative Industries, Loughborough University London.
Miller is the author and editor of over forty books, his work has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Turkish, German, Italian, Farsi, and Swedish. His most recent volumes are Greenwashing Culture (2018), Greenwashing Sport (2018), The Routledge Companion to Global Cultural Policy (edited with Victoria Durrer and Dave O’Brien, 2018), Global Media Studies (with Marwan M. Kraidy, 2016).