Keitai as Kitsch

Back to Contents of Issue: December 1999

by Caimin Jones

Of course, people like me, who wish mobiles (keitai in Japanese) -- and the people whose ears are skin-grafted to them -- would just go away, are going to be disappointed. Previously unthinkable transmission speeds are coming, bringing with them color LCD screens, Java software, audio and video capabilities, and global positioning system (GPS) functions that will allow users to pinpoint their precise location (i.e., right next to someone trying to enjoy a meal in peace).

A new era of interpersonal communication, or just more buttons to play with?

Already, many people are diverting so much brain power into programming Dango Sankyodai -- a popular jingle originating from a well-known children's program -- as a ringing tone, that they may be missing out on one of the greatest features of a mobile. I forget the technical name for it, but I call it "canceling the account."

Since I took advantage of it, life has been better. Mainly because I'm now completely disassociated with the kind of people mobile users often are; the sort that put the "bile" into "mobile." By which I mean those who bark loud enough that their caller could hear them without the phone. The kind striding about in acute-angle suits, arriving fashionably late and exhibiting their mobile on restaurant tables for other passing pinheads to drool over. Not in the hope of compliments about how many features it has - i.e., buttons to play endlessly and pointlessly with. These days it's all about size, or lack thereof. Which creates the curious paradox of people wanting people to drool over how small the extension to one's manhood is. Now there's one helluva Freudian mind-trip!

Of course, people with an ingrown phone can always justify their habit. They need it so the office can get them, they say. Possibly. But wait a moment. If the office is destined to degenerate into a quagmire of mini-disasters just because they can't answer a phone call, maybe they ought to be back inside the desk shackles instead of Doing Lunch with people they probably don't like much anyway.

There is, of course, that unspoken, subliminal line of reasoning. The implication that a mobile gives you a certain something, a certain feeling. It's perfectly true. I won't deny it. But when the feeling I got was of having a sign round my neck saying "Nag me a lot," or of "Please make me regret choosing the comedy ring option while on a crowded train," or "Please make my pocket vibrate while I am standing at a urinal," I decided I could live without it.

If people want to get hold of me while I'm out, they can't. They can leave a message on the machine at home. This is better for me. The threat of being cut off after "only" two minutes (seriously uncool) concentrates the tongue of even the most verbose caller. It's also better for them -- they know I'll return their call when I'm ready to talk -- and we won't have to use a megaphone.

So, having decided to make a break for it, I had to tell the rest of the flock. Announcing the death of my mobile account provoked differing reactions among my friends. Generally, though, I might as well have said, "I will no longer be wearing any items of clothing." After clarifying they had not misheard, either a filofax was instantly whipped out and my number scribbled out with many more lines than necessary and a low "tut-tut," or records were deleted from electronic organizers -- either immediately or when the owner found the time/tenacity/sobriety to locate the Delete function.

Either way, I'd receive the Does-He-Realize-The-Coolness-He's-Giving-Up look. But they forget something. Way back in the eighties, mobiles were the size of small mansions, with around the same price tag. These two factors made a mobile phone exclusive, and therefore cool. But prices fell, sizes shrunk, and ownership exploded. Result: these days a mobile phone is right up there on the Cool-O-Meter with the piano keyboard necktie.

So it's probably time for me to ditch that too.

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