there are a lot of other articles on this site that focus on how prioritizing wealth redistribution could/should impact our everday lives. have a look at greed and food is not enough from the first issue of make and check out my remarks on globalization at gay shame 2001.

Read Chris Hanssman's response to this article.

don't call me

by dean spade



it has become apparent to me lately that the arguments against cell phone purchase and maintenance must be made explicit, so that the alignment of the marketing-purchasing-owning of this accessory can be unavoidably seen in its alignment with capitalist-republican-profitseeking- earthdestroying interests. opposition to cell phones is not based, as many cell phone owners/advocates might believe, on the annoyance of having a phone ring during a movie, or on the danger of cell phone users killing bikers and pedestrians as they chat and drive, or on the under-investigated dangers of cell phones to the health of their users. those concerns are real, but far more individualized and reducible than the broader and less talked about problems with this purchasing trend.

the foremost consideration is the market-economics of cell phone purchasing, which, like all market economics, is obscured by false notions of individual ‘need,’ ‘use,’ and ‘desire.’ well-meaning, good-minded, even anti-capitalist people buy and maintain cell phones because they want them. they think they need them. they know they’ll use them. is this a reason to buy something? capitalism operates by constantly providing new needs. a new product (or re-packaged old product) comes onto the market. we are told that we need it. we feel that need inside us. its is the constant emergence of new needs that produces the feeling that we need more and more money, and that supports us all in hoarding wealth, failing to redistribute, and supporting government policies that help us keep more for ourselves as individuals and as a nation, while others live miserably and die from lack of those resources we’re hoarding. in this capitalist mind-state, no one feels rich--everyone strives for the next economic level no matter how many luxuries we enjoy. we constantly incur more and more expenses, as we purchase items with payment plans or long term maintenance costs. our economic minds are focused on meeting these payments, and we see economics as an individual question. we are blind to the effects of our luxury-seeking on others. we are focused only on what we don’t have that others have. we buy these things we ‘need’ or ‘want’ and we tell ourselves we don’t need to feel guilty--‘everyone’ has one (meaning the tiny group of other disproportionately-resourced people we share social space with). everything becomes a matter of personal taste, never a matter of world economic picture and wealth distribution.

capitalism demands that we never question our desires to buy and have things. economic justice activism requires that we do question those desires. frequently, though, what plays out amongst over-resourced ‘progressives’ or ‘liberals’ or even ‘activists’ is a brief moment of underdeveloped questioning followed by an onslaught of comforting justifications.

the reality of cell phones is that they are a luxury item, an accessory. they offer the purchaser a chance to always be available for any social call. buy it and you’ll never be alone. buy it and people will call you. buy it and you will be able to jet set between social plans, always able to make a last minute change to raise the status of your engagements for the evening. buy it and you’ll look important, busy. feel like you need it--feel like you are so in demand that (though you’re slightly embarrased to talk on it in public) you just can’t help it. all phone technology carries some level of mysterious undisclosed need. we’re all waiting for someone to call us--some call that we can’t quite identify, but who will bring real fulfillment. the cell phone magnifies this mystery, this need. and it creates its own need. once you have it, you make more calls, you receive more calls, and your dependence upon it is crystalized. your new need can be mobilized by any crisis for which you can find a use for the phone. now you have a car, so you need the phone in case it breaks down. now you’re afraid of crime, and you need it in case you’re attacked. now your country is ‘under attack,’ so you need it . . .

and for these new needs, you pay dearly. it has initial charges, it has contracts, it has monthly payments. but wait, you got a great deal! didn’t you? weren’t you convinced that you were ‘saving money’ by purchasing it? weren’t you told that you are paying less than you should? capitalism’s cleverest trick is a ‘reduced price.’ is there such a thing as a good deal? the seller is still making a profit, or they wouldn’t sell it. its just that they’ve changed their price, not that it’s now a ‘good price.’ the buyer is still purchasing an item s/he was recently convinced s/he needs. the buyer is still signing up to give cash payments indefinitely to an industry famous for being a top donor to the Bush and republican congressional campaigns, buying their ability to do things like blow up purportedly protected coral reefs to lay undersea fiberoptic cables. see www.peer.org/press/118.html; Mother Jones magazine, mar./apr. 2001 ‘Who Bought Bush?”

increasingly, anti-globalization activist cell phone owners/advocates use their street activism as justification for their ownership. the imagined scenario is that we’re all involved in some demonstration or other state/profit-subverting hijinks, and we contact each other on our high-tech walkie talkies. we’re like the people in the matrix. we’re high-tech superheroes. this rhetoric and practice establishes yet another level to the race-economics hierarchy already so overpresent in our work. do we want to make full participation in uprising dependent on ownership of expensive technologies? do we want anyone carrying such technology to be given leadership by virtue only of the fact that they are holding the preferred communication device? isn’t it more important to develop democratic means of communicating? isn’t it important to resist this fashion trend that really entails sending cash straight to bush-supporting, worker-killing, environment-destroying corporations? shouldn’t we be working toward de-individualized, de-privatized means of communication? does cell phone ownership and use go with collective decision making, do-it-yourself activism, wealth redistribution, and giving an equal voice to all people?

the cell phone issue is not about obnoxious ringing or personal distaste for a certain aesthetic. the choice to have a cell phone is not the choice to “let yourself have a treat” or “indulge your enjoyment of technology.” it is a choice to put personal luxury over the lives of those from whom your hoarded resources are being kept. it is a choice to align yourself with ultra-conservative business interests and to put your money with them. it is a choice to perpetuate a fashion trend which, like other fashion trends, encourages a ‘coolness’ hierarchy based on resources. there is nothing harmless or trivial about this choice, and it should not be made with willful blindness. buy the cell phone and say to the world ‘i am the winner in a brutal economy, and it feels good!’

it is never too early to get rid of your cell phone. now that you’ve had it, you can take that extra income that you realize you don’t need, and give it to any of the majority of people of the world who are being trampled by the same lethal capitalist practices that manipulated you into buying it. they’re not hard to find. and if you are a cell-hater, its not too soon to step up your campaign. bring up your concerns, even when it makes people uncomfortable. start a policy of refusing to call people on cell phones or accept calls from cell phones. it is a political choice, make it proudly.

back to dispatches