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Heidegger, Habermas and the Mobile Phone (Postmodern Encounters)

4.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1840462364
ISBN-10: 1840462361
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About the Author

George Myerson writes on contemporary culture and modern thought and is the author of 'Donna Haraway and GM Foods' in the ‘Postmodern Encounters’ series. He is Reader in English at King's College London.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

‘It Was Good To Talk’: Mobile Phones and German Philosophers

‘“If you want to keep pace with the changing environment … the global economy of the day, you need a fast means of communications,” says Tansa Musa.

The BBC has just asked a citizen of Cameroon to explain what it calls ‘mobile phone frenzy’ which is ‘hitting’ the country. The answer is twofold. Mobiles are practical, they have their uses. But beyond the practicality, the mobile is the object which most closely embodies the spirit of the ‘changing environment’. If you want to assure yourself that you belong to the new century, this is the object to have in your hands – unless it’s a ‘hands-free’. This brilliantly concise response points towards a big question: how has the once anodyne ‘telephone’ become the new must-have mobile?

At the moment, as the new millennium starts, we are witnessing, and being addressed by, a ubiquitous campaign to promote the mobile phone. This mobile propaganda is extraordinary in its energy, its resources and its cultural impact. There are the old-style ads, but there is also a torrent of ‘information’ released through diverse media, on the web, via other products and sales outlets. You can hardly tune in to a major sporting event without finding the logo of a mobile company featured either among the competitors or over the occasion as a whole.

The promotion is twofold: its subject is first of all a whole new technology, and then an individual brand. This doubleness must pose interesting dilemmas for publicists of the individual corporations: can you promote your brand specifically or are you really just promoting the whole technology? There is plenty to say about the mobile campaign. You can deconstruct the images, as with all such publicity. You can find stereotypes and ideological undercurrents. But in this ‘Postmodern Encounter’, I propose to look at this mobile hubbub from a more surprising perspective, an alien perspective.

Our encounter will be between this new mobile culture and two leading thinkers of the 20th century: Martin Heidegger and Jürgen Habermas. (See ‘Appendix’ for brief profiles.) In his great work, ‘Being and Time’ (1927), Heidegger initiated one of the most important 20th-century discussions of talk or, as he also called it, ‘discourse’. These ideas were taken up, criticised and developed in different ways by many European and American thinkers, notably among German philosophers of communication, of whom the latest representative is Jürgen Habermas, whose ‘Theory of Communicative Action’ (1981) has shaped two decades of debate about dialogue and modern society. The nub of this encounter is the idea of communication itself, for, in their different ways, both the 20th-century philosophers and the 21st-century mobile persuaders claim to be redefining what it means for human beings to communicate.

What makes this encounter a postmodern one? In architecture especially, ‘postmodern’ often means the mixing of old and new, futuristic and archaic styles. This encounter is postmodern in that architectural sense: here the old thinkers come together with the new cultural wizards. Apart from striking sparks off one another, these alien perspectives also reveal – as they collide – something significant about the break between the old and the new centuries. Both the philosophers and the mobile campaigners are interested not just in routine communication, but in the road to utopia. For all their differences, the two ‘discourses’ share the view that modern utopia will be about ideal communication.


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Product Details

  • Series: Postmodern Encounters
  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Totem Books (February 26, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1840462361
  • ISBN-13: 978-1840462364
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 0.3 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,667,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jeremy J. Shapiro on April 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is really a very useful book in introducing some central concepts of Heidegger's philosophy and Habermas' social theory as they bear on the frantically growing domain of information-technology-mediated and mobile life, experience, and communication, through a critique of the ideology surrounding the marketing and diffusion of mobile phones (meaning not just cellular phones but especially Internet-capable phones and devices). Myerson uses as his text both marketing literature and newspaper stories about mobile phones and the kind of communication that they are intended for and promote, criticizing them through presenting the alternate models of communication, meaning, and understanding that are central to the work of Heidegger and Habermas in such a way that a reader with no prior acquaintance with these two thinkers could get the gist of what they are trying to do with their thought, and makes Habermas' conception of communication as sharing understanding and meaning and Habermas' distinction between system and lifeworld seem graspable and concretely relevant in terms that everyone has already experienced. He includes an appendix with a brief introductory bibliography for anyone wanting to learn more about these two H's. The book is also extremely short, really it is the length of a magazine article and could be read in an hour or two: the main text is 67 pages long, each of which contains no more than half the amount of print in a standard book. The one critique that one can make of this book is that like other kinds of critiques of ideology, it takes the ideology of mobile phones (e.g.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This is one of my favorite books. It is a slim little book but manages to raise important questions about communication, cell phone culture, and (post)modern society. I found the writing style to be clear and lucid, more "English" than "American." I think it is unfair to expect of this book an elucidation of Habermas and Heidegger (especially Heidegger) when its goal is to ambitiously apply the theory of these two philosophers to the world of cell phones. I applaud the author for bringing philosophy to pop culture, and vice versa. Myerson makes many good points and I heartily recommend this book, which has much to offer the questionable society we are living in. This little book is also a cautionary tale about the visit to Starbucks as the epitome of communication and civilization which, unfortunately, most of us are not heeding. But I give Myerson credit for trying. Working in more of Buber's I/Thou, I/It philosophy would have taken Myerson's argument to the next level.
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