Last Updated on February 9, 2017 by Karl Thompson
Mobile phones seem to be having a profound impact on the way we interact with each other and on how we understand ourselves and our relation to place. Their increased usage has mean that many of us have moved away from ‘chance socialness’ to ‘chosen socialness’; they encourage us to not be nostalgic about physical spaces, but rather to construct our identities in virtual spaces while being mobile in physical space; and they also make communication more democratic and open, as more people are connected than ever before and communication has become more visible rather than invisible (via land-lines).
Below is a summary of Leopoldina Fortunati’s theorising about how mobile phones are changing the way some of us think about our identities in relation to our sense of place. It’s a very positive take on the impact of mobile phones on these aspects of social life.
Fortunati uses the term “nomadic intimacy” to describe how people in public situations use their mobile phones to interact with people they already know (“chosen socialness”) rather than interacting with strangers who are physically present (“chance socialness”) (Fortunati, 2002: 515-516)
Our sense of being part of social groups is no longer based on belonging to fixed
places but increasingly about belonging to communicative networks. As a consequence,
people tend to suffer less from nostalgia, the sense of loss of one’s own relationship with
‘sacred’ places like home, and familiar territory. “So, the use of the mobile phone ends up by reinforcing profane space, constructing a space without addresses, without precise
localizations, playing down the specifically geographical and anagraphical aspect….to the point that the mobile phone in itself becomes a true mobile home” (Fortunati, 2002: 520).
The mobile phone’s phatic function, that is being in touch rather than the actual content of the conversation or message, enables us to rapidly regain stability. “It is the possibility of contacting its own communicative network at any moment that has the powerful effect of reducing the uncertainty that mobility brings with it.” (Fortunati, 2002: 523).
Finally, she argues that the mobile phone favors the development of a democratic society, because “the mobile has granted the same communicative rights to nomadic persons and those that are sedentary or immobile” and in addition “it has extended individual access to mobile communication also to members of the family up to yesterday ‘invisible’ with the fixed phone” (Fortunati, 2002: 525, my addition in brackets).
For Fortunati, the digital nomad is no longer dependent on fixed places but feels at home anywhere and is always in control.