The messaging application WhatsApp is often adopted in urban neighbourhoods to distribute and discuss information as part of neighbourhood watch programmes. In this context, certain notions of information sharing and the cherishing this implies, are often entangled with ideals of protection in the neighbourhood. Using the case study of an enclosed neighbourhood in Johannesburg, this research draws on theories of affect and mobility to introduce the concept of affective mooring. That is, that a neighbourhood WhatsApp group constitutes an affective mooring – an established practice and point of fixity – that generates a sense of being held in a community through feelings of collective presence and safety. Notably, these feelings of presence and safety are hinged on acts of resistance and alienation towards strangers. In this way, WhatsApp as an affective mooring in the neighbourhood is also a site for negotiating ideals of belonging.
This research was peer reviewed and published in the Open Cultural Studies journal (January 2018). DOWNLOAD THE FULL ARTICLE HERE
Feminists and legal observers in Spain have expressed outrage at what they see as “patriarchal justice” during the trial of five men accused of gang raping an 18-year-old woman during Pamplona’s San Fermín bull-running festival in 2016.
The judge, who will consider his verdict after Tuesday’s final hearing, has come under fire over his decisions to allow evidence to be presented about the alleged victim’s personal life and character, while not permitting the inclusion of texted conversations between the accused in which they apparently discuss plans to rape women.
Searching through conversations in the WhatsApp group called “La manada”, or “wolf pack”, to which the men belonged, police investigators came across an incident in which video showed some of the individuals apparently abusing another woman, who seemed to be unconscious.
Conversations prior to their journey from Seville to Pamplona mention the need to procure date rape drugs and ropes, “because when we get there, we’ll want to rape everything we set eyes on”.
A private detective’s report, commissioned by one of the accused, was compiled by spying on the alleged victim in the aftermath of the alleged attack, including her activity on social media and a holiday with friends. Two weeks into the trial, the defence decided to withdraw the file as evidence.
The strategy of the defence has been based on an attempt to show that the woman consented to group sex with all five of them. They are men in their late 20s, including a Civil Guard police officer who is also accused of stealing the female student’s mobile phone immediately after the incident. If found guilty, the men face prison terms of up to 25 years.
“In this trial, it seems that what is being judged is not the crimes, but this woman’s honour,” says Amalia Fernández, president of Themis, a Spanish organisation of women jurists.
Criticising the judge’s decision to include the detective’s report and media debates over whether the alleged victim had been truthful in describing the late-night encounter with the men as rape, Ms Fernández sees evidence of a systematic bias against women.
“We live in a society with patriarchal attitudes. Courts reflect society leading to a double victimisation as in this case. In crimes against women, the victim is turned into a suspect, something that never happens to complainants in other crimes.”
Ms Fernández questions how the judge could have considered a private detective’s report on the student from Madrid to be of any value in evaluating her level of trauma, while describing the material from the accused’s WhatsApp conversations as irrelevant in terms of their “preparations” for the alleged crime.
She also criticises the fact that the accused were not cross-examined until the end of the trial after hearing all the other evidence and the testimony of the alleged victim, an extremely rare exception to the norm in Spanish trials in which defendants are put on the stand first.
When the five men finally gave evidence, women protestors could be heard outside the Pamplona courthouse shouting slogans including “No means no”.
Media reporting, focusing heavily on the alleged victim’s credibility, has been criticised. In one instance, a major TV network ran a poll on Twitter asking the public if they believed it was a rape or consensual sex.
Videos of the late-night encounter between the men and the young woman from Madrid show how they wandered the streets among other drunken revellers before two of the men led her into the basement block of flats by the hand.
According to the police report on the case, the men surrounded the teenager in a small alcove, removed her clothes and had unprotected penetrative sex.
The men sent WhatsApp messages to friends celebrating the sex act, and promised to share videos they took on their phones. Those videos have been examined by the court frame by frame.
The police report on the videos says that the alleged victim maintains a “passive or neutral” attitude throughout the scene, keeping her eyes closed at all times.
“I just wanted it to finish as soon as possible,” she said on the witness stand.
The woman was found in a reportedly distraught state by a couple in the street outside the scene of the alleged crime. She told the court she is still having psychological treatment to deal with trauma from the alleged attack.
A Qatar Airways plane has been forced to land midflight after a woman who used her sleeping husband’s thumb to unlock his smartphone discovered he was having an affair.
The couple and their child were flying to Bali, Indonesia, for a holiday after boarding in Doha. The woman repeatedly hit her husband after learning of his infidelity and the captain was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Chennai, India, when the cabin crew was unable to restore order.
The family was then taken to a detention centre at the airport as they did not have an Indian visa before being put on a flight to Kuala Lumpur.
“The Qatar Airways flight QR-962 (Doha-Bali) was diverted to Chennai after the pilot requested it citing unruly passenger on board as the reason,” an officer from India’s central industrial security force (CISF) told the Hindustan Times, which first reported the incident.
“The woman and her husband, along with their child, were offloaded and the flight departed for Bali.”
The newspaper said the plane’s crew failed to calm the wife, who it said was an Iranian national. “The woman had unlocked her husband’s phone using his thumb impression when he was sleeping and then blew her top after discovering his infidelity,” it reported.
The Times of India said the Iranian woman made “such a ruckus” that the plane had no other choice but to make an unscheduled landing.
The family spent the day at Chennai airport and left for Malaysia on a Batik Air flight at 10.30pm.
Qatar Airways declined to comment in order to protect its passengers’ privacy.
In the early 1930s the German essayist and philosopher Walter Benjamin penned a weirdly prescient piece about technology simply titled ‘The Telephone’. Alongside other essays about his childhood in Berlin at the turn of the 20th Century, Benjamin depicts the sometimes haunting but oftentimes animated dynamics surrounding the family’s landline telephone. First, the phone was relegated to the darker recesses of the house, but later ‘the apparatus, like a legendary hero once exposed to die in a mountain gorge, left the dark hallway in the back of the house to make its way into the cleaner and brighter rooms that now were inhabited by a younger generation’. In another succinct paragraph he writes that,
‘Not many of those who use the apparatus know what devastation it once wreaked in family circles. The sound with which it rang between two and four in the afternoon, when a schoolfriend wished to speak to me, was an alarm signal that menaced not only my parents’ midday nap but the historical era that underwrote and enveloped this siesta’. – Walter Benjamin (1932)
Berlin Childhood around 1900 by Walter Benjamin, 2006, Harvard University Press.
Eight decades after Benjamin’s essay and it seems not much has changed about our relationships with the phone or technology in general. While phones are now mobile and almost ubiquitous, they’re still sites of contestation and ambiguity.
In 2010 when I conducted ethnographic interviews about intimacy in mobile communication between couples, almost all the interviewees reported mixed feelings, at one time cursing their mobile for being a socially corrosive element in their lives and in another instance describing the phone as an ‘absolute lifeline’. Michael Arnold calls this ambiguity the Janus-faces of mobile phones, that is, that mobiles ‘perform in ways that are ironic, perverse and paradoxical.’ In research Arnold calls for ‘foregrounding uncertainty’. A few other titles make similar points about ambiguity as part of phone culture, like Rich Ling and Scott Campbell’s Mobile Communication:Bringing Us Together and Tearing Us Part (2010) and Sherry Turkle’s paradoxically titled Alone Together (2011).
Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, 2011, Basic Books
It’s perhaps the ambiguity that is the most interesting dimension of phone culture, as compared to the dominant oppositions that often present in popular discourse. By extreme oppositions I mean that typically we are presented with narratives of how technology SAVES THE WORLD. Evidence of this is littered all over the web. See Quartz’s piece: Here’s how mobile technology is saving Africans from humanitarian disasters or How Mobiles Phones Are Transforming Africa. But, the most entertaining examples of techno utopianism are best exemplified by industry captains who just remind us that technology ROCKS!
The opposite presents in persuasive narratives about the dystopian effects of technology, look no further than Charlie Brooker’s brilliant Black Mirror series.
Or, for a more academically inclined version of dystopia, check out any of Adam Curtis’ documentaries, HyperNormalisation (2016) and All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2011), that expertly petrifies and persuades us of the sinister psychodynamics that prevail in society, often mediated by technology.
These extreme oppositions – Techno Utopia and Techno Dystopia – feel a little blunt, even simplified, considering how ambiguous we feel about our personal technologies.
It’s not easy navigating the somewhat weird in-between space of feeling both delighted and repulsed by technology (or what new technology enables).
To address this issue, the brilliant Amsterdam-based Next Nature Network present a compelling counter narrative, one filled with provocation and trepidation. They seem to be perpetually asking WHAT IF? Like, what if you could order a shoe made from your very own genetically modified stingray? The answer lies in their mockumentary titled The Rise and Fall ofRayfish Footwear.
What emerges from Next Nature is a playful gesture to this in-between space of technology narratives that doesn’t spell disaster or enlightenment, but provocatively kickstarts your imagination about our relationship with technology. Rather than present a clear cut answer, their projects playfully illicit a reaction about the outer-limit possibilities of nature and culture.
Author Adam Alter, launched his book titled Irresistible (Super Verslavend in Dutch) amongst a panel discussion of internet critics and commentators in Amsterdam recently. There are similar antecedents for some of Irresistible’s key narratives — I’m thinking of Alone Together by Sherry Turkleand The Shallows by Nicolas Carr –offering a dystopian and unnerving perspective on technology and our relationship with devices. There’s definitely enough evidence to support Alter’s claims on mobile phone addiction, look no further than the statistics scattered throughout his book like, “75% of people can reach their smartphone without moving their feet”. But, as I commented to Alter and the panel during this lecture, these kinds of narratives, that suggest that technology impacts us in ways that somehow corrode social cohesion, denies elements of human agency, while also supposing that using your phone doesn’t constitute a viable emerging form of sociability. Alter’s seems like a nostalgic narrative at best, one that even he admitted will disappear with our current generation (I think he’s referring to Generation X).
Our digital technologies aren’t politically neutral. The young person who cannot or will not be alone, converse with family, go out with friends, attend a lecture or perform a job without monitoring her smartphone is an emblem of our economy’s leechlike attachment to our very bodies. Digital technology is capitalism in hyperdrive, injecting its logic of consumption and promotion, of monetization and efficiency, into every waking minute.
Captured in a searingly real and beautiful photo essay, photographer Grey Hutton (vice.com) shows how memory, migration and mobiles are entangled. In the context of the migration crisis in Europe, mobile phones embody mobility on a massive scale – across oceans not just cities. And with mobility comes memory, travelling as mobile background images. ᔥVice.com
Embedded in the captions are significant narratives about cultural integration: “Nobody wears jeans there”; surveillance “At night, the police could see the light” and affect as a motivator “It’s a reminder of a great moment”.
“This is a picture of me and my Christian friend fishing in Kurdistan. It’s a nice memory and I like to have it with me.”
“This is a photograph of my wife’s mother. She was killed by IS in Libya. I’ve had this phone for 10 years. I only use it for important things, really.”
“The journey would never have been possible without this phone. I used it all the time, both on land and at sea.”
“I used the GPS to navigate the boat to Greece. Only during the day, though. At night, the police could see the light.”
“This is the son of one of my friends. The photo was taken in Hamburg at a camp we stayed in. It’s a reminder of a great moment.”
“This is the traditional dress of the Pashtun. It reminds me of where I’m from in Pakistan. Nobody wears jeans there.”
“We used balloons and tape to protect our phones from the water.”
“I lost my smartphone in the ocean on the journey. I’m going out buy a new one as soon as I have money.”
“This is my four children. The phone was really useful for teaching them a few German words and keeping them busy with games while we were travelling.”
“This picture was the background on my old phone. I don’t know how to transfer it to the new phone my mother gave me. It’s a picture of my brother, who was killed by IS. My other brother was killed by Assad’s forces.”
“This is my daughter. She’s still in Syria, but we talk every morning, evening and night.”
“This is a Lebanese pop star called Elissa. During my trip, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to music. Now that I’m in Germany, I feel like it again.”
“Our phones are extremely important to us.” (Somali couple)
“I chose this background because it reminds me of my mother. I’m 16 years old and this photo is my only way of staying in touch with my family and friends.”
Disturbing but not unexpected narratives are circulating about migrants and refugees traveling to Europe, centered on nationalist fears, job losses and worst of all – skepticism about the severity of refugee plights. Some narratives find expression in social media memes circulating on Twitter and Facebook like this one…
Props to writer Philip Kleinfeld and Vice.com for exposing the paranoid bullshit content of these memes – which are often blatantly falsified. The image above has nothing to do with European refugees, in fact it were taken in 2013 on Christmas Island in Australia.
Some narratives have centered on the crippled logic that smartphones are a sign of prosperity and are in conflict with refugee life. While the veracity of memes cannot be trusted, the content of these narratives – specifically the relationship between people and technology and what this signifies – are still incredibly interesting to analyse, succinctly done by the blog Everyday Analysis:
The horrible meme makes out that fleeing a war zone and the traumas associated with that is not enough to deserve our sympathy if you have a Samsung phone. Possess a symbol of capitalist success and modernity, manage a smile of relief and, in our unforgiving political climate, a traumatised refugee is be deemed a fraud….in the eyes of the British right, why should a refugee not have a mobile phone? …why should a refugee not take a selfie?
In the end this meme shows us three things. First, it quite simply and obviously shows how much hateful fascism there is in our society. Second, it shows how these structures are still supported by a colonial ideology that sees the passage to modernity as the natural course of events and does not want to admit that this trauma and devastation is a modern problem that our own brand of modernity is responsible for. Third, it warns us of the danger of our preconceptions and expectations when it comes to refugees and shows us how deeply ingrained in right wing ideology some of our assumptions may be.
Thirty-five statues across London and Manchester have begun telling tales of the past through the voices of recognisable British actors and personalities, with words from our best writers.
To hear the statues, who first clear their throats today, visitors need to swipe their smartphones over signs near the statues. The phone will then ring and the monologues begin.
Playing some of our most notable characters from history – along with Dick Whittington’s Cat – will be Patrick Stewart, as the haunting voice of the unknown soldier at Paddington Station; Jeremy Paxman, who will defend free speech as John Wilkes in Fetter Lane; and Prunella Scales, as Queen Victoria, both on Blackfriars Bridge and in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens.
The statues will be brought to life as part of a project by Sing London (singlondon.org), a non-profit arts organisation, with the intention of lifting the nation’s spirits.