November 29, 2011

Jane Austen on Smartphones

2 minute read, in Social Issues / Social Networking


Why do people feel compelled to respond to the little messages coming through their phones immediately as if driven by compulsion?

MIT Professor Sherry Turkle delivers the best description I’ve ever heard when asked about this phenomenon in Fast Company.

It reminds me of how in Jane Austen, carriages are always coming, you’re waiting, it could be Mr. Bingley’s invitation to a ball. There’s some sense that the post is always arriving in Jane Austen. There’s something about email that carries the sense that that’s where the good news will come…. I try to figure out what it is that this little red light means to people. I think it’s that place for hope and change and the new, and what can be different, and how things can be what they’re not now. And I think we all want that.

I can understand butterflies and excitement awaiting the prospect of an invitation where this might go down:


But face it, an Evite to a party you don’t want to go to is not deserving of your undivided attention. The constant feeling of disappointment is much like the feelings Elizabeth Bennet expresses in Pride and Prejudice upon George Wickhams’ departure:

Upon the whole, therefore, she found what has been sometimes found before, that an event to which she had looked forward with impatient desire, did not, in taking place, bring all the satisfaction she had promised herself. It was consequently necessary to name some other period for the commencement of actual felicity; to have some other point on which her wishes and hopes might be fixed, and by again enjoying the pleasure of anticipation, console herself for the present, and prepare for another disappointment.

The anticipation contained within the simple gesture of a vibrating phone can be so profound.

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