A blackberry or iphone is one of those possessions, a fashion accessory, that say’s more about the social aspirations of the owner than in the supposed work ethic they are trying to project. Like a platinum American Express card that offers little extra benefit compared to the ‘ordinary’ green version other than the ownership and the symbolic of display of the card that announces: ‘I am a big shot’. In this case usually placed on the counter with a suitable flourish for the maximum of effect with an audience present just before the clerk behind the desk deflates the whole moment with a ‘we don’t accept those here sir’.
In the mythical Blackberry world the symbolic display of the device announces: ‘I am indispensable’, ‘I’m a big shot’, ‘I am so important that I receive emails 24/7 so I can make world changing decisions’ (no you are not). It becomes almost a ritual on the train, sit down, roll the thumbwheel – and then the Blackberryite attempts to peer at a small screen to thumb-type in some inane response to a colleague. Probably also sitting on some other train on their way to their office peering into a similarly small screen enacting a drama and playacting at work. I have received these messages stripped of context with useless content – usually a simple acknowledgement of some minor nature but in reality announcing to me (as if I cared) that they ‘working’ and able to respond immediately.
There is also a darker side to the use of mobile technology which is an extension in this post modern world of the disciplinary office and the rise of surveillance at work. We are all aware of Foucault’s use of the Bentham’s Panoptican:
The idea behind the panoptican prison was to enforce behavior and sense of control. ‘The arrangement of his room, opposite the central tower, imposes on him an axial visibility; but the divisions of the ring, those separated cells, imply a lateral invisibility. And this invisibility (that) is a guarantee of order. If the inmates are convicts, there is no danger of a plot, an attempt at collective escape, the planning of new crimes for the future, bad reciprocal influences … if they are schoolchildren, there is no copying, no noise, no chatter, no waste of time; if they are workers, there are no disorders, no theft, no coalitions, none of the distractions that slow down the rate of work. (Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.)
The important point was that it was not necessary to have a visible guard walking the corridors – it was enough to know the possibility of supervision and this led to self discipline and control (of the prisoners, schoolchildren and workers) that reinforced and re-stated the use of power that caused compliance.
I see in the use of Blackberries, and other similar gadgets, an extension of the disciplinary office – controlling people in time and space – ensuring their availability to work at whatever time it is and wherever they are physically. Even on the train, in their homes or during their ‘free’ time they are available for work. Not self-motivated to work but self-supervised and self- disciplined into performing at the beck and call of and subject to the invisible supervisory power of the modern office.
What Blackberryites are doing is giving up their agency and freedom, becoming a slave to a control mechanism that is not materially different to the electronic tag sometimes used to monitor and control the movements of ASBO bound kids.
Royston – a spokesperson of the popular front for the liberation from Blackberries