From Here to Asynchronicity

The invention of mobile technology was rooted in an effort to improve communication between people over great distances. However, in some ways, the milestones achieved in an effort to expand human reach has debilitated people from sharing genuine intimacy. Roughly speaking, the result of these efforts engendered a simulation of veritable accomplishment because of great distances, a surveillance society that not only spies on its people, but has cozened the people into believing that ultimate freedom is the sum of surveillance upon others, and an influx of asynchronous behaviors that keep us communicating without regard to the collective embodiment or timely reception.
In 1910, when Guglielmo Marconi was sending messages from the UK to Buenos Aires, he was making a technological attempt to transverse the whole of an ocean to mitigate the time it took to disseminate ideas in a rapidly expanding world. Farman maintains that because foreign ideas were spreading so rapidly, it was difficult to not see the world as a larger space because of the communication with “distant” places (2012, p.12). The next most natural step was to figure out ways to expand to the full extent of that space. There is a parallel that can be drawn between the persistent technological drive to expand communication systems beyond natural human reach and the constant topographical pursuit to map the boundaries of the globe, both geographic and political. The result of the rallying cry to expansion, while fully realizing the goal of mapping the Earth, stabilizing political and economic boundaries, and increasing modes of communication, has left the individual people of the former Imperialist machines in a somewhat odd stasis, wondering what is next. Nothing about what we have is particularly bad. In all probability, a statistician somewhere on the Earth, I’m sure, has more than properly recorded evidence of societal improvement globally. On the surface, without the aid of statistical proof, it can be seen that there is not as much observed plague, war and famine these days. However, despite evidence to the contrary, the world doesn’t feel right to many. Society is not progressing like it used to progress and some people are taking notice. The next step in our technological evolution should have been time travel, teleportation, or boldly going to the final frontier. We have not left yet, nor do many of us have an interest in talking about the reasons why we have not left. If people have become disinterested in technologically progressing the species and advancing expansion beyond the Earth, it is likely because of the surveillance culture we have created that Marwick and Humphreys touch upon in their works.
A large part of what keeps us in a limited perspective of the people we are communicating with is social surveillance, and the culture surrounding it. Both Marwick and Humphreys used qualitative research subjects to establish evidence that younger people are using mobile technology to either surveil others or keep themselves in check by monitoring their own behaviors in the face of the fact that they know others are watching. Marwick asserts that social media users “are less concerned with governments or corporations watching (2012, p. 379).” In essence, the implication in this is that the mobile communication takes over. Humphreys observed this as well, but noted that the reasoning behind is likely because of intangibility (2011, p. 584). The people using these sites are more interested in what their friends think about them and reciprocating the behavior by analyzing their profiles in return. Marwick uses this evidence to purport that surveillance culture online results in a complex social hierarchy based on the expectation of reciprocity (2012, p. 383). This familiarity and acceptance of surveillance culture among online friends could also be attributed to an understanding, even in a small microcosm within Facebook, that those people looking in and those people that we look upon are also partly intangible. Humphreys defines this self-censorship, in lieu of being watched, the effect of the “Voluntary Panopticon” that they’ve signed up for (2011, p. 583). Therefore, Facebook establishes communication among friends that is not only removed from the physical bodies of parties involved but, because of self-censorship in the face of a panopticon, leaves the observer more disconnected from the ideas presented by others.
None other is more evidence of this disconnection from others and their ideas than asynchronous consumption of those ideas via text. The example, illustrated by Farman, being when two people engage in a text conversation within a few feet of each other (2012, p.18). Farman is using this example to depict a public/private nature of mobile technological space. However, Farman’s example could be used to describe two people who are out of time from each other, desynchronized. This is especially evident in moments when those text messages fail to arrive or fall out of correct sync order. There are sites dedicated to the confusion that results when text messages are misinterpreted or when social mores are broken by people unfamiliar with the unspoken rules of text messaging. It is like our mobile devices have become our own messages in bottles that we have cast into the sea, hoping for reciprocity soon when the recipient replies. The act of communication is becoming a solitary pursuit. “We are using devices that typically resist group involvement: it is difficult for a crowd to gather around a mobile phone screen to all share in a common experience(Farman, 2012, p.18).” Thus, despite the fact that our ideas have traveled farther distances because of mobile communication, we are receiving them piecemeal and in many cases in delayed time. This is handicapping the circulation of truly great ideas to many people in an efficient manner.
So what is the culmination of this discussion? What refutes the complaint of texting asychronicity, distracted surveillance producing sites like Facebook, or feigned successes produced by broad reaching mobile communication? Where have we seen large social media success? Worldwide, what can command an audience and rally people together for causes like the Arab Spring? What has brought many people together at once to discuss outrage over social injustice? Where is it online that everything produced is accurate to the moment and immediate, with no fear of ever becoming out of sync? Where can somebody command a list of followers and actually transverse the globe in minutes with an idea? Twitter. The world’s 140 character soap box.

Farman, J. (2012). Historicizing Mobile Media: Locating the Transformations of Embodied Space. The Mobile Media Reader, 73, 8-21.
Fincher, D. (Director). (1995). Se7en [Motion picture]. Miramax.
Humphreys, L. (2011). Who’s Watching Whom? A Study of Interactive Technology and Surveillance. Journal of Communication, 61, 575-595. Retrieved from ISSN 0021-9916
Library of Congress (1908). Guglielmo Marconi [Photograph]. Retrieved from
Marwick, A. (2012). The Public Domain: Surveillance in Everyday Life. Surveillance & Society, 9(4), 378-393. Retrieved from ISSN: 1477-7487
Memeblender (n.d.). Hipster Beethoven Before Twitter [Meme]. Retrieved from
PopHangover (2008). Damn You Auto Correct! » Funny iPhone Fails and Autocorrect Horror Stories. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from


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