Human Inertia and Cell Phone Conversations

Cellular, or mobile phones are great: they allow people to communicate over long distances whenever and wherever they are, and instantaneously at that when the one called is wearing one too. Having said that, though, it must immediately be added that they, also, have a complex disadvantage, and it is one we are hard pushed to understand. In fact, due to its complexity people simply tend to neglect it, even though everyone in his right mind has had experience with it. Now Walter Benjamin defined aura as “a distance however close it may be”.1) This has standardly been interpreted as a characterisation of an experience of presence, also by Benjamin. This aura supposedly suffered from the rise of photography. Aura can, also, be understood as inertia, the absence of something present. And whether aura is gone or widespread I gladly leave to more speculative-minded thinkers. I submit that we experience a person’s “aura”—her distance however close she may be—when perception tells us the person is present yet our mind realises that she isn’t. I am referring here to the observation had of another person engaged in a cell phone conversation. The inertia of the cell phone caller consists in her incapacity to address those who observe her. I think there is an immoral streak to her selfappointed moral autonomy. In a previous edition of this Dutch-Russian exchange on inertia I argued that our trafficking with facial expressions forms the model with which we’d best understand the workings of art—facial expression is the anthropological foundation of art. My discussion, today, of the cell phone conversation is meant to add to that previous suggestion
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