We are talking about the features of Flemingsberg, two representatives of a housing cooperative and I. The discussion concerns what parts of this modernist housing area that these two inhabitants are acquainted with and the role of barriers and distances for their movements in the local area. Now I turn to the issue of mobile phones and their use. My interviewees, a middle-aged man and a young woman, are both experienced users of the mobile. We are talking about the usefulness of mobile phones for negotiating meetings in urban contexts when the young woman asks, genuinely curious: “But in the old days, before the mobile phone, when you wanted to meet somewhere, how did you manage?” The man and I look at each other, smile, and start telling about all the difficulties in the old days of arranging meetings when one was downtown.
It is in situations like this, that you get a notion of the crucial import of mobile phones for connecting, not only via the telephone system but also in real life. The mobile has made it easy to improvise meetings, to agree about meeting points and then, if necessary, renegotiate them. The mobile phone system adds a new level of mobility upon the previous ones. The element of planning earlier required for getting together is now becoming less important. Instead there is a great opportunity of improvising encounters, at least when persons involved are not too far from each other. With the mobile phone, it seems that people’s relations to urban landscapes become more fluid and less structured (Urry 2000).
Apart from calling or texting, there are certain features of the mobile phone that are important for moving in the urban environment. Phones that allow their users to access the internet have become average. Thus it is possible to look for addresses or view maps whenever necessary for finding the way. When GPS has become a customary feature, the task of navigation in cities will be much simpler. Not only will you find your actual position, you also get a proposition of the best route to the place where you want to go. The tactics of the walker is now supplemented by the strategies of the voyeur (Certeau 1984).
One question here is whether the connectivity afforded by mobile communication renders the physical form of cities – or urban landscapes – less important. Spontaneous encounters have always been closely related to the presence at places and times where and when a lot of people are staying or passing by. In small towns, Storgatan or Main Street in the evening is a good example of such a setting. The mobile phone enables people getting together even in a fragmented and thin environment, provided they have the means of transportation necessary to move to the place of rendezvous agreed upon. Does the widespread use of mobile telephony contribute to a levelling out of the hierarchy of places? From a commercial point of view, will good locations be found not only on the important streets of the city or in easily accessed external business malls? The new connectivity may prove to have great importance for city form and the development of urban landscapes.
Michel de Certeau (1984): The Practise of Everyday Life. University of California Press.
John Urry (2000): Sociology beyond Societies. Mobilities for the twenty-first century. Routledge.