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Posts Tagged ‘arrival’

It’s Friday night at the end of December. We are returning from a visit to the Louisiana museum of art north of Copenhagen, and the train has just stopped at the first station after the Öresund bridge. Outside the train, on the platform, arriving passengers are passing. “Look”, my friend says, “almost everybody are talking on their phones!” That’s right; every other or third person has taken out their mobile phones. Most of them are men. Eagerly talking, thumbing or reading text messages they are on their way to the stairs of Svågertorp station.

What is going on here? This seems to be a place and time when many people choose to use their mobiles – but why? It’s impossible to give an accurate answer. Just like in many other everyday occasions, we have to be satisfied with interpretations.

A lot of Swedes have their workplaces in Copenhagen and its surroundings. There are also Danes who, although having their work in Denmark, have chosen to live in Sweden due to the lower housing costs. Therefore, one reasonable interpretation is that what we see are mostly commuters returning home after a workday in Copenhagen.

Now all these people, predominantly men, have arrived to Malmö and their very first action is calling or texting someone. Maybe they just want to tell somebody waiting at home: “I’m on my way, will be home soon!” Or they call someone who is supposed to pick them up. The person who is going to collect them is probably not far away – maybe already waiting outside the station.

But why then have they not called earlier? Quite often people use travelling time for making phone calls or sending text messages. One reason could be that it is cheaper to use the mobile phone in the country of the network provider. But that network is available as soon as one has passed the middle of the bridge. Another possible explanation is that some people prefer not to talk on the phone as long as they are in the crowded train. On the platform, distances between people are longer, which makes the situation less awkward. Many fellow passengers are also busy with their own calls. Another reason for waiting could be that the reception becomes better as soon as you leave the railway wagon. It’s also a well known fact that the Öresund trains are often delayed, and that may be reason enough to wait with the call until one actually has arrived. It could also be the case that the people we notice being busy with their mobiles actually have called the person who is collecting them earlier, and are now just confirming that they have left the train. Or that they now set about to make all those calls that have had to wait until they reach the territory of there own mobile network provider. It could also be the case that the people we notice being busy with their mobiles actually have called the person who is collecting them earlier, and are now just confirming that they have left the train. Or that they now set about to make all those calls that have had to wait until they reach the territory of there own mobile network provider.

As we see, the possible interpretations of the situation observed are abundant. On a general level, what we experience here is a node of intense mobility, maybe a good example of the space of flows, which Manuel Castells as late as 1996 associated with the global elites of power and business. Today, regional mobility – and systems like car traffic, airlines, commuter trains and mobile phone – is necessary for survival in a world where work often is far from home. The elites are still cosmopolitan; however the question is if the people are local, as Castells suggested. Apparently, many of the people passing on the platform are wage-earners, workers of the offices and services of Copenhagen. Under such conditions, the mobile phone is part in constituting a powerful connectivity, which means that people continuously can organize and renegotiate movements and meetings. The platform of Svågertorp station is one of those nodes where people’s social and cultural networks can be glimpsed.

This situation also offers a specific angle of approach on the platform as public space. In the cinema, the platform is emphasized as a scene of people greeting their arriving friends or relatives and saying farewell when they leave, a place where the personal and intimate is demonstrated in the public. But at the commuter train stations of our time you seldom see people eagerly waiting or saying tearful goodbyes. As travelling has become routine, the platform has been discharged of its drama and magic. Or maybe its fascination has become invisible. The drama is perhaps taking place in the waiting car, at the parking lot. The magic is to be found in the phone call, of which we only hear little fragments. Anyway, it is hidden; it is no longer displayed in the public.

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In his article Uses and disuses of urban space, Zygmunt Bauman writes about different sorts of lack of  publicness in what is seen as public space. With emic space he means the kind of inhospitable rooms where urban life is comprised of people rushing by, quickly disappearing. Here, no meetings between strangers occur. Bauman uses la Défense in Paris as an example. At my visits, la Défense was much more diverse than suggested by Bauman. It was not simply a place of transportation and movement; however I do recognize the swarms of stressed people on their way to or from the metro. Characteristic for these busy passers-by was having mobile phones pressed to their ears.  This implies that Bauman’s characteristic of such spaces as emic misses important dimensions. The people rushing by are simultaneously active in communities and contexts that we are not aware of. Similarly, the platform of Svågertorp station may be a dramatic and magic place, in spite of its routinely appearance.

Zygmunt Bauman (2001): Uses and Disuses of Urban Space. In Czarniawska, B & Solli, R (eds), Organizing Metropolitan Space and Discourse. Liber Abstrakt.

Manuel Castells (1996): The Rise of the Network Society, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol. I. Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

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