all we need is love - and mobile phone


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  Cultural Space and Public Sphere in Asia 2006, Seoul, Korea / 357 All we need is love—and a mobile phone: texting in the Philippines  Bella Ellwood-Clayton Abstract Asia is the leader of digital and mobile culture and the Philippines: the world’s texting capital. This paper provides an overview of my anthropological fieldwork and explores the intricate relationship between different types of love—platonic, familial, romantic, erotic, secretive, humanitarian and religious—and cell phone use.  Platonic Love  is explored by examining the way friendship networks are bolstered through continual text and  Familial Love  is investigated in light of the national economic situation, characterized by high relocation and migration overseas, whereby texting enables fractured families to maintain social cohesion, despite geographic division. When looking at  Romantic Love , I discuss the cell phone as a medium to woo and demonstrate that the mobile phone supplies young people with an avenue to express their curiosities and desires where hitherto they would be more tightly bound to traditional courtship and gender rules. I then explore how cell phone communication aids sexual play, innuendo and can act to deepen intimate relationships:  Erotic Love . Conversely, I look the cell  phone’s role in enhancing partner infidelity, linking this to wider cross-cultural findings. I turn briefly to discuss  Humanitarian Love , and the role of the cell phone in the overthrowing Filipino president Joseph Estrada. Lastly I discuss  Religious Love : the exchange of religious-coded texts among social groups and commercial markets whereby Filipinos are encouraged to “text god.”  Cultural Space and Public Sphere in Asia 2006, Seoul, Korea / 358 It is fascinating to me how such a small device, and such a relatively new technology, could have such an enormous impact on people across the world. Twenty-five years ago, the mass-market commercial cellular phone system was first introduced to us (Brown et al 2002: 8) and, in 1992, the first text message was sent. Yet now it is hard to imagine the metropolitan middle class without use of this fifth limb, this magic transmitter, this hand-held, postmodern, epi-universe: commonly referred to as the cell phone. Indeed, it is almost miraculously interesting to me, how this invention has embodied us, become an essential part of divergent lives across divergent cultures. How the cell phone affects the Filipina teenager, the Hong Kong businessman, and the Irish priest is all together different, yet nevertheless profound. The cell phone is now linked to: the enterprising efforts of those involved in the micro-businesses of Rwanda (see Donner 2003: 393-411); the Finnish woman who lies to her husband by text—   I was just at my  sister’s house, darling—  when in fact she was in bed with his colleague. To the Japanese student, who when angry at a friend, rather than initiating a conversation, sends a pictogram of fist or a tiger to convey his resentment (Riviere and Licoppe 2005: 122). To the Malaysia man who divorced his wife by text and was legitimized to do so by the Malaysian Islamic court (Kent 2003). The parent in Melbourne who receives a text message from her son’s school informing her that has not showed up to class (Green 2004: 4-5). To the American man who has US porn star Jenna Jameson’s moans downloaded into his phone as a ringtone. The African shepherd in the drought-ridden Sahel region who alerts another shepherd by text to sites of high-quality grazing (Gwin 2005). The Scottish elementary school boy who is terrorized by the threatening text messages he keeps receiving from the school bully. The TB patient in South Africa who is reminded by text to take his medication (Mitchell 2003: 9). The Australian woman before going out on a Saturday night, using the  Dialing under the Influence Device  on her phone to temporally bar her from  being able to call her ex-boyfriend, whom she misses almost desperately (Bullard 2004). To the Singaporean who in 2001 was the first person in the world to be fired by text (Soh 2001). And lastly, to this anthropologist who has built a career studying people’s relationship to their cell phones. Whether we direct our research gaze to Hong Kong, Australia, Israel, the US, or Korea, what we are finding are growing masses of wirelessly-connected inhabitants communicating in a cyber arena. This global phenomenon is creating fundamental transformations in the way individuals perceive themselves and their communities, to the way they construct the world—and the way that they love. Today I’ll look specifically at the Philippines and provide an overview of the intricate relationship between cell phone use and different types of love—platonic, familial, romantic, erotic, secretive, humanitarian and religious—in order to demonstrate how mobile telephony enables the technological extension of a communicative self.  Cultural Space and Public Sphere in Asia 2006, Seoul, Korea / 359 texting: the national pastime Cell phones were introduced into the Philippines only in 1999; the country is now heralded as the texting capital of the world, with one hundred million texts being sent around the archipelago daily (Pertierra et al 2002: 87-88). 1  Colloquially Filipinos refer to texting as “the national pastime” and to themselves as “generation texters.” 2  The popularity of texting is directly related to the inadequate infrastructure and notorious unreliability of traditional landlines and the low cost of SMS (Strom 2002: 274-283). 3   fieldwork My research was conducted mainly in Kalibo, a semi-urban town in the central Philippines, over the years of 2001 to 2003. 4  To gain an in-depth understanding of young women’s lives and of the role mobile communication, I applied standard anthropological methodologies, including participant observation, focus group discussions, surveys and in-depth interviews. 5  Data was also informed by young men’s experiences, analysis of popular culture 6  and my collection of text messages received or sent by interviewees or received by myself, which consisted of over 1000 in all. 7   love of friend, love of family 1  Although the ratio of cell phones to population in the Philippines is low by international standards, the number of text messages sent by SMS users is double the world average (Pertierra et al 2002: 87-88). 2  The Pulse Asia survey, conducted from March 29 th  to April 12 th  2003 with 12,000 persons, found that one in three Filipinos use mobile phones, including 17% of the poorest sector, with 70% of SMS users reporting that they send as many as 10 texts per day, and 11% between 11-20 messages per day (Marfill 2003: A1, A14). 3  Sending one text message costs a mere peso (approximately U.S $ 0.02), compared with the relatively expensive rates of voice calls made directly from one’s cell phone or landline. 4  Although data was derived principally from Kalibo, I was also able to observe texters in Manila and in (holiday-destination) Boracay. 5  Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with fifty young women and approximately thirty prominent community  players including: health practitioners, religious heads, social commentators and artists. 6  Here I am referring to media (newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and film), advertising, and text how-to books. 7  By living in the local community, and by being in an age category that was similar to my participants, many of the “research subjects” became close friends. The nature of our friendships allowed for the mutual sharing of intimate narratives regarding (text) experiences and relationships.  Cultural Space and Public Sphere in Asia 2006, Seoul, Korea / 360   In the Philippines friendship networks are bolstered through recurrent text communication and ultimately act to deepen  platonic love . Messages are either self-composed and context-dependent (e.g. how was ur exam?) or the passing of what I’ve termed as  Hallmark messages : chain-like forwarded texts relating to humor, love, current events, friendship, or god. 8  Receiving such messages charge texters with a sense of  being cared for and remembered and are perceived to nurture relationships through thoughtfulness and   threw these,   respondents found great emotional support, as Melinda (age 29, married, mother) commented: The texts my friends send me make me feel better when I ’ m down. Sometimes it ’ s coincidental; they send me messages that I need to hear. They can be significant in your daily life. It ’ s good to have someone reminding you how wonderful life is. Texting thus acts as a form of social or emotional hospitality: 9  as goodwill enacted on a micro level through cyber means. This notion of goodwill can be likened to Mauss ’ s (1924) conceptions of gift giving and reciprocity. 10   The family unit is almost rhetorically important to Filipinos and, in the current economic situation, characterized by high relocation and migration, with estimates of Filipinos living and working overseas ranging from 4 to 6.5 million (Tan et al. 2002: 1), 11  the cell phone has irrefutably become a chief medium to express  familial love  (Paragas 2003). Being able to “communicate even if you’re far apart” with a loved one was reverently cherished by numerous respondents. Speaking for many people’s experiences, Anna said: “Through text, even if you can’t hear his voice, it feels like he is just nearby”. Texting fosters 8  For example: “Evn w out c n each odr much, evn w out talkn oftn, TRUE frends nvr part dey remain FOREVER n d hart. Gud pm & God bless!” Translation: Even without seeing each other much, even without talking often, TRUE friends never part they remain FOREVER in the heart. Good afternoon and God bless! 9  Hospitality is a highly honored Filipino (e.g. Agoncillo and Guerrero, 1977) and certainly Kalibonhon (Reyes-Tinagan, 2001) trait. 10  In The Gift  , Mauss argues that reciprocity is not only situated through economic exchange, but is found to operate in social systems. Mauss contends that parties are obligated to exchange goods appropriately  and this is dependent on the specific cultural context. Texting can thus be viewed as a somewhat balanced form of reciprocity, where like is exchanged for like (text for text). In addition, although there is no time set for “text repayment,” differing assumptions regarding  appropriate  SMS communication is cause for strife among social actors. Other researchers have also linked texting to Mauss’s (1924) conceptions of reciprocity (see Kasesniemi and Rautianen 2002; Pertierra 2002; Taylor and Harper 2002; and Yoon 2005). 11  Tan et al (2002: 1) argue that it is difficult to determine absolute numbers of Filipinos living and working overseas due to the large amount of individuals working abroad illegally.
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