Hello Again

An Untimely Requiem for the Flip Phone

Authored by: Paul Benzon

The Routledge Companion to Media Technology and Obsolescence

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138216266
eBook ISBN: 9781315442686
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315442686-26

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Abstract

Chris Jordan’s Cell Phones is a 2007 image from his series Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait. It is a massive, 60-inch by 100-inch photograph depicting 426,000 cell phones, the number discarded (or “retired”, to use Jordan’s telling term) in the United States every day at the time of the image’s production (Jordan, 2009: 45). In this image, and throughout Running the Numbers more generally, Jordan seeks to make material those things that are often dangerously abstract, to pay witness to the “staggering complexity” and scale of human consumption and disposal (Jordan, 2009: 21). Each image in the series visualizes a particular quantity of object. For example, just as Cell Phones offers testimony to the number of phones retired each day, Caps Seurat (2011) reproduces Seurat’s Isle of La Grand Jatte through 400,000 bottle caps, the amount consumed in the United States every minute. Yet, precisely because of the scale of these images, their promised exactitude collapses under the literal and figurative weight of the objects they depict, and Jordan’s work becomes abstract anew in its concreteness. At full view, Cell Phones is indecipherable, appearing almost as static, analog snow, a dead channel. Only when we approach the image more closely or see it in detail does it become clear what it actually depicts: a seemingly uncountable accumulation of cell phones, the silvery white sea of their faux-chrome bodies speckled with the blackness of the spaces left between these objects as they lie alongside and on top of one another. The effect resembles the optical trickery of a Magic Eye stereogram, promising a hidden image out of what seems to be visual noise—pattern here is at once both beside the point and precisely the point.

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