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Orientation in the World

Over at my other online home, the Atlantic Technology Channel, where I think of myself as the resident ethicist — no one else thinks of me that way, it’s just a pleasant little story I tell myself — I have a post up how cellphones help us orient ourselves in space when the built environment doesn’t cooperate. Please make sure to read the post that I’m responding to, because that’s where all the ideas are.

Cellphones have become our security blankets in so many ways: how they let us know where we are and where to go next is just a part of it, though in urban environments especially a large part. Perhaps more important is the way that cellphones have become the prime mediators of our social relations, and not just through texting. An especially interesting development — and possibly a slightly creepy one; I haven’t made up my mind — is a new iOS app called Pair: a two-person social network. The idea is that you and your significant other use Pair to communicate privately and securely, on your own little network to which nobody else has access. What’s possibly creepy is the chance that couples will come to be ever more reliant on smartphone mediation when they might be better off seeking unmediated contact with one another — you know, talking and kissing and stuff like that. But, on the other hand, I like the app’s acknowledgement that some relationships need to have a significant private aspect, sheltered from the eyes of Facebook and the world.

Of course, it’s only a matter of time before polyamorists start protesting that Pair discriminates against them….

about the author

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

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