"Anomie refers to an environmental state where society fails to exercise adequate regulation or constraint over the goals and desires of its individual members" (Durkheim 1951: 241—276).
In his Phenomenon of Man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote that connectivity equals life, and isolation equals death. That is why all things absolutely want to be connected.
A society "under the condition of anomie...is unable to exert its regulatory and disciplining influences. Human desires are left unchecked and unbounded—the individual “aspires to everything and is satisfied with nothing” (Durkheim 1951: 271). Out of disillusionment and despair with the pursuit of limitless goals, many individuals in the anomic society take their own lives. Therefore, high rates of anomic suicide are the product of the environmental condition of anomie" .
In 1951, Sociologist Émile Durkheim published a study on populations called Suicide. In the study, he found that those of Catholic faith were less likely to commit suicide than those of Protestant faith. Did it have something to do with religion? Further research suggested that those of the Catholic faith were more likely to have stronger family ties and be part of a community, whereas those with Protestant ties were less likely to be community oriented. He found that those who were isolated from others had fewer connections and were more likely to commit suicide.
The vehicle and the vehicular commute is one of the most isolated moments the urban subject can experience. The space is a modern anomie: nowhere is family, or connectedness established. As Durkheim stated “at every moment of history there is a dim perception…or the respective value of different social services” (Durkheim 1951:249) With these social services one citizen gives to the other, the public sphere becomes filled with strangers intent on individual ends over the ends of the community.
Traffic puts isolated people in steel pods into a bloodstream of liminality. Though individuals are connected in traffic, this connection is generally one of mutual frustration. The annoyance, while communal, pits each vehicle driver against one another’s irregularities and driving styles. Contact between drivers on the highway is generally one of misfortune or anger.
The cell phone allows an organically social network. Through the subject and the technology combined, the subject can become an Actor on the larger Actor Network. "The prime technique of power is now escape, slippage, elision and avoidance, the effective rejection of any territorial confinement with its cumbersome corollaries of order-building, order-maintenance (Bauman 2000:11). To escape from modernity for a little while gives the human a tiny bit of power over their incarcerated state. If the human spends time in a non-place, then the addition of a non-place accessed through the telephone tears through the solitary contractually characterized by the non-place. The traffic jam warrants a cell phone for the human to escape the physical constraints that the Panopticon holds on the human body. (Bauman 2000:11). A cell phone provides a virtual ‘vacation’ from the isolation of modernity.
The tension of existing in an isolated modern state can be transcended by the use of a cell phone, because cell phones are social devices and can help users to reconnect in an increasingly isolated modern reality. Modern individuals can transcend non-places like highways or airport terminals by the use of mobile telephony. Commuters in traffic can connect to another on the technosocial Actor Network while residing physically within a non-space. This means that both the place and the non-place can exist at once.
Japan could be considered to be the epitome of the modern state of isolation. It is a highly industrialized island with a population that is confined to small, domestically-controlled spaces. To have mobile access to virtual peer space by means of a greater technosocial Actor Network is to have a community in an otherwise socially isolated urban experience. "To not have a keitai (cell phone) is to be walking blind, disconnected from just-in-time information on where and when you are in the social networks of time and place" (Ito, 2003:1). To not have a cell phone in a culture filled with cell phones is a new form of anomie worse than existing as an individual in a public sphere filled with strangers. Cell phones are essential for individuals to escape the effects of modern isolation.
The escape of the subject in a liminal non-place into a technosocial liminal space can be considered a second-order liminal state, where the liminality of place can be eradicated by the additional liminality of the communication device. To use a liminal device such as a cell phone in a liminal 'in-between' place cancels the liminality of the situation. A businessperson that uses a cell phone at the airport can escape into a higher order liminal state that allows connection to a non-liminal reality that is both auditory and profitable.
The transition of the spatially liminal subject to a second order liminal state does not allow the user a pathway back into lived reality. Lived realities are only accessible to those at non-liminal points. The airplane traveler exits lived reality upon entering the airport terminal, and re-enters it after stepping out of the airport terminal at the destination.
A Bluetooth device allows the isolated subject to hybridize their experience, to do away with the liminal state of experiencing life as a individual disconnected from relation, history, and identity and enter into a technosocial liminal state. It is liminality within liminality that creates connectedness in a place with the least connectedness. Similarly, making a phone call in a liminal place allows the user freedom from the liminal state and freedom that the constraints of the space that the time-routine of modernity has forced them into.
Anomie and Migration to Online Communities
There's also the development of online communities as a recolonization of public space. As anthropological places create the organically social, so non-places create solitary contractility (Augé 1995:94).
In sociologist Emelie Durkheim’s perspective, a malnourished public sphere deprives individuals of real social connections. In the face of this Anomie, the cell phone allows an organic social network. Through the subject and the technology combined, the subject can become an Actor on the larger Actor Network. If the human spends time in a non-place, then the addition of a non-place accessed through the telephone tears through the solitary contractility characterized by the non-place. Both the place and the non-place can exist at once, because in the supermodern perspective all dichotomies blur into one another. “What emerges from the fading social norms is naked, frightened, aggressive ego in search of love and help. The isolated human in the non-place seeks to reconnect with those in proximity, but cannot.
In the search for itself and an affectionate sociality, it easily gets lost in the jungle of the self...Someone who is poking around in the fog of his of his or her own self is no longer capable of noticing that this isolation, this (as Ulrich Beck writes) "solitary-confinement of the ego’ is a mass sentence, that millions of people...are also pacing the prison cells of the self” (Beck, 40).
There is a transition from the world of forward-focused isolation --- TV, one way signals to a world of interactivity. The cell phone is used as a substitute for interaction, but the cellphone user really wishes for face-to-face interaction over virtual interaction, and thus manages face to feign importance.
Anomie in the hyperconnected world can often be deadly, as the annihilation of geography tends to isolate the individual further than ever possible before. A social network with a high potential of connectivity does not automatically guarantee it. All life is mystery meat navigation. All clicks unwrap presents. We can’t see what is on the other side, but we want to get there. We are great unknowing youth. If we really knew what was on the other side we would never consume or love like we do. We would despair. Instead, we are kings, kings that reign for only a little while before being enslaved and tortured to death by endlines, airport travel, traffic jams, physical and mental isolation, elevator music, and boring architecture. The only way out of this isolation is through reconnecting to culture and community via the iPod, the text message, or the phone call. There is no limitless value, or infinite reproducibility of objects, but rather a limited sipply of connectivity. Being connected is a luxury.