In 1938, Sociologist Émile Durkheim published a study on populations called Social Structure and Anomie. 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. "Anomie refers to an environmental state where society fails to exercise adequate regulation or constraint over the goals and desires of its individual members". In other words, anomie can form in social groups or societies that do not provide the means of connectivity to their members.
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 endless lines, 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 supply of connectivity. In his Phenomenon of Man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote that connectivity equals life, and isolation equals death. Being connected is a luxury.
In everyday life, the modern vehicle and the daily commute is one of the most isolated moments an urban human can experience. The highway space is a modern anomie: nowhere is family, or connectedness established. 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.
Mobile Phones and the Reduction of Anomie
Modern individuals can transcend non-places like highways or airport terminals by the use of mobile telephony. A cell phone provides a virtual ‘vacation’ from the isolation of modernity. An online social network helps relieve the feelings of Anomie caused by one's nearby geography. In this respect, mobile technology can help prevent feelings of isolation that suburbia and other technologies provide.
To escape from modernity for a little while gives the human a tiny bit of power over their incarcerated state. Through the subject and the technology combined, the subject can become an Actor on the larger Actor Network.
- Durkheim, Emile. The Division of Labor in Society. Trans. Lewis A. Coser. New York: Free Press, 1997.
- Durkheim, Emile. Suicide: a study in sociology. The Free Press. 1997. Originally published 1951. Pg. 241—276.
- de Chardin, Pierre Teilhard. The Phenomenon of Man. 1955.