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Do You Suffer from Cellphone Separation Anxiety?

by Devin Reese -- May 19, 2015
Devin Reese, smiling

Devin is the lead digital science writer for the Q?rius website. She writes and gathers media for the Smithsonian Science How? webcast series,...

Have you seen your cell phone lately? Photo by Devin Reese, Smithsonian.
Have you seen your cell phone lately? Photo by Devin Reese, Smithsonian.

If you feel anxious when you don't have your phone nearby, you are not alone. With some 6 billion cellphones in circulation on Earth, we depend on them for a huge range of services: texting friends, sharing selfies, ordering food, getting news, watching movies, accessing clouds, etc. Our cellphones not only help us manage our daily lives, but also connect us to people around the world in ways, and at speeds, that didn't used to be possible. While a very personal possession, a cellphone also extends us beyond ourselves.

Cultural anthropologists are studying how cellphones both come from and lead to globalization. The global network of supply chains for cellphones rests on the backs of miners in Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa, and factory workers in China and Brazil. The products are sealed and concealed under the sleek glass and metal cases designed in places such as Europe, South Korea, and the United States. When you dispose of a cellphone, you throw away costly minerals including rare earths, tantalum, and gold.

Some anthropologists are analyzing how, why, and when cellphones are repaired rather than tossed out. The Smithsonian's Joshua A. Bell envisions a future of users-as-hackers, able to open up and repair our own phones.

Find out more about the study of our relationships with cellphones by watching a “Smithsonian Science How” webcast video titled Unseen Connections: A Natural History of the Cellphone on the Q?rius website. Dr. Joshua A. Bell, a cultural anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History, discusses and answers questions. Get teaching resources to support your webcast experience.


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