Phones that Plug into Phones

October 26, 2012 at 12:17am

I was peaceably strolling through the mall on a bright and sunny day when a curious object caught my attention. It was a phone that plugs into your phone. This was a very upsetting experience for me and I do not wish ever to repeat it.

Aside from potential gag value, whenever I say, "Hold on, let me get my phone out," I will most likely not immediately follow that statement by pulling a wired telephone handset out of my pants. In fact, the first image that comes to mind when someone says phone is now that of the nondescript black slate which slides smoothly into pockets. This is somewhat reminiscent of what I like to call the extinct symbols phenomenon: the handset icon on your mobile phone means call, despite the fact that handsets with that shape are becoming a thing of the past. Similarly, the floppy disc means save despite the fact that they already are remnants of another age. In this way, many symbols we now take for granted will be at once meaningful and meaningless to future generations. The floppy disc will lose its semantic meaning and gain another in its place. It will no longer represent a floppy disc object, but the action of saving. (On a side note, how young do you have to be not to know what a floppy disc is at all? When will we forget?)

Back to the phone. We live in an amazing time. A computer in the palm of your hand grants you access to vast knowledge and computational ability. We take for granted the massive complex system of satellites or data centers which make all of this possible. We sometimes forget that a couple of decades ago, the EDGE speeds to which mobile data connections drop when reception is poor would have been considered incredibly fast. So why do we, to paraphrase Karim Rashid, feel the need to revisit the past in the form of kitschy handsets? There's an almost deeply existential feeling associated with going into a shop and, as a consumer, being sold an anachronism. I love the past, I deeply appreciate its shaping power over the present and the future, but phones which plug into phones serve no purpose whatsoever. There is no reason for this product to exist. In regard to both a useless handset and an outdated symbol of one; do they still have meaning when stripped of their purpose? Or do we imbue them with meaning?

In our interactions with objects, form serves function. However, sometimes function is essentially absurd. When I saw the phone-phone, all I could do was to stare confusedly and then take a picture and process my feelings for a while. When prompted with things which make no sense, how can we respond in ways which do?