Mobile phone revolution in the Tundra?

By John Postill

Stammler, F. M. (2009). Mobile Phone Revolution in the Tundra? Technological change among Russian reindeer nomads. Folklore (Tartu) 41, 47-78.

Tentative discussion as author didn’t focus on mobile phones during anthropological fieldwork. Paper based on fieldwork and conversations in 1998-2007.

Mobile phones could well turn out to be revolutionary among Russian reindeer nomads. Novelty is that mobiles bring to Tundra ‘real-time interactive private oral communication’, p. 52.

Mobiles require little energy, and herders already had small portable power generators for lighting years ago, p. 62. Phones carried under their parkas (malitsa), close to body; this protects batteries from winter cold, p. 62

Elena interesting remark: ‘There is nothing to talk about when you visit your neighbours’ – coz now can keep up with news and gossip via mobiles, p. 63

[Great for micro-coordination, see Ling]. For example:

1. Male herder said you can now be with herd and on your way home and tell wife to ‘heat the stove and brew some fresh tea’, p. 63.

2. Reindeer herdering union’s HQ could coordinate slaughters, timing, supplies, meat delivery to oil company settlement, etc, all via mobiles, p. 64

3. collect info for herders’ insurance companies, p. 64 [Freedom of the tundra and modcons all at once? where do I sign up?]

In sum, there is much potential of mobiles to improve herders’ livelihoods, p. 65

Mobile trends among reindeer nomads:

  • Young men are early adopters and drivers of mobile phone changes
  • Middle-aged men starting to use mobiles for work as well as networking with relatives
  • Young and middle-aged women use phones more for leisure, incl. news and gossip, p. 66

In 2006 (only seven months after mobiles introduced) herders laughed at anthropologist for using ‘totally outdated’ mobile and in 2007 for using ‘female’ handset, i.e. have been very quick to absorb wider societal normative views on mobiles.

Researchers in metropolitan centres have argued that mobiles increase the elasticity of life, from precise moments of pre-mobile life to ‘approximate’ moments, esp. teens and young adults ability to ‘tie together their peer group against the backdrop of a relatively nomadic life’.

But in Russian Tundra very different: mobiles don’t increase freedom, they reduce it: ‘planning security increases, moments are stated more precisely, and life becomes less “elastic”‘ , i.e mobiles ‘tighten the grip on people’s life rhythm, and reduce freedom and flexibility’, p. 71.

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2 responses to “Mobile phone revolution in the Tundra?

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review, thanks for your visits | Mobile Livelihoods

  2. Pingback: New paper: Media and social changing since 1979 | media/anthropology

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