Nokia - Distracting People*

Hey Anna, how are you? - Oh that is weird! – Did she really.. - Say that again, - oh, she is always like that... She is so much work that girl! - Do you know what I heard the other day, Karen and Peter had a fling last summer, it’s sooo bad, - you know it’s really too much after all this Peter’s wife have been through …

Normal Opiates

Four hours in front of the data screen everyday should be about the average time spend in most jobs. That amount of time more or less ensures the daily need for the data screen addiction. Then comes three hours in front of the TV, enough to see the news, some commercials and finally a charming movie with Nicole Kidman from 1993. One hour on the phone, four text messages written with the thumb, more than 15 emails sent and some photos mailed from a distant friend. That is about it – on a day in the life in the tertiary sector.


Imagine philosopher and composer Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno in exile in the United States driving around in a car with the Hollywood sign in the background thinking about his home city Frankfurt being bombed to pieces during the Second World War while Jewish people like himself where send to extermination camps. The Hollywood response to all this misery was sheer entertainment. Certainly better than bombs – and despite the utterly depressing setting, this was somehow a very productive period for Adorno. Living with Sunset Boulevard, the desert and the Pacific Ocean as backdrop, the reactionary** composer and philosopher began to defend the idea and inherent complexity of high art.

In the essay “Die Kulturindustrie. Aufklärung als Massenbetrug”*** from 1944, Adorno and his fellow exile Max Horkheimer attack the phenomena of entertainment industry and all its’ derivatives such as radio, news broadcasting, film and popular music. They accuse the cultural industry of erasing memory and thoughts and thereby functioning as a tool of repression. According to Adorno and Horkheimer the culture industry is a tyranny of mass distraction forming an environment where it is completely impossible to contemplate or pursue different modes of living – all though it is done in the name of bringing culture and enlightment to the people. The culture industry-essay is far away now. Since the Second World War, the media presence has multiplied outrageously causing most people to be surrounded by at least one communication device 24 hours a day. This substantial media disruption that was foreseen in the Adorno/Horkheimer-essay has now developed into this universal life companion meaning that every time we try to gather our thoughts we are interrupted, corrupted and infected by external devices. Like an uncompelled painkiller, these disturbances remove the existential pain that might follow a longer contemplative session or a fundamental feeling of being in doubt.

Despite the fact that most post-war artistic creation has been heavily influenced by mass cultural phenomenas, I still think Adorno and Horkheimer’s severe criticism of cultural industry is a very precise diagnosis of our current situation. The tool of repression today is an all-embracing phenomena that shapes our every minute.

“Hiiiiii, Felix, this is me, the unique Miss Kitten, from France or Switzerland, I am in Grenoble…with a record, we make music, and eehh - yeah. Next time you come to Switzerland bring some good vibes your nice sunglasses, its gonna be hot and sunny, bye…."****


According to leading network suppliers 50 % of all mobile communication is related to gossip and 25 % to locating people. As much as we love them, I guess we all are annoyed with Nokia. Look around, once alone in the crowd the production of text messages has replaced the contemplative cigarette. We are imprisoned by this technology of communication and auto survelliance. Call up somebody and you immediately know where she is - or at least the network knows. As a tool of surveillance the mobile phone is a magnificent device due to its’ constant positioning. As long as you are connected, the network always know where you are. The police are sorting out numerous crimes by checking the location of a certain phone at a certain time. No running about. Spouses check up on each other – so nobody is cheating. Parents can monitor their kids by calling them up at school or at the playground. Meanwhile people around us listen to our conversations. As long as you are connected there is no way out.

In the midst of all these phone calls, the network suppliers and the manufactures of phones are not satisfied with their current revenues or the forecast of potential future profits. They all look to the third generation of mobile phones with a certain worry. Perhaps the consumers will not use MMS and data transmissions. But I think it is going to be allright for the networks. There is just this little problem: everytime I think the phone rings…

Hiii! Where are you? Oh, - Can you call me back later, and lets figure out where to meet, - yeah, - oh that’s great, listen I am here with a friend, so lets talk about it later, -ok -Ciao…


I think we have to think - in the midst of all disturbances - as a reaction to all the distraction. One possibility is to be engaged in the protected area of art. I think the 1960s Situationists had a strong point suggesting that the only way to relate to the ‘Society of Spectacle’ is to construct new spectacles alongside already existing ones. Hence, the situation became the answer.

Now, the situation take on a whole spectrum of colours. There is the soft and quiet spectacle of the artist Karl Holmqvist who has recently started to drone out his readings in a Japanese renga style creating an obscure ambience where text and voice together form a particular kind of presence heading towards unknown territory. An oeuvre without conclusion – establishing meaning on its’ own premises. A captivating method of quiet opposition.

And there is the participatorial strategy of the art group Superflex who establishes platforms for people to engage with. Such as the internet TV, Superchannel, which provide tools for communication and debate for people all over the world – reaching users and participants that have never been involved in this area before. In this case the art has become instrumentalized to a degree where it is nothing but a tool – no more, no less. However, this instrumentalization is only possible because they use the protected area of art as their starting point.

Then there is the possibilty of entering the distraction, the spectacle, and try to work within the culture as a virus. A recent example of this could be the piece “Annlee” by Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno when they purchased the copyright of one of the Manga figures. They have rescued Annlee from an industry which sooner or later would condemn her to death due to the limited life time of consumer products. They now offer artists the opportunity to manipulate Annlee and thereby extend her fragile life on earth. Hyughe and Parreno employ the same means as the mass culture, the idea of copyright – but they situate Annlee in the sphere of art. While mimicking the mode of mass culture, Hyughe and Parreno manages to transform the product and it’s symbolic value.

Commercial, cultural and political interests will always threaten the protected area of art. We have to be very smart in order to keep art as free as possible from these interests. Whether through act of contemplation, spread of viruses, play or critique we should constantly aim at disturbing the tyranny of disturbance.

*. Nokia – connecting people. Goodiepal/Mainpal, 2001.
**. So he has often been accused of being. But I am sure I agree at all points. He is a complex figure – both reactionary and progressive at the same time.
***. Dialektik der Aufklärung, Social Studies Association Inc., New York 1944.
**** Felix da Housecat, Kittens and thee Glitz, track 5, Omnisounds, 2001.

Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Copenhagen, April 2003.