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Will the Mobile phone be a ghetto-blaster for the micro-blogging generation?

It’s probably not PC to use the term ‘ghetto’ in anything but an historical context these days. But  "ghetto-blaster" has always kinda rocked and - I’m sorry but – lame substitutes like ‘boombox’ simply won’t do. And besides, demographics have a lot to do with it, as you’ll see.

Firstly, why did people stop walking around with ghetto-blasters, like they used to in the 70s? Was it the cost of batteries, combined with the invention of the Walkman, so you no longer had the excuse that it was primarily for your own personal enjoyment and that the showing off and invasion of everyone else’s sound space were simply coincidental? Whatever the case, two decades have gone by and the sight of anyone loping down the street, nodding his head with soul-brother shades and 20lbs of futuristic Japanese hardware perched on his shoulder has become a rare thing. Culture has swung the other way, the social irritant du jour being cream-cord-dangling, non-contributing hipsters hermetically sealed in their silent disco iPods. They don’t need to share their music with you. But poorer people, it seems, do. Younger people too. People with a little bit more to prove. And they are using their phones to do so.

Case 1: two teenagers on the A train, up from Brooklyn for a night out, Tokyo jeans, mint kicks and caps, both holding phones, laid back to the point of supine, chatting away apparently oblivious to everyone else listening to them: as the doors open to the platform and they alight, one plays a Nelly ringtone over his shoulder as a parting gift to the car.

Case 2: in the $ store in Greenpoint, there’s a bottle blonde behind the counter, and a sketchy shell-suit type hanging out pestering her. He's all tattoos and cheap jewelry, doing his Polish bit-part in a Tarantino movie thing, playing her the tunes he’s got on his phone, like she's staring off into the middle distance out of emotion for the music and not because she's aching to get rid of him. As veterans of the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona know, take a late-night walk down the Ramblas and the local hookers follow you down the street serenading you with Nigerian pop downloads in much the same way.

Case 3: four giggling schoolgirls on the subway, two with Nanos, two with phones. Last year they would have been passing the earbuds round. This time the earbuds are on standby, while the girls with the phones get to broadcast to the group. And here’s the crazy thing: this does not sound good. Mobile phones do not produce a pleasant sound. But this does not beat some people’s urge to make a statement, and if they’ve got a fancy phone, then that bestows credibility on an otherwise tacky experience. As the purveyors of ringtones understood when they built empires out of selling 20sec pieces of low-fi sonic garbage for 3 times the price of a full-track download, ringtones are fashion accessories as well as pieces of content, and mobile is about projection as much as it is about reception. Hence the mobile now trumps the mp3 player as the converged device that can communicate as well as entertain.

Audiophiles, lovers of loose language and upholders of the Funk will just have to suppress their excitement while waiting for some bluetooth-enabled Bose 100 watt shoulder-pads to take the shared experience to a whole new level.

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Links, streams & tributaries

  • Myxer For DIY ringtones, Myxer rules. Simple, free and way cool
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  • New Media Age Excellent source of intel from our friends across the pond

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  • Menage a Trois Funky francophile NYC creative shop. Mes amis, eet's all about ze love!

  • Mobile Marketing Association

    The MMA Mobile industry institution that sets best practices and promotes growth
  • Mashable Our daily digital news fix. Hard to imagine life without it
  • GDR Global Design Resources Top notch global design consultants
  • PSFK Clever creators of "likemind" that consult on social media & design