Today I sent a message to a friend. “What country are you in?” I asked. After I sent that message, I stopped to think about it. I can have a conversation with someone and have no idea where on the planet he is. His location, for all practical purposes, is a number; the disposition of the atoms that carry around his consciousness has become secondary.
We are all (those of us with mobile phones, anyway) disembodied voices, placeless. Until recently, when you spoke to someone, you knew exactly where they were, within shouting range. Then the telephone came along, but if you didn’t know where the person was, you still knew where their phone was. Now a person’s location is more like a probability cloud, to borrow from physics. When someone talks to me, I am most likely in my neighborhood, and the farther afield you imagine, the less likely you are to find me there. Some people are a lot harder to guess, their cloud is much more diffuse.
Of course, if physics really applied, then the less certain we were of where we are, the more certain we’d be about where we’re going. I think it’s pretty safe to say that’s not the case.
But if my mobile phone is allowing me to transcend location, if the meaningful idea of who I am is projected by this placeless device, where am I during those (fairly frequent) periods when I’m not answering the phone?