In the following passage, William J. Mitchell dives deeply into one very specific technological change, the ability to track a person's location when he or she makes a call from a cellphone. It also provides an example of the author's persistent use of Ulysses as metaphor.

Another way to get more precise location codes is to measure signal strength at three base stations. This provides sufficient information to compute a location by triangulation. This will probably be done increasingly as phone location codes are put to more and more practical uses.

Phone location codes are, of course, a decidedly mixed blessing. They provide telecommunications companies with billing information and traffic statistics. If available to governments, they can be used for the most chilling kind of comprehensive citizen surveillance, and if available to telemarketers they can be used to direct pinpoint junk mail right to your phone. They can also be used by the police and the military for real-time tracking of targets; terrorists have learned that cellphone calls may be answered by missiles. More benignly, they allow 911, roadside emergency, and taxi calls to be tagged automatically with caller coordinates. In today's Dublin, you wouldn't need a novelist's omniscience to follow Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Buck Mulligan around the city; you could just track their cellphone usage. And if Leopold could get access to the logs, he could figure out precisely what Molly was up to [ME++, 115-116]


1. If you could make it illegal or technologically impossible to track the location from which you are using any device, including the physical location of your computer (found from your IP address), your cell phone, and a wired-phone, would you do so? Why or why not?

2. Why do you think that Mitchell choose to reference Joyce's Ulysses so often, and do you like or dislike the assumptions he is making about his readers' knowledge?

3. Assuming that we are almost at a technological level for a local pizza parlor to text-message your cell phone as you walk by, offering you 10% off if you show them the text message in the next half hour, will this ability be used, and if so, will be an effective advertising strategy, and annoying gimmick, or both?

4. Some states now require cell phones to have the ability to always broadcast their location to 911 when an emergency call is made -- is this a policy that should be widely implemented? Why or why not?

5. Do you think that that triangulation from cell towers will stay the technological standard for finding a cellphone's location, or will phones increasingly be equipped with GPS receivers? Either way, what does that say about the continual arms race to produce a "better" gadget that can do more than its competitor?

Course Website cyborg Body & Self Me++

Last modified 1 February 2005