Hanging up on someone is a physical act, a violent one even, one that produces its own pleasure by discharging acrimony. Like the model 500 [phone], the flip-phone supports hang ups because its form is capable of resisting them; because it can survive the force a hangup delivers. Just try to hang up your iPhone or your Samsung Galaxy. I don’t mean just ending a call, but hanging up for real, as if you meant it. For a moment you might consider throwing the handset against a wall before remembering that you shelled out three, four, five hundred dollars or more for the device, a thing you cradle in a cozy as if it were a kitten or a newborn.
Ian Bogost, The Atlantic. The End of the Hangup.
Bogost suggests that cellular devices take the satisfaction out of hanging up — and not just because we can’t slam ‘em down without breaking them — but because we can no longer truly end a call.
Today a true hangup — one you really meant to perform out of anger or frustration or exhaustion — is only temporary and one-sided even when it is successfully executed. Even during a heated exchange, your interlocutor will first assume something went wrong in the network, and you could easily pretend such a thing was true later if you wanted. Calls aren’t ever really under our control anymore, they “drop” intransitively. The signal can be lost, the device’s battery can deplete, the caller can accidentally bump the touch screen and end the call, the phone’s operating system can crash. The mobile hangup never signals itself as such, but remains shrouded in uncertainties.
Whether you’ve slammed down a model 500 phone or you’ve smashed your blackberry, the person on the other end of the line will only hear the “click” (or just silence) as the call ends. That considered, wasn’t the “original hangup” always one-sided and less dramatic for the hangup victim, anyway? Before cell phones, did people never assume that the person they were speaking to may have hung up on accident? Has saying a real goodbye on a cell phone become truly impossible?
FJP: I missed out on the thrill of the model 500. I didn’t start violently hanging up on people (or even talking much on the phone) until I turned 16 in 2006, and by that time I had gotten a flip-phone. It may not have been the slickest hunk o’ plastic money could buy, but man, could that thing snap shut on an annoying phone call from my mother. I must say, now that I’m 23 and sporting an iPhone 5… it’s just not as satisfying to be rude to my mom. Somehow, though, I think I’ll get through it. Doors still slam, you know.
It’s a shame that future tweens and teens won’t know the thrill of an authentic phone hang-up, snap, or slam, but it’s also no tragedy. Like any other technology that was popular 20+ years ago: younger generations won’t know about it, because they really don’t have to. I guess we have no choice but to leave them “shrouded in uncertainty.” — Krissy
Bonus: How Millennial are you? Behold: The Pew Research Center Millennial Quiz.