Crisis of the summons

What Does Answering the Phone Mean? And further: are mobile-phone users exploiting new resources for customizing their ringtones with an orientation towards the management of the interactional problems which the development of ‘ubiquitous summoning’ may entail?

Christian Licoppe, Professor of Sociology of Information and Communication Technologies and head of Research Groups at Telecom ParisTech believes they are. His soon-to-be published research paper explains that –

“Musical ringtones are chosen or designed by users, so that the shaping of the summons becomes a personal project of the recipients. They are shaped as ambiguous cues inviting two kinds of responsive actions, that is, treating them as a summons (inviting their being answered to) or as a music (inviting their being listened to).”

The professor goes on to demonstrate that musical ringtones are chosen (or sometimes created by) phone users as a kind of  ‘treat’ – a personal gratification which the users employ to “… juxtapose and contrast with the obligation to answer that the ringtone incarnates.” Thus, ringtone use (and possibly misuse) provides evidence for what the author calls a ‘crisis of the summons’. A crisis which is “… occurring as a collateral effect of increased availability requirements, which reshapes the ways we experience and perform the normative social order which underlies all social encounters.”

What Does Answering the Phone Mean? A Sociology of the Phone Ring and Musical Ringtones ‘ is scheduled for publication in a future issue of the journal Cultural Sociology.

Further reading : Musical Madeleines, Improbable Research April, 2010.