Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."




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Thursday, August 2, 2018

THE INEFFABLE MYSTERIOUSNESS OF CELL PHONES


It was a long walk, and after I had concluded all the thoughts outlined in the previous post, I got to thinking about cell phones.  Cell phones!  Why cell phones?  Well, yesterday was my granddaughter Athena’s tenth birthday, and my son Tobias, who has been staying at his house in Palm Springs, was due to fly up to San Francisco for the birthday party.  I was hoping I could reach him there on his cell phone and maybe talk to him, to his older brother Patrick, and to Athena, all together.

Then an odd thought occurred to me.  How would my cell phone know that Tobias was in San Francisco, and not in Palm Springs?  If we were still in landline days, I would call Palm Springs and get the answering machine if he had already left.  Then I would hang up and call Patrick’s landline to see whether everyone had gathered yet for the party.  But if I call Tobias’ cell phone, he will answer it whichever place he is at.  Indeed, I might get him in his car on the way to the airport, or in the cab going from SFO to Patrick’s home.  If at the last minute he had been called back to Philadelphia, I would reach him there.

Now I have a vague untechnical grasp of cell towers and all of that.  I understand that when I call Tobias, the signal is passed from cell tower to cell tower, from North Carolina to Palm Springs – or to San Francisco, or to wherever else Tobias happens to be.  But since, when I call him, even I may not know where he is, the signal must go to every single cell tower in the United States.  I mean, he might even have come to North Carolina to surprise me with a visit, and he might actually be standing outside my apartment door ready to knock when I call him.

And since there is nothing technically special about my cell phone or his, it must be the case that every single call made by anyone anywhere in America goes to every single cell tower in America, and hence is available to me [or to anyone else] no matter where in America I am.

It gives one pause.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would guess that each cell phone continuously "checks in" with whatever cell towers are close by. Then the phone companies will maintain huge directories of which towers are associated with which phone numbers and so they can broadcast any incoming call through the appropriate towers. The amount of human effort and ingenuity and public support/coordination/regulation needed to build up this infrastructure is still mind blowing...

- Alex

Anonymous said...

They sell that:

https://airsage.com/

https://www.theverge.com/2013/4/9/4187654/how-carriers-sell-your-location-and-get-away-with-it

https://www.businessinsider.com/verizon-cell-phone-location-data-brokers-2018-6

It is easy to figure out the users as well if you can identify other aggregation services they get sucked into as well.

They sell the data to large real estate firms to figure out anything from vacancy rates to pedestrian traffic in a mall. Similar to those hoses laid out on streets that figure out how many cars drive past a point per day...

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Wow, it never crossed my mind that Tobias' cell phone was, as it were, checking in each time he came in range of another tower. Extraordinary. That too suggests a staggering capacity for information. But of course, that is why every spy film features someone who, by leaving his or her cell phone on, can be tracked. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I was never serious about privacy until I saw employees at large silicon valley firms put their cell phone in faraday cage bags.

https://www.amazon.com/Mission-Darkness-Non-Window-Faraday-Phones/dp/B01A7MACL2

Which I am sure Manafort, Trump, Flynn all know to do as well.

Jerry Fresia said...

It's even more fascinating than that. Given the distances involved, calculations must be made to account for relativity and measurements of time.

Watch this Ted Talk: How Your Smartphone's GPS Uses Quantum Mechanics To Locate You

https://gizmodo.com/how-your-smartphones-gps-uses-quantum-mechanics-to-loca-1682574240