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NewCityNet Soft Cell

By Shelly Ridenour

OCTOBER 18, 1999: 

I Listen: A Document of Digital Voyeurism by The Spacewürm (Incommunicado Press), $13, 149 pages

Considering the fact that people everywhere publicly, blatantly chat on cell phones -- at the grocery store, in bars and restaurants, on the El, walking down the sidewalk -- maybe privacy shouldn't even be an issue. Calling home from the middle of a Jewel aisle for an opinion on frozen corn versus fresh, screaming about your latest lovelife woes over an overheated crowd at Drink, do you really take it for granted that your conversation is private, sacred, intimate?

It's an itchy question that comes blatantly into play with the publication of "I Listen: A Document of Digital Voyeurism," a collection of transcribed conversations and confessions pirated from cellular and portable phone calls from Brooklyn to L.A., Chicago to Phoenix. From March 1996 to November 1997, electronic musician The Spacewürm employed specially modified digital scanning equipment to (illegally) record these eavesdropped phone calls. (The book was delayed for nearly ten months, while publisher Incommunicado Press waded through inherent legal issues.) What he picked up is alternately funny, depressing, idiotic, chilling and, ultimately, a sad statement on the decay of the English language.

"...I'm telling you it's like, yeah I still talk to my mom. It's not the same. And with you, talking to you, it's still the same but it's different."

Amazing to see how many words we waste in a day, isn't it?

From two cops talking about suicide cases ("...she's blown her brains out. And she's just a vegetable...what did...what did...Brian called her a Chia Pet!") to drug deals to booty calls to mother-son arguments, no intimate relationship is left unexposed; like all voyeurism, at a certain point too much becomes mundane, but the fact that most calls are merely snippets, fading in and out like a rolling radio dial, keeps the pages turning. There's plenty of provocative detail, and, like Hitchcock crafted the whole thing, sometimes there's only enough detail for your imagination to wildly fill in the blanks.

"So you wanna come over?" "Yeah, who's over?" "The boy." "Oh yeah?" "Yeah. Where are you?" "Uh, I'm at...I'm home. Let me show up with Chris. Do you think the boy would like to be videotaped?" "Oh yeah, bring it." "Let me check with Chris and I'll get right back to you." "Alright [sic], bye."

In an age when privacy is seemingly quickly becoming an outdated concept -- when cameras catch you at ATMs, in stores and even on city streets, and your vital stats are allegedly available to any 14-year-old hacker with an interest -- "I Listen" practically laughs in the face of your emotional security. But are you upset about the details of your conversation being overheard, or just that your conversation is being overheard? While you might think twice before you say the words "I ain't with no women, I'm stripped down to my boxer shorts watching ESPN, alone" into your Nokia, worried about who's listening, the most important thing to remember is: Who cares?

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