When The Phone Goes Dead

Alice Robb takes note of a remote village in Papua New Guinea where locals call the deceased on their cellphones:

[The villagers] have long been confident in their ability to talk to the dead, believing they can communicate with the world of spirits in dreams, visions, and trances induced by special rituals. The introduction of mobile phones has opened up new possibilities: The Ambonwari believe they can use them to contact their dead relatives, whose numbers they obtain from healers. And once they reach them, they can ask for anything. “It is a general conviction,” write [anthropologists Borut] Telban and [Daniela] Vavrova, “that once people know the phone numbers of their deceased relatives they can ring and ask the spirits to put money in their bank accounts.”

I asked Telban if the villagers are discouraged that they never get through to the spirit world; he assured me that they’re not. They might assume the spirits aren’t available. And they ring random numbers so often that occasionally they do reach someone, whose voice they attribute to a spirit.

Meanwhile, in the US, hardly anyone seems to use their cellphones to call the living:

In fact, the use of voice calls – which has been dropping since 2007, the year Apple introduced the original iPhone – has fallen off a cliff lately. As of last year, cell providers in the U.S. are now making more money per user from data use than voice calling. (The U.S. is only the seventh nation to reach the data-voice tipping point — it happened in countries like Japan as early as 2011.) A recent survey of 7,000 U.S. high-school seniors found that only 34 percent made phone calls every day — far fewer than the number who texted or used apps like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. And companies like AT&T and Verizon, which saw the data boom coming years ago, have been spending more and more on new, bigger LTE data networks, while essentially giving away their voice plans for free.