The rise of chronic reachability and the accelerated, flexible society: The social construction of the pager, 1987–1999

Jesper Verhoef*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

Despite having been extremely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, the pager has received scant academic attention. Drawing on speed theory, this article provides a discourse analysis of popular representations of the beeper in the Netherlands between 1987 and 1999. It shows that it was first merely “emergency professionals” who were expected to be reachable whenever, wherever. However, the 1990s saw a growing number of occupations adopt the pager, which, additionally, was deployed to speed up tasks. Pagers enabled but also required people to work more efficiently and be more flexible. Articles and advertisements helped naturalize the idea that this was commonsensical. After 1994, an unprecedented pager marketing campaign sold the wider populace on the expectation of continuous reachability, which rapidly became the new norm. Advertisements successfully presented the pager as a communication technology that enabled reachability, yet—unlike its main competitor, the mobile phone—shielded users from constant availability. It thus offered autonomous reachability. All the same, journalists took issue with the reachability boom and flexibilization that pagers helped bring about. They criticized that pagers helped usher in a 24/7 economy, which in turn led to a stress society. Ultimately, then, this article demonstrates that the provenance of our sped-up society—or at least the pervasive idea that we live in one—is to be found before mobile phones and the Internet became ubiquitous.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalMobile Media and Communication
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2023

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Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2023.

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