Digital Relics Via Mobile Phone
By Carlo Longino, Fri Apr 08 22:45:00 GMT 2005

It wasn't uncommon for religious pilgrims of the past to take home a relic from their journeys; this week in Rome, those relics were cameraphone pictures.

Clearly technology has changed the way people experience and relate major events. First-hand accounts from the Vatican this week spread via SMS and MMS, and from a podcasting priest. But perhaps the most interesting development is how many people snapped cameraphone pictures of Pope John Paul II as he laid in state in St. Peter's Basilica.

Although photography was prohibited, the Vatican did nothing to stop people snapping away. Does this speak to the pervasiveness of mobiles in modern culture, particularly in Italy, or does it hint at a deeper meaning of how technology is impacting cultural and religious constructs? Are these low-quality cameraphone images something more than a casual, everyday photo?

There's already been debate on the appropriateness of the photos. Some see the photgraphy as intrusion on a solemn occasion; others see it as a modern, technological equivalent of people going home and sharing their experience with friends and family.

One interesting possibility is how ubiquity plays into the photos people took. Certainly many of them took pictures they wouldn't have without a cameraphone, simply because they always have the phone with them. But ubiquity applies to the viewing of the images as well -- in addition to being able to share them with others, they'll always be carrying the pictures around with them, almost like a lucky charm, religious token or other relic. While undoubtedly some people will make such photos their wallpaper and change it to something else over time, others will likely take a much more reverential stance and look at them as something much more significant than wallpaper: "It's more of a spiritual memento," than something like a screensaver, the IHT quoted one person as saying.