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Despite the global warming reports snow covered the Moscow roads and rooftops just on time this year, preluding to the urban installation of the New Year trees all around the city, bringing romanticism into the hearts of the Muscovites, and inspiring citizens to upload new Christmas-related videos (along with those featuring car crashes) at the http://mreporter.ru/, a citizen journalism project recently launched by the Rossiya TV channel.

‘Mobile Reporter’ is similar in its concept to the CNN iReport. A cell phone is called mobile phone in Russia, and videos are often taken by the mobile phone cameras, and the most compelling ones are selected by professional editors and shown in the news programs.

My friend used to work with Nokia. To be exact, she just got a job at the General Motors in Moscow, but she was working for Nokia for five years, and was into promoting each and every new model on the market. She had some personal attitude towards those business-Es and entertainment-Ns produced by the Finnish giant, and could talk ceaselessly about their numerous functions. I bet it is partly her contribution that Nokia quickly became the leader on the Russian market. At least, she likes to think so. She also got me addicted to Nokia, and had no problems convincing me that the N93 genius, which I just substituted with an iPhone, was not a camera, not a music player, not a high-brow organizer, but actually a cell phone.

A couple of years ago I wrote a story for a techno mag about the importance of a cell phone in the lives of Russians. Throughout the consumer hyper-boom a mere gadget established itself in the country as an indicator of social status, along with other traditional attributes such as wrist watches, cars and yachts. Here it’s natural to purchase a new cell phone every 5 months, hunting for hot models. No wonder, Vertu (the hi-end product line by Nokia) is so successful in Russia.

Last week I had a chance to make sure that the devil, as the joke runs, is in the details. At the presentation of the new Vertu Signature model ($15,500!) which took place in the new posh restaurant in the very heart of Moscow there were many magazine tech reporters watching how ‘vertu-smiths’ were putting together the new phones. Those delicate components – tiny clinchers, keys, screws and gudgeons – scattered on the snow-white table cloth reminded me of skeleton parts of an exquisite tropic butterfly that Vladimir Nabokov might much have admired. Vertu top management representative says that the company keeps the sales numbers confidential and never brings them into the open, as they don’t want to confuse the market players: Vertu sells incomparably fewer pieces than Samsung, for instance, does, but more than luxury wrist-watch producers do. The number is somewhere in the middle, but it still keeps journalists intrigued. The sales director adds that Russia is one of the key markets for Vertu. Cause of the global financial crisis – he admits – the sales numbers are expected to drop, but not significantly.

It’s entertaining and good to know that the Vertu ringtones are no ordinary synth-mix, but music exclusively composed for Vertu by Academy Award-winning composer Dario Marianelli and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Well, Mr. Mies van der Rohe is right reporting that the God is in details.

The passion for cell phones in Russia also goes a folklore way. In almost any mobile service store you may buy those one-of-a-kind Nokia and Motorola cell phones bearing an artist’s touch – gilded, painted, ornately decorated in bijouterie gems matching the folklore patterns… And some customers find them no less eye-catchy than Austrian jeweler Peter Aloisson’s 320-diamond encrusted iPhone masterpiece (120,000 EUR). Covered in snake and crocodile skins, it is still a Nokia, but with a character and a personality. And it costs 3-4 times more than the original model. I would probably never buy one. For me those are more of a museum exhibit and an arts-and-crafts product. I prefer functionality about gadgets. But those definitely have their avid fans. Especially among ladies.

It’s an exciting cultural trait that a cell phone plays such an important social role in Russia. And not only Muscovites, but also the citizens of Sochi have very sophisticated cell phones boasting with numerous functions. In Sochi by the way more mobile service stores are being opened in the center as well as farther from the heart of the city. I’m pretty sure that those citizen journalists or occasional witnesses of thrilling happenings who send their videos to Mobile Reporter use very advanced gadgets. In other words, if you are a citizen reporter having a sophisticated tool, your stakes, no doubt, might grow in Russia.
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