Telephones … kinda dumb …

October 25, 2007

I have a problem with telephones … I always have. I don’t own a cell-phone (I’m not even sure that I can spell it), and don’t really want one. To me cell-phones are like horses with jet-packs strapped on their backs.

Here’s why I think in this strange way. I consider the telephone to be a remarkably primitive instrument that not only works like something that’s well past its prime, but also doesn’t fit with the way people behave in these high-tech days. This might seem like a very strange thing to say since the moment I step out of my office I will likely see hordes of people talking on the things. What bothers me about the telephone is that it makes unreasonable demands of me. It rings loudly and stupidly, like it’s the only machine that I deal with and that I must pay attention to it. My life life doesn’t work that way anymore … I read my email when I feel like it, I respond to chat when I’m damn well ready, I get information from the web when it’s convenient, and I watch my TV shows when I think it’s the right time. The phone has no respect for that … it can not wait and behaves as though I’m some early 20th century hillbilly that’s amazed that a call is coming in from my aunt and uncle in the next county. It seems very childish … like my kids who walk into the middle of a conversation and just start talking to me, seemingly unaware that there are other things going on in my life. I want to say, “hey phone, you’re just one of the many machines that I’m paying attention to at the moment … wait your turn”.

Then when I do answer the phone (and if I have a choice, I admit that I often don’t), its all wrong. My life is about multi-tasking, and I like it that way. I enjoy doing five things at once. Once I answer the phone, I have to sit down and pay attention to just one thing. Pauses in the conversation are not tolerated, and if the person on the other end can hear me typing away at something, I’m being rude. When I chat, or deal with email, I can turn away for a bit and attend to something important. If I send back a chat message a few minutes later nobody says, “what the hell just happened … where were you!?” I have chat conversations that go on half a day, but messages only go out a few times an hour … it’s like being in a room with another person who’s working. Occasionally you say something, but you don’t have to sit on opposite sides of the table and give each other your undivided attention and never pause between sentences.

This is precisely why cell-phones are so dangerous. People driving while talking on the phone are expected to give their undivided attention to the person on the other end … this does not bode well for the driver. Even walking while talking on the phone is extra dangerous. The telephone was invented in a very different time, when there weren’t a lot of other machines to compete with (particularly no machines that were meant for communication between people). That’s why it’s a horse with a jet-pack … it’s the same old dumb point-to-point device all dressed up like a space age machine. They’re small now and look like they came out of Star Trek, but they’re still just glorified cans with strings stretched between them.

A number of years ago our folks here at the university in charge of communication asked us what we wanted in terms of telephone technology. I said to keep the phone and just make my computer the tool for communicating … why do I need two machines on my desk when my computer is a far more capable communication device? To this day I sit here wondering why this funny thing that’s a cross between my old black rotary phone and a little hobbled computer is sitting here on my desk within inches of a computer that can do everything it can do … and do it much better. Damn thing could ring at any moment …



  1. I completely agree. Until recently I had been using a blackberry, sort of phone and computer grafted to one another. I rarely used the phone function, preferring text based communication (emails). Admittedly the text worked better than a phone in high volume environments (in which I found myself often), but I found that I too would rather respond when I wanted to, not when the caller wanted. Now that I only have a cell-phone, I’m not enjoying it at all.

  2. Forget features and functionality go back to using a 1970’s retro dial telephone. Far better 🙂

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