Monday, July 26, 2010

Enough talking

There's no questioning that a lot of people are very gung-ho supporters of the iPhone, and even with the significant problems that the new 4 model was revealed to have after its release and the less-than-contrite response from Apple about that there's little question that the iPhone remains a very in-demand device. In large part, I think that's because even with earlier models and the coverage by AT&T the users are accustomed to poor connectivity when making calls, and that hasn't driven customers away in the past, so the faithful aren't as troubled as one might otherwise expect.

Yes, there are many who've expressed dismay and Consumer Reports could not endorse the new 4 with its problems, but overall I don't perceive that the reputation of the iPhone has dropped to the level of other smart phones. One could easily quip (and I'm sure someone already has) that with all of its marvelous apps but the fact it doesn't handle making actual calls that well it's ironically named. But the thing is: I know many people who have iPhones and when I've discussed it with them many of them freely admit that they don't use it to make calls very much. It's not that they have given up on trying to make calls due to the issues; the way they interact with others using the device does not involve much voice-to-voice communication. So it's not that the irony is lost on them; they simply have embraced it.

That people interact without actual speech over the phone in the same way that was prevalent years ago cannot be laid at the feet of the iPhone, of course, but in my extraordinarily informal polling they have seemed to be the ones who have adopted that method with the greatest ease. But any rudimentary perusal of the mobile phone offerings across the board reveals that touch-screen devices are now the norm. I was in a store not long ago and the majority of what I saw on the shelves did not have a conventional phone appearance. Overwhelmingly I noticed items that had big screens and QWERTY keys, not just a 12-button keypad with numbers. So the industry is moving full-fledged toward a time when making calls will be at best a sideline for every device. And where it makes more sense to call them "devices" than "phones."

Here I should admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that I don't have an iPhone nor any smart phone. My cell phone is one that flips open and makes calls (and every once in a while I get a text message). It has no "data plan"; it does not access the 'net wirelessly. I'm sure the next one I get will have that, but in part that's because I won't have much choice otherwise. It won't be an iPhone, but likely it will have a touch-screen.

Here I should also clarify: This is not a polemic against the iPhone or such touch-screen devices that have essentially replaced the conventional cellular phone, although I can imagine the reader expecting it will be.

The question here is this: Is interacting with others through texts and emails inherently worse than speaking on the phone? I'd argue it's not.

Here's the thing: In the era of cell phones it's possible for someone standing near me or sitting a few seats away on the train who's carrying on a vocal conversation with some unseen party on the other end of the line. Given the noise in the area and the tiny microphone on the device it's not uncommon for the person to speak at a volume that's not exactly what previously would have been appropriate for the telephone, and even though I'm not interested in the conversation I am forced to hear half of it. Especially in a confined space like public transportation there's no escape, and at times the oblivious speaker talks loud enough that I cannot crank up my iPod high enough to drown him out without causing permanent damage to my ears.

And with someone that oblivious there's no point in attempting to persuade the person to speak softer.

By contrast, that same person carrying on that same exchange by pressing tiny letter keys on a device cannot possibly generate a sound that my headphones cannot comfortably exceed with the volume of what I'd rather hear.

Texting/emailing may seem more impersonal to those who are used to actually talking to another on the phone but when one is out in public it's far more considerate for the rest of us who are not involved in the conversation.

Text-based interactions are not perfect, but neither are voice-based ones. And mobile devices seem to acknowledge that.


And while we're on the general topic, let's extend the notion of text-based interactions to the so-called social networking websites like Facebook. It's easy to decry the often shallow level of discourse that occurs there, and to suggest that these "friends" are a pale imitation of "real" relationships. But the reality, in my humble opinion, is that sometimes were it not for such sites there's a lot of people with whom I'd have no contact whatsoever. It's not that I secretly hate them; it's just the way things are these days.

It's not what it used to be, but that doesn't make it nothing. It ain't for everybody, by any means, but it's rather presumptuous to expect that everyone having time to call and visit and spend time in person with all their friends is for everybody either.

And bear in mind that you're reading this, not having me say it to your face. There's little room for quibbling without it being mildly contradictory.


And if it keeps people quiet, I can't complain.


  1. Movie: "The President's Analyst" (1967)

    The most insidious organization in the world - TPC (The Phone Company) wants to maximize profits by implanting small telephones inside everyone's brain. No wires or towers; everyone will communicate brain to brain.

    Of course, this means doing away with names. Everyone will be a number - a phone number.

    With control freak Steve Jobs and his inventions like the iPad, for some reason I think of TPC and "The President's Analyst."

  2. I was hoping for a polemic, nay, a screed, against the iPhone AND texting in general.

    What keeps people quiet is a personal, portable cellphone jammer. I swear by mine. ;-)


So, what do you think?