The Day The Phone Call Died

The other day I had an actual telephone call on my cell phone.  Not an email, not a text, not a robocall from a telemarketer or scammer, not a social media interaction — an actual telephone call, where I spoke to real live person and we had a back-and-forth conversation in real time.  It seemed almost like a red-letter event.

Child talking on the telephoneI don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the personal telephone call is dying a long, slow, agonizing death.  (Business calls are another matter, obviously.)  The process began with the decision of many people, Kish and me included, to get rid of our home land line phone because it had become only the source of annoying telemarketing and survey calls during dinner, and we figured we didn’t need it anyway because we had cell phones.  Then, with the advent of texting and email and social media, those became the preferred methods of communication.  Friends who used to touch base by telephone now do so by texting, often in group texts, or by responding to a Facebook post about a new job or new member of the family or new dog or new recipe.  It’s quicker and easier and viewed as less intrusive than placing an actual telephone call.  Others argue that these other forms of communication are more efficient than phone calls, because you can send pictures and attach documents and data.

It’s kind of curious that the number of phone calls are falling while the statistics show that the use of cell phones overall is increasing.  In short, people just aren’t using cell phones anymore for what used to be their principal purpose — i.e., making telephone calls — but instead are glued to their phones to check the news, reactions to social media posts, email traffic, and play games.

Will there be a day when the phone call as a communications tool actually dies?  That would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago, but it seems increasingly plausible now.  I hope it doesn’t happen, because I still think phone calls are superior for certain forms of communication — because in a telephone call you can hear the other party’s voice, which through its tone, and pauses, and other non-verbal clues can tell you something about how the other party is doing and how they are reacting to what you’re saying.  Phone calls are a lot more personal than texts or emails, and I hope there is always a role for them.

Seriously Sick Of Surveys

Some time ago we made a significant purchase.  For purposes of this post, the product or service in question is irrelevant.  It could be a phone, it could be a vehicle, it could be a major appliance, or a stay in a hotel, or some kind of streaming service, or a political contribution.  The item makes no difference, because it is the experience surrounding the expenditure that is the point — and the experience is, unfortunately, pretty much the same no matter what you spend your money on these days.

survey-11In virtually every case, you’ve got to make the decision on whether to give your email address and get the app that is specific to the purchased item.  These choices raise key decision points for the consumer:  do you give out your email address, knowing that you are losing control of an important bit of your personal privacy, and do you clutter your phone with apps that may give rise to unwanted beeps and buzzes and messages clogging your primary communications device?  I try to be judicious about this judgment call, and think about what I might really want and need as a result of each particular purchase.  If I think I may need to get an important message — like a product recall alert, or a warranty issue, or a service call — I’ll grudgingly give up the information.  Otherwise, I politely decline.

But when you do give up that information, the upshot is as predictable as an overnight Trump Twitter storm — you’re going to be getting surveys.  And in the modern world it won’t be just one survey; now, you’re likely to get a survey as soon as you make the purchase, and then get additional survey requests in the future, even if you’ve faithfully filled out the initial survey.  The survey bombardment is relentless.  Each survey request promises that it will take “only” a few minutes, but it’s pretty clear from the questions that what the survey is really seeking is not customer satisfaction information about the specific product or service you’ve just bought, but rather information about you and your personal preferences and perceptions and lifestyle, so that the seller of the item can better market things to you in the future.

I hate this reality of modern life.  The survey onslaught really irritates me, and also negatively affects my perception of the product.  It’s obvious that the seller that sends the survey doesn’t place much value on my time and also thinks I must be a sap, besides, if I’m going to gladly divulge personal information that enriches them and provides me with no benefit.  Maybe sellers with surveys are like email scammers — they know most rational people will just delete the message, but if they get just one sap to participate they’ve received a significant benefit at minimal cost.  I routinely delete the survey requests, and spend a few seconds steaming about the arrogance of the sender.

Do sellers understand how people like me react to surveys, or do they just not care?

Dogfishing

Here’s another sign of how out of step I am with popular culture:  the new trend in on-line dating websites is to post a photo in which the person who wants a date poses with some cute dog . . . who isn’t actually their dog.

dog-yawningIt’s called “dogfishing.”  The underlying concept is that a picture with an adorable dog instantly communicates something about the life and personality of the person in the photo.  Dog ownership is associated with positive qualities, so photos with dogs convey, to some people, at least, that the person is a friendly, nurturing type who loves animals.  After all, if the dog in the photo evidently likes the person, that’s an endorsement of sorts.  Plus, the dog in the photo is something that the two strangers who connect through the dating site can talk about when they meet each other.

So some on-line dating app users — mostly men, apparently — have decided to latch on to the positive associations of dog ownership, without actually having to deal with poop pick-up, worms, shedding, and the other negative attributes of actual dog ownership.  They find a dog, get a consciously cute picture taken with the dog, ditch the dog, post their picture, and they’re off to the races.  Apparently they’re banking on making a lasting connection before the people they meet through the websites figure out that there is no dog.

I’ve read about users of on-line dating sites misrepresenting their physical appearance, employment status, education, and the like, so another bit of conscious deception probably shouldn’t be a surprise.  But, to me, taking a fake photo with a cute dog in hopes that some gullible dog lover decides to venture a meeting seems to plumb new depths in on-line deception.  What’s next?  Fake mothers?

Indexers And Thumbers

Have you ever noticed that people send texts in two different ways?  (And I’m not talking about overuse of emoticons, either.)  Some people use their index fingers to tap out their messages, whereas other people use their thumbs.  And people never seems to vary how they do the texting, either.  You’re either a thumber, or an indexer.

stop-texting-with-people-when-youre-not-interestedWhen you think about it, it’s a bit odd that there is no universally accepted method for efficiently and correctly performing what is now a widely used form of modern communication.  It’s like watching someone sit down at a keyboard and then use a totally unknown approach to quickly and accurately typing out a document — say, by positioning their hands at each side of the keyboard or coming in from the top, rather than the bottom.  Or handing someone a cell phone and watching them use the buttons to send a message in Morse code rather than speaking.

Both the thumb approach and the index approach seem to be equally functional — although, being a thumber myself, I firmly believe that the thumb method allows faster messaging.  I wonder if the two methods exist side-by-side because texting is still a relatively new form of communication and we’re in the VHS versus Beta phase, where standardization hasn’t set in.  The fact that there isn’t vocational training on texting — at least, to my knowledge, not yet — probably also contributes to texters having more freedom to develop their own favored method.

One thing is clear, however — thumbing versus indexing definitely has a different look.  The index approach to tapping out a message is far more genteel and elegant, with the three unused fingers of the hand dangling to the side of the phone, giving the same kind of look projected by blue-haired sophisticates who sip their tea from delicate china cups with the pinky extended.  The thumb approach, in contrast, treats the cell phone like a sturdy hand tool that you grip tightly and use to mash out a message without a second thought.

One approach is high society, the other is blue collar.  Me, I’m a blue-collar guy.

Communications Breakdown

Recently I got an email my favorite uncle sent to my gmail account.  In the email, he posed a question about something, and when I opened his email I found that the gmail autobots had already provided me with three options for a reply email — “yes,” “I don’t know,” and “no.”  Any one of the three options would in fact have been responsive to the email question.

cyberAII found this troubling.  Of course, the proposed response options revealed that the gmail autobots had read the email to me, had interpreted the question correctly, and were sophisticated enough to develop likely responses.  It wasn’t a matter of simply seeing a question mark and generating standard replies; the proposed responses wouldn’t have been appropriate for a question about where something happened or when something was bound to occur.  But the privacy issues involved in this “read the email and suggest responses” process really didn’t bother me all that much, because anybody who thinks there is much privacy in gmail communications is really kidding themselves.

No, what bothered me instead was the continued roboticization of our interpersonal communications.  I wondered how many people, faced with this same scenario, would simply have chosen one of the three response options, used the phrasing proposed by the autobots, and been done with it.  The concept offended me, so I typed a response to the question in my own words — and of course the autobots made suggestions about my wording and employed autofill in case I needed to make the communications process even faster, more hassle-free . . . and less personal.

The whole incident made me think about how, in some respects, technology isn’t aiding meaningful human interaction, but instead might be effectively preventing it.  How much of our communications — from the “Happy birthday” wishes on Facebook to the proposed responses to email messages — is in fact a canned bit of programming sent by pushing a button, rather than the actual expression of a human being?

Nobody sends handwritten letters any more, but is a personally typed, self-composed email too much to ask?

A Quiet, Peaceful Place

Yesterday we took a hike around Lily’s Pond. In the summer it is a popular swimming spot, but yesterday, with the season over, not a soul was around. It was totally silent, and there wasn’t even a breath of wind — leaving the water unruffled and as reflective as a looking glass.

They say everyone needs to have a peaceful, happy place to think of when they need to escape the hurly-burly rush of modern life. When I need to mentally visit that quiet place, I’ll be thinking of Lily’s Pond, just as it was yesterday.

When You Need To Shave With An Axe . . .

I get all kinds of weird email offers and see strange products on pop-up ads, but I think I’ve just seen something that tops them all.  It’s the “Viking Celtic Nordic style straight razor warrior axe.”

magic-ethnics-warrior-axe-straight-razor-4As the name suggests, the product is a straight razor in the form of a miniature axe, one that some designer apparently thinks looks like the kind of lethal but cool axe that the “Viking Celtic Nordic” guys might have used in days gone by.  And it’s not only got the faux ancient axe design — it also comes in a box shaped like a block of wood, with a little carve-out area for the axe.  You know, like the kind of wooden box the “Viking Celtic Nordic” guys used to carry their shaving supplies when they went on one of their raids.

It’s as if the simple act of shaving isn’t “manly” enough, so now we’ve got to up the ante by using a fake axe instead of a plain straight razor — or a safety razor with multiple blades, which is what I use.  Presumably after lopping off their facial hairs, the axe shavers are all charged up to go out and loot and pillage and ransack, just like the “Viking Celtic Nordic” studs used to do back when men were axe-shaving men.

It all seems kind of silly and desperate, doesn’t it?  Are there really guys out there who feel the need to buy this kind of stuff?  You can get it on Amazon for only $125.