Thursday, December 26th, 2013

I really want to like my smart phone. And for the most part, I do. It can do some pretty awesome stuff I never asked for or even expected it to do. Besides the obvious extras – texting, browsing the internet – it’s got GPS, for instance, so when I call up a Google map, a little blue dot will float down the street I’m walking or driving along. I can’t get lost while I have this phone on me. That kind of rocks my world.

I can also look up almost anything at will. Anything at all. The great big holes in my memory are no longer as frustrating as they used to be. I can usually remember enough background information to successfully google the web page where all the details I need to fill the holes can be found. That definitely rocks my world, no question.

And there are lots of nifty gadgets called apps I can get for the phone. I love gadgets. I love being able to keep a log of how far I walk each day. That particular app even maps each walk so I can keep track of where I’ve been. Love it. Very geeky.

What my smart phone is not particularly good at, ironically, is making a phone call. The reasons are simple, and there are only two: The audio quality sucks, and most people, including yours truly, have very little no radio discipline.

In my lifetime, telephones – real telephones, not cell phones – almost always had good audio quality. Even the cheap plastic ten-dollar phones that drug stores have been selling in blister packs for the last fifteen years or so delivered better audio quality than the best cell phones. I don’t know why, unless it’s because telephones are hardwired into a network while cell phones communicate by radio. Whatever the cause, that was the biggest reason I resisted disconnecting our land line for so long. I liked being able to hear my mom’s voice as it might have sounded if she were not very far away at all. Then she got a cell phone, after practically everybody else I knew did, and then it didn’t matter whether or not I had a land line. Clarity became obsolete. Think about that.

But the thing that really bugs me about cell phones is that they are not telephones at all, but glorified walkie-talkies, hand-held radios that can imitate telephonic communication by virtue of their computer brains. Imitate it, mind you. They’re still radios. While you’re talking, you’re transmitting. You’re not receiving anything your friend is saying. You don’t even know if your friend is talking until you stop. That wasn’t the case with telephones. You could carry on a conversation over a telephone line exactly as if you were speaking to somebody who was in the room with you. You could say “Yes, yes,” or “Uh-huh,” or “Nope, nope, nope,” while they were talking, not necessarily with the intention of interrupting them but just to let them know you were paying attention, listening to what they were saying. Or you could try to interrupt them, but they could keep right on talking to get their point across. You could have a live, active, colorful conversation.

If you want to communicate with anyone over a radio circuit, however, you can’t do any of that. Whenever you start to talk, or even if you say “uh-huh,” your cell phone starts transmitting, which means it stops receiving, which means you can’t hear what your friend is saying anymore. What used to be a verbal cue that told your friend you were listening has become a nervous tic that slams the brakes on the conversation you’re trying to have. So you have to completely change the way you talk. You have to orate instead of converse. For instance, say your friend goes first. While he’s talking, you must compose a response in your head, then when it’s your turn you have to yadda-yadda-yadda non-stop until you’ve finished your prepared speech, because any pause in your oration might be interpreted by your friend as his cue to start talking. When you really are done, you have to stay done until your friend is through. Keeping your mouth shut is not good enough; you have to be deathly quiet. Not even so much as an “uh-huh” through your nose.

This is such an unsatisfying way to have a conversation that I’d much rather write or text people than call and talk to them. Luckily, my phone can do that.

my second brain | 5:33 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, damn kids!, yet another rant
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