Monday, October 4, 2010

Phones Are Evil

I know I haven't been writing like I would like to, and part of that is simply because I barely can touch my keyboard, I've been so busy.  However, quite a bit of that is because my baby is needing to eat at night again and I am getting very little quality sleep, coupled with the medication problem I'm already having (not set quite right so I'm overly tired), and I think I can barely talk a sentence that's coherent let alone maintain something as complex as the convoluted thought process that leads to stuff that's actually worth writing on napkins while waiting for food as opposed to just laying on table with my head down hoping that bedtime will arrive soon and that my dreams won't be too horribly bizarre.

So with the disclaimer out of the way, let's begin our discussion on how the telephone has ruined society and therefore is an inherent evil, not only a bane in my existence.

In my own defense I will admit that I was a typical tween/teen and my parents even got a, oh what were they called, custom ring for our house phone because they got tired of answering when it was my friends.  And yes, I'd talk for hours and there were the customary jokes of a phone growing out of my ear or side (when got a cordless I used to tuck the bulky monstrosity into the waistband of my pants.)  I'd lay under the table confined by the cord of the house phone and talk and talk and talk, but only to people I know.  Even then I hated calling for business or people I don't know, heck even family members I don't see that often.To this day it is stressful for me to call the pizza guy, thank you Dominoes for web ordering!

But we need to step back, think a bit further.  If you're phone centric you're at the heart of the problem, one of it's greatest proponents and it's greatest victim, and you probably don't even know it!  Stepping back, there are three primary forms of communication:  written, voice only, full communication, when you are talking to another person in the same physical space as them.  For my purposes written is all written and typed forms of communication, where words are put forward in text and the recipient reads complete thoughts or statements at at least a fractional delay.  Voice is any type of phone conversation, regardless of the medium, in which voice is transferred between users in a real time manner and no editing has occurred.  Full communication occurs when two people are able to see, hear, and otherwise engage in all verbal and nonverbal forms of communication in a live manner without editing.

Long ago before electricity became widely available and that crazy Edison guy wasn't busy coming up with all kinds of devices to modernize our existence, all communication was in person or written.  Both had lots of problems and still do.  But they were both better than the phone in their own ways, especially as the ponies that delivered written comunication have gotten faster and faster and are now more limited by typing speed than any other physical barrier.  However, the very first form of social and organizational communication is the full communication of being in person. 

In person communication, is often argued as being the best form, and it definitely has the least opportunities for misinterperting the intentions of words and it provides for an immediate feedback system through both verbal and nonverbal communication methods.  However, misunderstanding words is rampant as pronunciations very from person to person in suttle ways and hearing ability can be affected by any number of things.  Even with the advancement in eye sight technology, the audiological counterparts are still centuries behind (another cultural issue that I really need to persuade my husband to write up for you all sometime, as he has intimate experience in this arena).  Additionally, it is truly rare when full communication occurs in an ideal environment with little to no distractions.  Full communication also suffers from it's immediate nature, while beneficial in seeking the truth particularly from an unwilling person, it also lacks the ability to be carefully edited and reviewed before sent out into the communication sphere.  Leading to points being lost, concepts to be rapidly misinterpreted, and any number of additions, ommissions, and other communication errors.  This is one reason why every public speech is carefully written in advance and prominant public figures avoid speaking without time to prepare and have their words reviewed.

Next we have written communication.  While traditionally this was limited to books, newspaper, and letters; it now is expanded to all sorts of electronic communications from the still somewhat traditional email, arbuably the modern letter, to near instant messaging and texting.  There are some very distinctive advantages and disadvantages for all these many forms of written communication.  For starters, assuming that the spellings of the words are understood by all readers, there if very little confusion in the understanding of the words used.  General comprehension can be increased by reviewing and editing statements and thoughts for clarity - something I deliberately don't do a lot of here.  However, when editing occurs it benefits writing as a form of communication in a way no other communication technique has.  Writing also has the advantage of permanence.  The reader can review words and concepts to insure that they are not the part of the communication breakdown.  Because of this ability to review distractions play a greatly reduced impact, and have the ability to be all but removed, to some silence is a distraction and lets not forget all those other thoughts running through our heads, especially if we are reading with intent to reply.

Where writing falls short, however; is in it's lack of tone, body language, and in many cases the time lag which limits explanation and the give and take of the other two methods of communication.  Reading limits multitasking.  If you are reading that takes your eyes and most of your focus.  Therefore only the most simple tasks may be preformed while reading.  In the other tasks you can to some extent perform more complex tasks, like cooking - although the ability to communicate and the overall watchfulness of the task at hand are diminished.  The loss of tone virtually eliminates most relaxed communication methods, joking is more difficult, sarcasm is almost impossible, although short hand such as the smiley helps greatly with these things.  Writing also lacks a degree of privacy and has a sense of permanence  that can be problematic in some situations, although very few "good" ones.  Writing is by far my favorite form of communication.  I'd rather send an IM or email than make a phone call, unless I am calling someone I know well.  Even talking face to face, which while temporally efficient, has so many limitations and miscommunications that if I have a significant amount of information to convey I will write it if at all possible.

Then there is phones.  Oh phones, your own special little category encompassing voice only communication, typically with some form of minor distortion.  Phones give us the dangerous instantaneous give and take conversation of a full communication, without the body language, but with the potentially garbled words, amplified by the minor distortion.  All the distractions of full communication are amplified because each party is in a different location with unique and non-simultaneous distractions.  There is no editing or review unless one or both people are reading a prepared speech, which isn't so much two way communication anyway.  Also because of the lack of a fixed focal point it is so very easy for the listener (or even the talker) to lose focus on the conversation.  With no way to reference back, unless you are taking notes, but holding a phone and doing any other tasks while maintaining at least a perfunctory listening level is extremely difficult.  This and the garbling and misunderstanding from not seeing the mouth and other gestures leads to the need for people to repeat specific directions and other exacting information.  To get something verbatim from the phone takes significantly longer than any other form of communication AND is much easier to achieve with a playback recording than it is during an active conversation where all parties are expected to listen and participate in a timely manner.  With all of this it's really amazing that it's still the preferred form of communication for many government agencies and businesses.

Sure it's fast.  Sure it take no technical training (other than navigating the phone tree) to use a phone.  Most people still have a phone of some form, but as a practical form of conveying information, there are so many better alternatives.  In the beginning the allure of talking over great distances made the phone a very appealing and even practical form of communication.  I mean a letter could take weeks or months to reach a person and going to visit could take just as long, be significantly more expensive, and is just downright prohibitive, at least until we master some form of intra-planetary teleportation network, and even then there is the ethics of one technically dieing with each use.

So in the beginning, the case for the efficiency of the phone could be made, temporally.  However, it still had a tremendous negative impact, and not just to the USPS's (and other mail carriers') bottom line.  Calling someone put those conversations that used to be thought out at length and edited before placed into a letter into an instantaneous forum.  Misspoken words, misunderstood phrases, and the darn phone ringing during dinner time (or any other inopportune moment) has stressed professional and personal relationships almost to the point of collective isolationism.  

Now instead of thoughtfully pre-constructing dealings, emotion and irrationality had a greater opportunity to play.  Poor phrasing overstepped etiquette.  The time to stop and think was removed from more and more dealings.  We pushed the now the current, the latest, and the gossip.  Sure now we have lightening fast texting, but there is still is a benefit when we separate the tongue from the equation, like the logic center in the brain gets activated as we have to think of words not only as structural parts of a sentence but as a collection of letters.

It isn't the speed of our ability to communicate and mud sling that has broken down the decency and since of long-term thinking in our society, it's the disconnect of faces from voices and words from intent.  By being nothing more than a garbled sound on the other end of an electronic device we have all lead to the demoralization of our society.  I could expound upon the ills brought forth in business, in family structure, but I am sure, you my enlightened reader, can see with examples most numerous my point.  If communication had occurred by any other means.... would things be the same?  or would that moment of disconnect that reflection of seeing the other person respond, or seeing your words before you have made the difference?

Yet, we are dependent of phone support.  You have a problem you make a call.  Text chatting is still a feature.  Yet, by physically hitting keys anger is diffused, vague statements become clarified before conveyance, and things progress more smoothly as image examples and non verbal aid can be rendered.  In person the same is true.  Next time you go to grab the phone to do your dealings, think, just for a moment, if there isn't a better way, that maybe the phone should be tossed into the bin with the typewriter, convenient for some uses, but not the multi-tasking tool of the future.

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