Sunday, June 11, 2006

Communications Technology on the Blink

Alexander Graham Bell may or may not have invented the telephone (there are those that say that Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci was the first to come up with the idea—and those Italians were doing a lot of inventing back then, what with Marconi making that radio thing and what not—so it’s not hard to believe that Bell might have been a close second), but the real question is, should someone have stopped him, as well as others of his ilk, before they had the chance to foist this devilish technology on an unexpecting world? Strangled them in the cradle, perhaps?

Anyone can argue the point that the telephone, the telegraph, the Internet, videophones, fax machines, cellular phones, satellites, and all the other communications technology we have at our disposal today have improved our lives. We are now in more or less a constant state of contact with our fellow beings—as long as those beings live in a developed nation and have some kind of paycheck or welfare remittance. If there is an emergency, aid is at our fingertips. If Brad and Angelina have conjoined twins, we will be among the first billion people to know. The information gap is closing rapidly for those of us who are technologically privileged. My question, my argument is, who gives a rat’s ass?

I remember when I was a kid. We had a phone in the kitchen. It hung on the wall. I think it was yellow. It had a dial, so when you had to make a call you always hoped there wouldn’t be many 9’s in the number, as it took a long time for that dial to spin back from a 9 to let you dial the next digit. We did not have an answering machine. People didn't have them in their homes. That would have been silly! If someone tried to call you and you weren’t home, the phone just rang until the caller decided to hang up. If it was important, he would try calling again in a few minutes.

We also did not have call waiting. If someone called while you were talking to someone else, he got a busy signal. You wouldn’t know he called. You could just keep on with your present conversation. With call waiting, however, you have that annoying blip that tells you someone else is calling. You can choose to ignore it, but it still has the effect of someone butting into your conversation. Usually people put the person they are talking to on hold to check who it is. I find that to be rather rude. It’s like saying, “I know I’m talking to you, but you really aren’t that important, so I’m going to put our conversation on the back burner while I see if someone more important is calling.” I’ll admit that sometimes call waiting can help you get out of a boring or annoying phone conversation, but on the other hand it can also end up stick you with talking to someone you don’t want to talk to. In any case, I think call waiting is just another thing that someone who wanted to make a buck dreamed up and convinced everyone that they needed. Kind of like the PC.

What’s my point? Am I trying to convince you that I am a Luddite? No. I’m not a Luddite, but I reject new technologies that serve no real purpose or that cause more annoyance than convenience.

Which brings me to my point. I bought a phone about three years ago. It was the cheapest phone at the RT Mart. It cost about $150 New Taiwan Dollars (about five US dollars). It worked okay for a while, but then one morning I noticed that I could hear some noise coming from it. It turns out that the piece of junk never hung up, even when you placed the hand set in the cradle. I tried to get it to work for a few days, but I finally just threw it on the floor in a drunken rage. Inside I found that it was held together with masking tape.

I decided to replace that piece of junk with something halfway decent. The phone I chose was one of those cordless jobs that are supposed to have a range of 50 meters or so. It cost me about fifty bucks (US) and it was a major brand name. The problem is it never really worked that well. After the first six months the battery didn’t hold a charge for more than five minutes, so every call I had got cut off in the middle. If I walked out of the room where the base was, the call got cut off (probably because I live in a building made of solid concrete). Also, the antennae on the hand set was so long that I could not talk while lying down or even sitting in a high backed chair or sofa. In short, I hated this phone.

As I said before, my building is made of thick concrete walls. As a result, my cell phone does not work unless I go out on the balcony. So, I was trying to talk to my girlfriend on my cordless phone and the battery died. I switched to my cell phone and went out on the balcony to talk. Less than a minute into the conversation my cell phone battery also died. Unfortunately, the balcony doesn’t have an electrical outlet for me to plug my cell phone in. I went inside, plugged the cell phone into the charger, and tried to call my girlfriend, but, being inside the bunker, I couldn’t get a signal.

I think this is when the little spark of rage started building up inside me.

For about six months I was able to cope fairly well, switching back and forth between phones and keeping my cell phone charged. Then I snapped. I don’t really know what set it off, but I finally got sick of that damned cordless phone and I threw it against the wall. Four times. Then I stomped on its remains.

This probably was a childish thing to do, but, aside from the anger management problems I have, I knew that if I didn’t get rid of this phone, I would end up keeping it even thought I hated it and I would complain to all my friends about it and drive everyone—including myself—crazy.

Today I went out and bought a new phone for $89NT. That’s about US $2.75. It probably won’t last very long, but it is very simple so there isn’t much that can go wrong with it. And when I get angry at it and smash it, I’ll only be out $2.75.

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