Sunday, January 31, 2016

Would You Prefer Phone or No-Phone, Sir?

Someone on Twitter linked to this old (2011) New York Times piece by Pamela Paulon how no one calls people on the phone any more:

In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone — land line, mobile, voice mail and all. . . . Even in fields where workers of various stripes (publicists, agents, salespeople) traditionally conducted much of their business by phone, hoping to catch a coveted decision-maker off-guard or in a down moment, the phone stays on the hook. . . .Whereas people once received and made calls with friends on a regular basis, we now coordinate such events via e-mail or text. When college roommates used to call (at least two reunions ago), I would welcome their vaguely familiar voices. Now, were one of them to call on a Tuesday evening, my first reaction would be alarm. Phone calls from anyone other than immediate family tend to signal bad news.

My first reaction as I read was, yes, this describes me to a T: I almost never call anyone, and when I do I usually email first to make an appointment. Text and email have replaced the phone for most casual communications—making plans for dinner, asking a quick question. The whole world—or at least, all of America—is getting away from the telephone.

But the the more I thought about it, the more that struck me as not quite correct, for how else to explain the constant yammering on cell phones that I find myself subjected to—in restaurants, in grocery stores, and most of all, since I travel a lot, in airports and airport lounges and on airplanes. (Why is it it so much more annoying to listen to one person talking on a cellphone than two people having a conversation? Is it because the phone talker speaks louder, or is it because you can only hear one side of the conversation?)

No, I think it might be more accurate to say that Americans are starting to divide into two camps. One finds talking on the telephone tedious and time-wasting and prefer more asynchronous methods like email and text. The other loves nothing better than to pick up the phone and jaw away anytime they have a spare minute—and like jamming bizarre, space-age looking Bluetooth earpieces in their heads to maximize the amount of time they can spend on the phone.

And (as is reflected in my own mounting irritation for the continual-jabberers) these two camps seem to be becoming increasingly intolerant of each other. Witness the out-pouring of outrage and vitriol you can unleash just by raising the prospect that in the future cell phone calls will be allowed on planes. Our trains already have "quiet cars" where cellphone use is prohibited, and you're starting to see similar areas in airport clubs and other places where the texters and gabbers are forced together.

Perhaps in the not too distant future cellphone use will become like smoking was for the two decade period in the end of the 20th century before it started being banned from public altogether—segregating restaurants, waiting rooms, and transportation into phone and no-phone sections? It wouldn't surprise me.

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