A couple of years ago I wrote an unexpectedly popular column about the death of the phone call. I just now read an unexpectedly on-point column by Ian Bogost at The Atlantic about the, er, rebirth of the phone call. Or maybe the zombie reanimation or something.
From The Atlantic (paywalled):
In my experience, it’s no longer possible to answer the phone successfully.
Instead, this: Hello? … Wait, hello? Can you hear me? Okay, hold on. Ugh. Okay, okay, just a second. I have to get my earphones to connect. Damn it. Okay, never mind, I’ll just hold it up to my head. Hi, ugh, sorry about that.
The reasons are many. Often it’s the wireless earbuds, which won’t reconnect or are connected to the wrong device. Sometimes it’s the connection to the car speakers, via CarPlay or Android Auto. At other times, I answer the call on my watch, but it doesn’t transfer to my earbuds, and there I am, talking at my watch like some dim Dick Tracy. At still others, the call connects but puts itself on speakerphone (why?), ravaging my eardrum. Sometimes just pulling the phone out of a pocket hangs up on the caller. Sometimes the phone doesn’t even ring, but not for lack of service—instead, because I somehow set it to one of Apple’s new, complex “focus” modes, I’ve effectively silenced the ringer. Then a callback is necessary, returning us to the beginning. I’m sure you have your own versions, but the result is the same: The first few minutes of a telephone call are a nightmare.
Bogost goes on to make some great points about the way we traded reliable old hardware for surprisingly shitty new tech. Phones worked great when they were big heavy lumps of largely immobile plastic and copper, hard-wired into the walls of our homes. But we were so infatuated with the idea of being able to walk anywhere with them that we sort of missed how terrible that experience could be.
When phone networks went digital and then cellular, a combination of factors made calls less reliable: Digital sampling captured voices poorly; environmental noise made calls hard to hear; wireless networks offered a signal in some places but not others. The speakers and earpieces were smaller and designed for looks rather than acoustics, making already tenuous calls even more unintelligible. And so, as digital, mobile telephony overtook copper-wire analog calls, telephony degraded forever.
But all of that sits underneath the current phone-failure malaise. Before a call can even begin, you are now forced to fight with the apparatus that makes the call in the hopes that it will successfully connect you.
This! This is my experience of just about every damn call I take now, which is about 1% of the actual calls hitting my iPhone because they’re mostly spam that I don’t answer.
My Mother-in-law in Germany uses her desktop for only one thing ... the occasional game of solitare while waiting for the Apfelkucken to bake in the oven. Old School
The phone service sure as hell didn’t cost 200 bucks a month either. My first apartment cost less per month than my cellphone bill now. But you couldn’t take a selfie with a rotary phone .
Soon mobile phones will go the way of political ethics. If his majesty Musk's latest brain fart, the Neuralink becomes a reality, avian porcines may become commonplace before that, we will be taking calls to the frontal lobe, alas Indian scammers will still give you a headache. The first question to be solved is the ring tone, should you get a vibration in your brain or a medley of Black Sabbath tunes? Zombie reanimation could become a medical condition.
Either way, I would like to give a ringing endorsement to Mr Bell. Sorry about that one, I couldn't resist it.
I liked the line from one of the characters in the ABC comedy "Fisk", telling Helen Tudor-Fisk that she tried telling her old mum not to pick up the phone because the only people who ring are "telemarketers and scammers". That said I'm still paying Tesltra for a landline so my wife can call her mother in Germany every Sunday evening (for the past 25 years).
If I could disable the phone calls from my phone, it'd make a great communication device.
That said, the Aldi Family Plan we're on ($80 a month for 4 phones!) is pretty awesome. What sort of deal are you guys on paying $200 a month?
Ha. Remember the days when the phone rang because it was actually someone calling for a reason? (unless it was a couple of teenagers pranking). Then slowly you got the cold callers with a "foreign accent" that people treated with racist undertones, and eventually it became our worst best friend sitting in our pocket. I struggle so hard getting my kids to pick up their phone, even though they seem inseparable from it they somehow don't seem to hear it ringing and believe that being a phone is its third function soon to be obsolete . . . . . and lets not mention their phone etiquette is terrible