Posted tagged ‘cellphones’

Txt 4 u

October 9, 2011

Sending SMS (‘short message service’) messages on mobile phones is one of the communications phenomena of our day. The chances are that, since you last checked out this blog, some 3 billion text messages will have been sent and received across the world. And let us be frank, many of them will have been pretty annoying. I have no problem with texting per se – I do so myself, and keep in touch with some friends that way – but the shorthand used by many people is, I fear, doing terrible things to their capacity to express themselves in an articulate way in writing. As texts are restricted to 160 characters, people got creative about how to cram more information into that space. And so we had the dawn of the age of the txt; succinct messaging, just 4 u.

People sometimes suggest to me that my complaint is just part of the nostalgia that comes with growing older – that Shakespeare would have been horrified if he had been able to read Jane Austen and would have found her style to be lamentable – and that therefore texting is nothing other than the new mode of communication and that we should be making the best of it. I don’t think so. I don’t look forward to billions of Chinese learning to use txt English and for it to become the lingua franca of the world.

But then again, maybe I am just getting old… Or possibly even 2 old. That would not be so gr8.

In full flight, online

May 2, 2011

Some time ago I was sitting in a plane about to take off on a short regional flight. The doors had been closed and the cabin crew were making the usual safety announcements. I imagine they were the usual ones, though if I am honest I have to admit I’ve kind of stopped listening to these. In any case, on this occasion my attention was focused on my neighbour. He was holding his mobile phone, and turning it nervously around in his hand. It was visibly not switched off. He saw me looking and said, ‘I’m waiting for a call’. I pointed out to him that he was supposed to have switched it off. He mumbled something unintelligible and continued fidgeting with the (still powered on) phone. As the plain taxied to the runway, he continued doing this, hiding it whenever he thought he would be seen by a member of the crew, and then taking it out again.

I have on the whole become sceptical whether having the phone on can really be a safety issue. If it were, cabin attendants would surely demand to see each phone to check it was off, or more more likely still we wouldn’t be allowed take it in the cabin. But nevertheless, I was astounded at my neighbour, who continued to fidget with the phone until long after take-off, at which point I lost interest.

A year or so ago it looked as if my anxious neighbour might be getting his way. Irish airline Ryanair announced it was introducing inflight mobile phone calls. I only experienced it on one flight, on which we were told that mobile phones could be used after take-off. My neighbour on this flight duly took out his phone to see whether it worked. The phone, once powered on, did indeed register some sort of network signal, but when he tried calling a number apparently absolutely nothing happened. One or two others were trying (and experiencing) something similar, but most passengers just ignored the cabin crew’s invitation to make a call. So does this mean that even the more fanatical mobile phone addicts find there is a limit to the thing? At any rate I never again was on a flight where the facility (if it was that) was available.

My grandmother used to say that it is only when we stop talking that we realise we have nothing to say. And if we stay silent long enough, we can begin to communicate properly. And so I can say to any other airline considering this that mobile services in the air will not entice me one little bit. Wireless internet, now that’s another matter. After all, I have standards. Double standards.

The future of time

October 19, 2010

Recently I was talking with a group of students, and I noticed none of them was wearing a wrist watch. This became particularly obvious when one of them, who had told me he would be leaving shortly because he was due to go to a lecture, kept taking out his mobile phone to check the time; and then I gradually became aware that this was how all of them did it. Finally I asked them whether any of them used a watch; and none of them did. They thought my question was a little odd, like asking whether any of them travelled to college on a penny-farthing bicycle.

I like to think I am pretty with it when it comes to modern social and technological trends, but this one caught me out – it had kept up on me without my noticing. And now that I know, it still makes no sense to me. Sure, I would understand that some free spirits might reject the notion of time and deadlines altogether, but none of these students was in that category; to them it was just obvious that if you needed to know the time you checked your phone, which of course you carry everywhere. As for me, even with this new trending fact in my possession, I still find that way of telling the time awkward and counter-intuitive. I’ll stick with my watch, but slightly self-consciously now. I hope this doesn’t mean I have reached middle age in terms of attitude.

Walking into lamp posts

July 6, 2010

If you are one of those who have been persuaded that men cannot multi-task, while women can, then think again. Apparently neither can do so. Clifford Nass, Professor of Communications at Stanford University, has concluded in a study that once we focus on one thing our minds cannot also tackle another. To be more precise, what he found was that if you are walking while talking on a mobile phone (cellphone), the chances are that you will have an accident. And another study showed that in Ohio over 1,000 people needed emergency treatment in 2008 as a result of injuries caused while talking on the phone or texting.

So while we may have thought that outlawing the use of phones while driving was enough to keep everyone safer, the same prohibition may also need to be applied to using the phone while walking. In fact, you should probably only use it while sitting in your living room, perhaps strapped into your armchair with a seatbelt. Indeed, maybe we shouldn’t have mobile phones at all; and there’s a thought.

Mobile communications

April 26, 2010

I think this was a first, at least in my experience. This morning I saw a motorist turn a corner while holding two mobile phones, one to each ear, and apparently operating the steering wheel with his legs. Furthermore, he seemed exceptionally animated in this ‘conference call’, and his eyes were swirling around the place, but paying little if any attention to the road.

It may not be an everyday event to see someone operating two phones at once while driving, but it’s not at all rare to see drivers with at least one phone held to the ear. This has now been illegal for some time, but based on my entirely non-scientific observation it seems to be a growing phenomenon again. Buying and installing and using hands-free equipment in cars is not difficult at all. This is one law which should, I believe, be enforced rigorously.

The end of the line?

September 15, 2009

Exactly 30 years ago today I gained access to global communications in my own right for the very first time. Back then I was a PhD student in Cambridge, England, and was renting a cottage in the village of Histon about 5 miles out of town. On moving in, I had applied to British Telecom for a telephone, and two months later the house was connected to the phone line and a telephone was delivered. The model I got was a ‘Trimphone’, which was thought of as quite futuristic back then – it can be seen here. It still had the old circular dial, and a ringing tone that was somewhat more electronic and, to be frank, really rather irritating. But I loved the thing, and decided to celebrate my new acquisition (delivered with such incredible speed, I thought) by calling my parents in Mullingar. To do so, I had to ring the operator, as you could only ring Dublin numbers directly from the UK back then. The operator misunderstood me when I said ‘Mullingar’ and connected me with a very nice old lady somewhere in Australia, with whom I chatted for a minute or so (well, it was my first call), an extravagance that cost me over £10.

As I said, I thought that British Telecom had worked wonders by connecting me to the network within two months. If I had applied for a new telephone connection back in Ireland at that time it would have taken several months longer. But as I admired my new gadget in Histon, I thought it was nothing short of a miracle that a place as small as Histon and a cottage as insignificant as mine could be wired up to the entire world, allowing me to hear all about a retired Australian nurse on its first use. Not that much earlier, in the 1960s, we had a phone in Mullingar that you could not dial at all: you had to turn a handle which alerted the local operator, who would then connect you and, I think, who would stay on to enjoy your call when she had done so, occasionally interrupting the conversation when something occurred to her.

The fixed landline telephone took over 100 years to be adopted by a significant majority of the population in developed countries. Only about 6 years after I first enjoyed the Trimphone, and when I was now working in Dublin, I remember seeing the first mobile phone being carried by someone looking self-important on Grafton Street. This was not a mobile phone as our friends from Nokia, Motorola or Apple give it to you now; this was a chunky instrument that would have created an unpleasant bulge in your briefcase, and which you would need to hold with both hands when doing anything with it. Six years after I first saw one I had my own, a fraction of the size of the brick-like original; but that in turn was huge compared with the small instruments that every Tom, Dick and Harriet now possess. The adoption of the mobile cellphone, not by a majority of the population but by absolutely everyone from the age of 3, several times over in some cases, has been breathtakingly fast, probably less than 12 years. And the new smartphones (of which Apple’s iPhone is a leading example) are likely to be in everyone’s pocked in about the next 35 days.

In the meantime, I have left no legacy in Histon. The cottage into which I introduced the marvellous technology of the Trimphone no longer has a landline, and all over this part of the world people are disconnecting private wired up telephones and replacing them with mobiles. I suspect that the un-adoption of the traditional phone will proceed much more speedily than its adoption did.

It is generally assumed that offices will continue to have landlines. Maybe they will, maybe not. In this university we are just looking into it.

Offline at a great height

November 30, 2008

Two days ago I was sitting in a plane on my way back to Ireland. The doors had been closed and the cabin crew were making the usual safety announcements. I imagine they were the usual ones, though if I am honest I have to admit I’ve kind of stopped listening to these. In any case, on this occasion my attention was focused on my neighbour. He was holding his mobile phone, and turning it nervously around in his hand. It was visibly not switched off. He saw me looking and said, ‘I’m waiting for a call’. I pointed out to him that he was supposed to have switched it off. He mumbled something unintelligible and continued fidgeting with the (still powered on) phone. As the plain taxied to the runway, he continued doing this, hiding it whenever he thought he would be seen by a member of the crew, and then taking it out again.

I have on the whole become sceptical whether having the phone on can really be a safety issue. If it were, cabin attendants would surely demand to see each phone to check it was off, or more more likely still we wouldn’t be allowed take it in the cabin. But nevertheless, I was astounded at my neighbour, who continued to fidget with the phone until long after take-off, at which point I lost interest.

Well, maybe good days are coming for him, as reports are circulating that airlines are hoping to be able to offer mobile services during flights. I suspect that roaming from a few miles up will be even more expensive, but I also bet that there will be plenty of willing customers. I dread the whole thing. As it is, it is becoming impossible to avoid being a victim of passive phoneitis, with loud but inane phone calls now being standard in absolutely every setting. It’s not just the disturbance, it is the sheer irritation that at any rate I feel at the thought of all these people who simply cannot switch off; well actually, they can switch off intelligence, courtesy and sophistication, but not the sheer triviality of most mobile communication.

My grandmother used to say that it is only when we stop talking that we realise we have nothing to say. And if we stay silent long enough, we can begin to communicate properly. And so I can say to any airline considering this that mobile services in the air will not entice me one little bit. Wireless internet, now that’s another matter. After all, I have standards. Double standards.

Mobile communications

September 20, 2008

Recently I was travelling by train, and was sitting at a table in a railway carriage. Opposite me was an elderly lady, and next to her a young man. The latter was, shall we say, very fond indeed of his mobile phone (cellphone). He used it a lot. He called many people. And when he did so, he spoke with a very loud voice. What he said was of no great consequence; generally he was advising the person he was talking to on where he (or the train) now was. This went on for some time. Them just as his phone rang and he reached for it, the lady opposite me (and next to him) reached out and grabbed the phone before he could take it. She put it in her handbag, and told him he could have it back when either he or she reached their destination. He was clearly stunned and thinking about what to say when others who had seen this began to applaud. So he stayed silent. I left the carriage before either of them did, so I did not see the end of the drama.

Mobile phones are now ubiquitous. Apparently there is a service you can buy in Hong Kong whereby the rent you a mobile phone and, while you have it, call you every 15 minutes, so that the people you are with can see that you are important. While the idea of this may seem terrifying, you have to admire the entrepreneurship.

Are we all just too addicted to constant communication? Of course I have a mobile phone also – indeed, I have referred to it in this blog, and you may recall that it is an Apple iPhone 3G. But not many people can call me on it; only about five have the number. I do not like constantly being called, and think that the occasional period of silence is a good thing. But on the other hand, I have to admit that I use the phone a lot for instant messaging, either by SMS (text) or email. So I cannot say that I avoid the temptations of mobile communication.

It is of course wonderful to be able to be instantly in touch, wherever we are. It means that we can bring our community with us as we travel, at least in some sense, and to enjoy their company and their comfort. I would not wish to be without that any more. But I also acknowledge that we are losing the opportunity for quiet reflection, because even when we are silent others around us may not be.

My grandmother, towards the end of her life, used to say that 20th century people were afraid of what they would find if they were confronted with silence and solitude. Maybe what we have to try to do is to find that appropriate balance between sociable communication and peaceful insight, and the ability to gain something from both.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 736 other followers