I guess it's not just me...
August 13, 2015 8:01 PM   Subscribe

It might not be because you're introverted, or because they probably don't give you cancer. Maybe mobile phones just suck. (Hint: Because they sound horrible.)

Ian Bogost outlines for The Atlantic why you hate making mobile calls.
posted by prismatic7 (60 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
> Even if you might have a landline on your office desk, the cellular infrastructure has conditioned us to think of phone calls as fundamentally unpredictable affairs.

Every time the phone rings at work I pick it up the way you touch something on a stove that might be too hot.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:12 PM on August 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


It's funny that FaceTime audio over a cellular data link sounds so much better than a cellular voice call over the same network between the same two phones. Or maybe not funny, given that plans nowadays typically offer unlimited voice minutes but they still charge you for data.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:19 PM on August 13, 2015


God, yeah, the voice quality over cell phones is just SO BAD.

Lately I've been wondering why with the increase in horsepower of cell phones there isn't an option to add dynamic range compression and/or some EQ to help intelligibility - it seems like that could really help.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:22 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's funny that FaceTime audio over a cellular data link sounds so much better than a cellular voice call over the same network between the same two phones.

Using three times the bandwidth on a modern codec will do that to a phone call.
posted by Talez at 8:23 PM on August 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


When even initiating phone calls is a problem—and even innocuous ones, like phoning the local Thai place to order takeout—then anxiety rather than habit may be to blame: When asynchronous, textual media like email or WhatsApp allow you to intricately craft every exchange, the improvisational nature of ordinary, live conversation can feel like an unfamiliar burden. Those in power sometimes think that this unease is a defect in need of remediation, while those supposedly afflicted by it say they are actually just fine, thanks very much.

Yeah, this describes me. Yes, it's anxiety. No, I don't care to change it when the tools to not make it an issue instead are here. Sometimes I feel like it was destiny for me to be born in this time and place because so many tools to help solve issues I have just appear out of thin air like magic and improve my life. Yay, privilege!
posted by Drinky Die at 8:29 PM on August 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


It’s perfect for carrying and tapping and pocketing, but it’s awful for talking through.

Yes, yes, yes. Using the iPhone as an actual phone is just unpleasant: my hand doesn't wrap around it comfortably, it hits my ear awkwardly, and if I have to enter anything on the keypad mid-call it's an ordeal. Even dumbphones feel better.

Those old-school handsets really did feel good. Nice and weighty. I don't miss having a landline, but I miss the actual phone.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:31 PM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't like phone calls because of their need to be a symmetric mode of communication. I may not WANT to talk right now, but I have to if you call me. Now, you IM me in Telegram or email me, I can get back to you when I have time to devote to you.
posted by Samizdata at 8:34 PM on August 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


Remember the Sprint pin-drop commercials?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:35 PM on August 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Using the iPhone as an actual phone is just unpleasant: my hand doesn't wrap around it comfortably, it hits my ear awkwardly, [...] Those old-school handsets really did feel good. Nice and weighty.

This is why you see so many people using it on speaker and holding it face up and kind of poised on their hand like a chocolate eclair.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:37 PM on August 13, 2015 [15 favorites]


I think the _delay_ in speaking/listening makes it nearly impossible not to interrupt each other. Talking on the phone becomes an exercise in unintentional rudeness. It's really awful.
posted by amtho at 8:42 PM on August 13, 2015 [17 favorites]


I think the _delay_ in speaking/listening makes it nearly impossible not to interrupt each other. Talking on the phone becomes an exercise in unintentional rudeness. It's really awful.

Yeah, the VOIP phones at work are terrible for this. Conference calls already make it hard enough to tell when it's your turn to speak, but the delay just makes things worse.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:43 PM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have to agree. Cell (or mobile, if you prefer) phones sound like ass compared to the old PSTN or POTS network. But, I'm an old, so my opinion isn't valid. However, it is undeniable that there are benefits to not being tethered to the phone via a wire.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:49 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this post; I too thought it was "just me". I grew up with the bell system and actually miss a lot of it (I know - they're baaack!) Speaking about the 500, the writer forgot to mention the indestructible cycolac plastic that allowed you to drive nails with the handset, and also that lovely grip that let you pick up the whole instrument.
I also find it galling in the extreme that not only does voice get all "autotuny" and even "into the Matrix" sounding on a bad connection, but even a good connection goes stone dead if everybody stops talking (are you still there?) and on some calls the carriers have reverted to simplex , where only one person can talk at a time; OVER.
I remember sadly a time when I could hear my lover breathing and the washing machine/tv/drive by siren didn't overwhelm the pauses.
I agree; no wonder nobody want's the phone call.
McCluhan was right; the medium is the message. I really hope somebody innovates a new medium - I'll be sitting by the phone.
posted by Alter Cocker at 8:49 PM on August 13, 2015 [16 favorites]


My big pet peeve is when other people are using speakerphone and you hear yourself talking from their end like a crunchy staticky echo. Also whatever processing they use to flatten pauses into silent nothingness is annoying as well.
posted by clorox at 8:50 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Alter Cocker: "on some calls the carriers have reverted to simplex"

OMFG! That is the most pathetic and backward thing I have heard in years.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:54 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Probably the part that bugs me the most about my current job is taking phone calls. It really helps in understanding a conversation to have some expectation about what the conversation will be about, but I rarely have that luxury. It isn't helped by the fact that mis-spent youth means my hearing can be terrible, especially if there background noise.
posted by drezdn at 8:57 PM on August 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Honestly, for me, it's actually the matter of privacy.

I talk with my friends all the time. Sometimes, even, with family, through the mobile phone. Voice means other people can easily eavesdrop. Text? Not so much.

Not that I have anything to hide, mind you. And sure, the NSA already has it all. But the illusion of privacy is still there, which is why if I do use a phone to call for personal reasons, it's through my mobile phone--while I'm at home.
posted by qcubed at 8:58 PM on August 13, 2015


OMFG! That is the most pathetic and backward thing I have heard in years.
Opposite of duplex, isn't it?
Really, my screen name means "old fart", help me out.
posted by Alter Cocker at 9:05 PM on August 13, 2015


My big pet peeve is when other people are using speakerphone and you hear yourself talking from their end like a crunchy staticky echo.

so many fully-abled people think it's okay to use speakerphone as loud as possible in public or in quiet offices or anywhere ever really even when they are not using their phone-holding appendages for any other task and they must all be destroyed.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:10 PM on August 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


Alter Cocker: "Opposite of duplex, isn't it?
Really, my screen name means "old fart", help me out.
"

Well, yeah, pretty much. So are you saying that this was untrue, or are things whooshing over my head?

As for, "old fart," I'm right there with you.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:25 PM on August 13, 2015


...the 500 handset’s ultimate victory was one of intimacy. The handset made telephone calls an undeniably carnal art, one in which a foreign apparatus came into close contact with one’s face, ear, and lips.

A handset grew warm with use. One could hold it delicately or grasp it with worry. It could be hurled back into the cradle with anger or dangled from the cord in enticement.

...the handset was and remains a device and a sensation uniquely connected to the telephonic experience. This tactile sensuality coupled to other rituals of telephony—the time-consuming process of shwk-whirrrr dialing or touch-tone button-pressing to enter a number that you could recite as a koan; the sound of the dial tone initiating the invitation to dial; the definitive physical sensation of conclusion as you returned the handset to the cradle to end a call; the fact that the call itself was metered and possibly expensive—which all together made telephony a full-body experience, no matter the content of the conversation, from break-up to take-out.

...a complex of feelings and sensations, all of which once added up to the tingly-anticipation of connecting your body to someone else’s through a molded plastic housing over a copper wire.


That's a delight to read and remember. Cell phoners, get off my lawn!!
posted by buzzv at 9:42 PM on August 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


NiftyName;
Apparently my head too - I thought you meant I was "pathetic and backward" (and OK, maybe so).
Christ - just call and we'll sort this out.
posted by Alter Cocker at 9:44 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hopefully wideband calls or "HD Voice" will become more widespread soon. I have T-Mobile and every so often I'll get a call that sounds so, so much better than a regular cell phone call that it's hard to believe. Talking on the phone is almost a pleasure. Almost.
posted by The Lamplighter at 9:44 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I notice I didn't actually answer Nifty names question.
I don't actually know if these digital connections are true simplex, but they sure behave like it; if you're talking and I cant interrupt you because my speech is blanked on your end, we sure don't have a full duplex conversation going on.
And it totally sucks no matter who's interrupting who, because there is more to human conversation than "you talk and then I talk" like, for example when you say "m-hm" or "unh-unh" or even "whow" during a call. On a digital hook up it stops the whole flow and you've got to almost start over.
Pathetic and backward indeed.
And as for "HD voice", sounds like 1986 all over again;

posted by Alter Cocker at 10:07 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


» Using the iPhone as an actual phone is just unpleasant: my hand doesn't wrap around it comfortably, it hits my ear awkwardly, [...] Those old-school handsets really did feel good. Nice and weighty. «

This is why you see so many people using it on speaker and holding it face up and kind of poised on their hand like a chocolate eclair.


No, like Star Trek (1966).
posted by D.C. at 10:12 PM on August 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


My dad and I are both really easily distracted, and as a result we're both terrible on the phone. We're constantly having to ask each other "are you still there?" because it's unclear if the silence on other end means we've been disconnected. This wasn't a problem back when you could hear the TV/radio/rustling newspaper in the background.
posted by teponaztli at 12:14 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, one time I was listening to music streaming from my phone with my fancy headphones on, and I took a call, and I normally find phone talking weird and terrible, but this was cool, I could actually hear the other person well, there was a feeling of connection and presence and space. With normal phone acoustics the whole interaction feels like someone is shouting some impossible metaphysical demand straight onto my eardrum, but this was like we were both inhabiting a leisurely conversation.
posted by mbrock at 12:18 AM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Using the iPhone as an actual phone is just unpleasant: my hand doesn't wrap around it comfortably, it hits my ear awkwardly ...

Yeah, how far into the future do we have to go until we have cell phones designed for the human hand, instead of all these phones trying to look like a thinner version (because thin is cool) of the monolith from 2001?
posted by Termite at 1:42 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe we should all start using butt phones instead. Explanation. Image. (Don't ask how I learned about the existence of butt phones.)
posted by Termite at 2:05 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's gone backwards for broadcasters, too. Once upon a time, to get a decent remote audio feed you needed special, dedicated lines (that the telco provided, because monopoly), and that was very expensive. Then came ISDN, which was also telco monopoly but it worked over ordinary lines, used ordinary call set-up (so you could just dial up the studio from anywhere that had ISDN) and with a decent codec could provide broadcast-quality voice (and, if you weren't too fussy, acceptable music). 128kbps, but that was workable. It was expensive, because telco monopoly didn't like the idea of making data cheap when it was making money from T1/E1 hostages, but doable if you had a professional need for it.

Now ISDN is effectively discontinued in the UK, and your choice reverts to POTS (which sounds like telephones have always sounded) or some form of Internet streaming audio. Which can sound splendid - I use Skype on a reasonably fast connection with a reasonably good microphone, and it's certainly more than good enough for FM radio - but isn't reliable. Many producers won't use it for live work. There are various (expensive) streaming alternatives (or were, I haven't checked for a couple of years), some of which are aimed at mobile-studio links, but they fall apart when the link goes dodgy, which it does.

So, screwed. I sometimes fantasise about building a decent country-wide point-to-point digital HQ audio link network on the abandoned plains of low band VHF, but there's no business case that makes sense and while it is within the cost gamut of DIY I can't really see a way to do that either.

Things do get worse when they get better, even in highly specific technological ways.
posted by Devonian at 3:35 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how effectively carriers have managed to dodge the blame for poor call quality. Upgrading to HD Voice will be nice but literally all you need to do is enable higher bitrates for the current codecs to approach landline quality – an old Sony-Ericsson phone I used had a debug mode where you could disable the default 4-5kb codec options and at 8+ kb calls were, as noted in the article, basically landline quality. Easy to understand, people are surprised to learn you're on a cell phone, etc.

The downside, of course, is that it requires more capacity and that was during the era where carriers were loath to disrupt their high margins by investing in network upgrades. It was much easier to crank the values down and as long as everyone does it there's no way for customer backlash to happen.
posted by adamsc at 5:22 AM on August 14, 2015


However, it is undeniable that there are benefits to not being tethered to the phone via a wire.

Speaking as someone who grew up in the 60s and 70s, I think it's a shame we've lost the sense of peace and privacy one had when away from the home phone. Now to get that, I have to "rudely" (in contemporary values) deliberately leave my mobile phone off, or leave it sitting on the counter at home. Except that now there is an anxiety that it'd be "my fault" if someone were trying to get hold of me while I had made the decision to be offline, so really that old sense of peace and quiet is just gone. We've lost ownership of part of our lives.
posted by aught at 6:44 AM on August 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


(Don't ask how I learned about the existence of butt phones.)

I'm old enough to remember phone co. techs coming to the house and using them while troubleshooting line issues. Do butt extensions even work with modern digital phone services? (I'm assuming not.)
posted by aught at 6:48 AM on August 14, 2015


It's interesting how effectively carriers have managed to dodge the blame for poor call quality.

In college I used to make extra money sometimes by being a tester for audio compression of some kind (or whatever it's called, I don't know the right terminology), presumably for cell phones. You would sit and listen to a recorded voice that had varying amounts of background noise and distortion and would rate how bad you thought it was. I always graded the samples harshly and felt like I was helping to hold back the tide of ever-worse audio quality that the telcos were just insisting that we all accept. No, I'd say. UNACCEPTABLE. Then they'd pay me my $40 and I'd leave.
posted by aka burlap at 6:52 AM on August 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Also, you guys know about those handsets you can plug into cell phones, right? I don't know if they are any good but I kind of want one.
posted by aka burlap at 6:55 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uh, I suspect the engineers here and elsewhere have already jumped in with this, but most of these digital processing and compression techniques are already used for regular telephony and long distance messaging. For years before mobile handsets became ubiquitous.

I mean, mobile handsets have their own challenges, of course. But speak and spell PCM and all that was created for voice processing and signal management across plain old telephone lines.

We've been speak and spelling for decades.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:56 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


When even initiating phone calls is a problem—and even innocuous ones, like phoning the local Thai place to order takeout—then anxiety rather than habit may be to blame

Innocuous? For those of us who find it difficult to decipher heavy accents, especially over a phone, those calls are the worst. If it wasn't for Seamless, I'd never order out.
posted by frogstar42 at 7:20 AM on August 14, 2015


clvrmnky—It's true that digital signal processing has been used for a long time on the wired telephone network, but cellphones take it much farther, using vocoders that are specifically designed for human speech (or even specific languages), which is why hold music on a cellphone sounds almost completely unrecognizable: the codec is trying to represent music as speech, and failing horribly.

Cellphones are also cramming the full majesty of the human voice into 13 kbps or less (depending on what standard you're using), a fraction of the bandwidth than analog POTS lines can carry. Compare that to, say, 32 kbps MP3s, which sound horribly distorted.
posted by adamrice at 7:21 AM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just realized the other day that my wife's phone number is the only one I actually know, as digits, but I can still remember grade-school friends' numbers from the late 70s and early 80s.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:12 AM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm astonished to find the issue getting so much acknowledgement, I thought I was the only person who even noticed or cared.

Latency is a problem, lossy compression and re-compression is a problem, echo of your voice from the other end's handset is a problem, noise cancellation artifacts are a problem. But I think one of the subtlest but most insidious issues is the way all of these difficulties and "optimizations" conspire to drown out many of the small non-language sounds (like the exact sound of a person's breath, which can convey a lot, or even quiet "ums" and "ers") that are important cues in the ebb and flow of a face-to-face conversation. Land lines aren't perfect, maybe, but they were made to preserve that stuff. One-way-at-a-time simplex connections (or high latency that becomes functionally very similar) like you get on cheap speakerphones and many cell calls turns out to privilege the garrulous and disenfranchise those who are quieter and/or more polite.

It's almost as if the primary use-case guiding the development of the cell phone system was the wireless delivery of temper tantrums, chew-outs, and other verbal abuse. They're pretty good for that.

I've resisted getting a cell phone for years in part because of these problems. When I've borrowed a cell phone, I wound up spending something like a third of the time on the phone saying "What did you say?" and "Are you still there?" For various reasons I've caved and I have one now. Inside my house, my phone's cellular internet runs at nearly 20MBps, faster than my wired internet. Yet the phone conversation experience is still poor, I'd be really surprised if the carrier is allocating as much as 8Kbps for that. And my voice calls are not even "free" as part of some package. It is as ridiculous as I had always feared. At least they're cheaper now.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:13 AM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


And over the past decade or so I've developed this weird hesitation about just calling someone out of the blue, which used to be the norm. Like it's some kind of surprise imposition.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:15 AM on August 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


And over the past decade or so I've developed this weird hesitation about just calling someone out of the blue, which used to be the norm. Like it's some kind of surprise imposition.

I've always had this hesitation to call someone, but I agree it's gotten worse over the years. I think in the past, because there was no other way to get a hold of someone (text or email), you HAD to call, so people didn't mind so much when you did.

Now, you have to have a raging internal debate in your head about whether you should call, text, or email them, and which method would result in the best outcome. So many micro-decisions, all the time. (Yes, I'm an old too.)
posted by cynical pinnacle at 8:50 AM on August 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


And over the past decade or so I've developed this weird hesitation about just calling someone out of the blue, which used to be the norm. Like it's some kind of surprise imposition.

When, in fact, it's far easier than ever before for people to screen incoming calls and decide whether they want to talk to you or let you leave a voice mail. Calling out of the blue seems like it should be more polite now than ever.
posted by straight at 8:59 AM on August 14, 2015


Now, you have to have a raging internal debate in your head about whether you should call, text, or email them, and which method would result in the best outcome. So many micro-decisions, all the time. (Yes, I'm an old too.)

What? Those aren't the only options! Maybe they'd prefer a Facebook message or Twitter DM or Google Chat or ... [argh I'm so old!]
posted by straight at 9:03 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a 1500 model (as I now know it is called) phone on my kitchen counter. Visitors often think it's there just to look pretty, and are startled by the dial tone when they pick it up.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:09 AM on August 14, 2015


God, yeah, the voice quality over cell phones is just SO BAD.

WTF is happening in the US?
posted by Mezentian at 9:16 AM on August 14, 2015


Sidetone.

What you also don't have is sidetone. The old POTS networks could only handle a certain dynamic range. They need you to talk loud enough, but not too loud. So, they fed back a bit of your voice to your ear. You hear that, and that limits how loud you speak, and when you *don't* hear the side tone, you speak louder. It's an automatic gain control system that everybody naturally uses all the time. Wondering why people with hearing loss talk so loud? It's because the natural sidetone they have is effectively lost, and they're talking louder because they've lost the feedback loop that tells them how loud they're talking. They, and by they, I mean "we," have to consciously think about how loud we are talking, and if we stop thinking about that, we can START TALKING LOUD, and if we happen to have very loud voices naturally, we end up talking VERY LOUD INDEED.*

Cellphones *don't have enough sidetone.* Originally, they didn't have any at all, but now, they're running 2-4%, where POTS standard was 8-9%. So, one, EVERYBODY SPEAKS REALLY LOUD INTO THEM which means there's a lot of input gain, so you lose dynamic range, and look, people already sound like crap, and two, there's why you have such feedback problems because everybody's voice is so loud, and three, you're probably distorting the mic because you're so loud and now you sound even worse. We all lose!

Sidetone. All we need is a bit more sidetone. Half the problems with have with cellphone voice being crap can be solved with proper sidetone, because as any audio engineer can tell you, if the input is crap, you're going to get crap at the output no matter what you do.


* For most of us, hold out a palm horizontally and move it downwards, and we'll instantly interpret that as "Too loud" and get back on the "Oh, yeah, have to remember to keep the voice down" mindset. We know what's wrong, but we *literally* have to remember that every moment we're speaking.

On the good side, when you need to get the attention of a very large room, we're the people to talk to.
posted by eriko at 10:46 AM on August 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


God, yeah, the voice quality over cell phones is just SO BAD.

WTF is happening in the US?


Qualcomm held the patent on CDMA and 3G, and has been accused of stifling innovation (among other things). The US is behind on broadband and mobile...has been for over a decade now.
posted by Chuffy at 10:49 AM on August 14, 2015


Chuffy: I think it's even easier: the U.S. phone market has traditionally required multi-year contracts and most people have only a couple of competitive options. Unless call quality is so bad that you wouldn't agree to a new contract, it's a question of “spend money on network upgrades” or “report higher profits and get a fat bonus”.
posted by adamsc at 11:02 AM on August 14, 2015


Maybe we should all start using butt phones instead. Explanation.

That explanation - "all the numbered buttons and the plugs etc are located on the end of the handset itself. Hence, the term butt phone" - is a bunch of arse.

Any line tech will tell you that the device in question is a "buttinski phone" because you can clip it onto anybody's line and butt in.
posted by flabdablet at 11:25 AM on August 14, 2015


Alter Cocker: "I thought you meant I was "pathetic and backward""

Oh hells no. I meant the concept of of cell carriers making the calls simplex was "pathetic and backward." Very sorry for the misunderstanding.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:30 PM on August 14, 2015


the U.S. phone market has traditionally required multi-year contracts and most people have only a couple of competitive options. Unless call quality is so bad that you wouldn't agree to a new contract, it's a question of “spend money on network upgrades” or “report higher profits and get a fat bonus”.

Ayup. On a consumer level, it's hard to get people in the US out of the phone contract mindset even if you offer to pay their way out of the contract. And to be fair, having to pay more money up front for a high-end new phone is rightly off-putting. Then you get to the end of that two years and getting another phone for "free" might be a better option than paying full-freight and having the ability to switch providers or service plans at any point.

On the carrier end, while they do get complaints about call quality, they get many more about range of coverage and data speed. Plus it's easier to advertise improvements in those with maps and numbers, while call quality's a bit more subjective. And with cell phone infrastructure being even more confusing than old-school telephone infrastructure, people usually blame poor call quality on the phones anyway, so the carriers can avoid the issue. (And it's not like the phones don't contribute. Lots of reasons for mobile phone voice shittiness.)

And making changes to any carrier's infrastructure is a massive, expensive, years-long undertaking that has to be done one site at a time. Which we totally need more of, and not just because making those changes is what pays my rent. I want better options for communicating with people.

Nobody, least of all me, wants to use cell phones to actually speak because doing so is so damned frustrating, but with the proliferation of other methods of using phones to communicate it's apparently impossible to get all my friends and family to consistently use any one medium. Email's been so befouled by its use for every other message anyone wants to send that people won't set their phones to notify them of email messages, and check their email less often than they ever did in the pre-texting-all-the-time era because they don't expect anything useful from it. Texting is a horrible clusterfuck of character limits, touchscreen typing hell, and obsolete/competing standards for group texts. Your experience may vary depending on what phone or app you're using, but good luck getting anyone to accommodate that. And then there are the various social networks, each of which wants me to clutter my phone with more crap that will probably break it anyway, and notify me every few minutes of some damn thing an old school classmate I haven't actually spoken to in twenty years has done. Not putting up with that shit in order to try to get people to meet me for lunch, thanks.

I just checked on home phone prices and realized that simple local phone service isn't really an option anymore since every number I might call is in a different area code. It'd have to include long distance service, and would therefore cost me more every month than the two phones I currently pay Ting for. I'm not sure I'm willing to double my monthly phone bill to have decent voice call quality (at home) as well as portability, so I guess that makes me part of the problem.
posted by asperity at 1:10 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Texting is alright, but I like talking on the phone. HOWEVER, yes, mobile phones sound absolutely terrible. When I was in one long-distance relationship, we refused to talk on the phone unless at least one of us had a landline. (Otherwise there was too much huh? What?!?!!)
posted by easter queen at 2:39 PM on August 14, 2015


Same guy did the iconic phone and thermostat design? Impressive.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:07 PM on August 14, 2015


drezdn: " mis-spent youth means my hearing can be terrible, especially if there background noise."

Youth not misspent in hearing damaging ways although also misspent, but this here. Plus text based communication avoid the hurt feelings involved with "No, really let me stop this INCREDIBLE MOVIE I WILL DIE IF I DON'T FINISH so I can talk about how you hate your carrier's visual voicemail app. Because, really, I write ALL of them."
posted by Samizdata at 8:04 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


When, in fact, it's far easier than ever before for people to screen incoming calls and decide whether they want to talk to you or let you leave a voice mail. Calling out of the blue seems like it should be more polite now than ever.

If only it were easy to screen incoming calls when: 1) you are worried about loved ones calling from various phone numbers not programmed into your phone when they are in trouble; or 2) you are job-hunting and expecting/hoping to get calls from employers/recruiters.

I generally use a white-listing method of screening my incoming calls (i.e. I answer only if I recognise the number, all others can leave a voicemail message). However, when I was actively job-hunting or worried about certain family situations, I was constantly monitoring my phone for any incoming calls. The method of screening by caller ID doesn't work in those cases.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 6:16 AM on August 15, 2015


I have an absurd number of telephones in my tiny two-room apartment for someone who's come to hate the sound of a ringing telephone or, as I call it, the hotline of neverending insatiable need (the tragedy of being a broke freelancer who has to be available 24/7 for facility issues and who has to pretty much take any available handyman project). I've got a sunshine yellow Western Electric 554 on my kitchen wall, a black 500 in my parlor, and an olive 500 in my glamorous bedroom. When I answer the phone, if I'm feeling Italian, I say "Pronto!" in a lilting sing-song, but usually I just growl "HELLO!?" in a tone that I hope sounds a bit like I am capable of murder and under the influence of drugs. When it's work, I conduct my business, and when it's the call that comes in twice a day without fail, indicating that this is my very last chance to lower my interest rate, I stand there, scowling, then use my cordless phone to press 1 to speak to someone (robotic assholes apparently no longer speak rotary).

Before the human minion of evil can even speak, I play out my usual script.

"This is the county police department, ma'am, and we're sorry to call you at work, but there's been an incident at your home."

The human minions of evil usually skip a beat while the detour into surrealism is processed.

"Pardon?"

"We're sorry to call you at work, but there's been an incident at your home and we need you to return home to meet with our officers."

It takes them a few moments to realize that something is off. Some are angry that I would scare them with something so awful, at which time I point out that they're working for scammers, that they called me with the intention of stealing my money, and thus I instruct them to please shut the fucking fuck up.

I am, in the midst of conversations at this level of exasperation, exceptionally comfortable with my telephone, because the brilliant designer Henry Dreyfuss had a touch at making things feel and work beautifully that has hardly been equaled, particularly in the eyeball age, when all that matters is the look. I am also secure in the knowledge that, while my wireless pocket telephone serves a purpose, albeit in a crass and marginal manner, if my home was to be invaded by ruffians, hooligans, or interlopers of any variety, whilst my dingo was biting them, I could safely beat them soundly about the head and shoulders with my handset and knock them fully unconscious with the body of the phone. Even ending an exasperating phone call is a sensual delight with a 500, because it's virtually impossible to break one in the process of expeditiously terminating a call, and the slam followed by the accompanying shock-induced ringing of the dual bells is an experience akin to having a loved one in the room who concurs completely with your frustration.

Of course, when my brother calls, we always speak solely by picturephone, which works brilliantly, sounds lovely if one uses the headphones with an embedded microphone, and correctly reminds us that we are living in the world of the future. For some reason, no one else understands the pleasure of this possibility, but that's their loss.

I do miss talking on a proper telephone for a foolishly long time just because you felt like a conversation, but listening to bug voices tweedling in my ear through a tiny slot while the flat block of glass and aluminum in my hand warms up like a hot plate is just not joyous and everyone's too busy just to pick up the party line and chat anymore. Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 2:06 PM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wondering why people with hearing loss talk so loud? It's because the natural sidetone they have is effectively lost, and they're talking louder because they've lost the feedback loop that tells them how loud they're talking.

Drives me nuts with my Dad, have to give him a nudge pretty often because he is speaking too loud. The only time it never happens? When we are at Eagles games and if he doesn't scream it I won't hear it. Suddenly he finds his inside voice. *shrug*
posted by Drinky Die at 2:18 PM on August 15, 2015


As sonascope says, those old handset phones did make a great bludgeon when the call pissed you off.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:20 AM on August 24, 2015


Except that now there is an anxiety that it'd be "my fault" if someone were trying to get hold of me while I had made the decision to be offline, so really that old sense of peace and quiet is just gone. We've lost ownership of part of our lives.

This is my primary reason for almost never answering my phone on the first go. I am not available for talking 24/7 and I really do not want to give anyone the impression that I might be, ever. So I deliberately make it a gamble with risky odds that I pick up/frequently have my phone silenced/often take a while to get back to texts, just so that people don't ever develop the expectation that I be constantly on phone alert.

Grumble.
posted by sciatrix at 5:32 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


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