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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Wrong numbers in the age of the cell phone

By Dick Hirsch

“Hello,” I said. Static was the only clear response. I tried again, only this time louder, with an exclamation point. “HELLO!” more static.

As background, I should explain that the majority of the calls I receive on my cellular phone are wrong numbers. Often in a rush to communicate, people frequently hit a wrong button or two, and they reach someone like me, an unwitting bystander. Although no surveys have been released, I understand that it is a common occurrence.

I am not claiming my own experience is typical, but I can say for certain that I get at least as many such calls as I do calls from people who are actually trying to reach me for some reason. I know that may be difficult to believe, but it the truth. Only a few people know my cell phone number. I prefer it that way.

As far as I am concerned, the main reason for having the phone is the ability to make calls; it does not indicate the willingness to receive them. It’s a great convenience, one that Alexander Graham Bell could never have foreseen. But would he have applauded? By now I’m an established cellular user, but it is relevant to note that I was the last person in my family to go cellular. The children were way ahead of me.

I still can rightfully claim that I continue to make most of my calls from a regular phone situated either at home or office, the kind that has become widely known as a “land line.” The percentage of such calls is dropping as the number of cellular calls increases. I was flipping through the annual report of one of the major telecommunications companies recently, and that figure jumped off the page. It won’t be too long, some experts predict, before the bulk of calls will be cellular.

“HELLO!” I said again. There was no static this time, only dead air. I flipped it closed.

I was almost shouting. It is a common reflex when there is no response. But in this case, I was sitting in one of the worst of all possible places to get such a call: in a restaurant. I’ve seen and heard other people on the phone in restaurants and I’ve always dreaded being in that position. The tables were fairly close together, the kind of setting that is ideal for a private conversation with a companion. But when the phone rings and there is either static or dead air, the tendency is to start elevating the decibel level. It’s embarrassing. I was intruding on the lives of others.

I chose the easy way out---the side door. I input the number of the caller and this time there was a response, overlaid with static, but it was obvious he didn’t know me and I didn’t want to know him, so that ended that episode of telecommunications. Stay tuned for further experiences.

While phones are still primarily designed to carry voices, my geek friends are all extolling the praises of text messaging and twittering. They assure me this is no longer the wave of the future, it is the wave of the present: they are celebrating the concept of less talk and more hunting and pecking, transmitting messages, some of which could even be considered important. If you are not a texter, you are on the verge of old.

It reminds me of one of my prehistoric adventures, sitting before a Teletype machine, conversing in print with a distant colleague. The technology covered long distances but we were only about 25 blocks apart. We considered it to be a very advanced technology, typing and transmitting stories, certainly faster than carrier pigeons. When there was nothing else to do is became an engaging time waster, conducting a two way conversation via the written word.

And so it is today, in its current incarnation, a useful tool of communication, as well as an engaging time waster. The buttons are so small, that typographical errors are common, and yet....who cares? People are texting. I had dinner recently with a man who makes it a habit to be gadget and tech savvy. His soup got cold as he was fiddling around on his lap. I couldn’t imagine what he was doing so I had a look: Nothing serious, naturally, just some casual twittering.

As was so often said in the old days: Don’t call me; I’ll call you.



At 9:31 AM, Blogger David said...

Ginger and often talk via cell phones at home when I am on the 3rd floor and she is on the 1st.


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