Thursday, January 05, 2012

Why I never answer my phone

I never have much liked speaking on a mobile phone.

I'm not that worried about the possible link between microwave radiation and brain cancer, because I'm never going to use a mobile often enough for that to be a factor for me.

I'm rather more concerned about foisting your conversations on others in public spaces. In the good old days, we used to only have phone conversations in private - at home, in the office, inside a well soundproofed phone booth. But now we're surrounded by telephone conversations being carried on in public. They bug the hell out of me (even if the participants aren't yelling their heads off, to be heard above the background noise - which they usually are), and I don't want to become part of this social blight.

Then, there's the issue of practicality. If I'm out and about, I'm probably in a meeting, where I can't answer the phone; or travelling to a meeting on the subway, where there's only very patchy reception; or out on the street, where - in Beijing - there's usually far too much ambient noise even to hear the damn phone ring, let alone to be able to hear what anyone's trying to say to you.

And even if I'm at home, I hate the intrusiveness of a phone call. I always have, even in the days when we only had landlines. I am irked by the presumption of people who feel that you ought to drop whatever you're doing and speak to them right now. In the past, there was some excuse for this: when there were no other convenient means of communication, you had to accept that you were lucky to be near the phone when somebody happened to be trying to get in touch with you; and for the sake of that facility of contactability, you would put aside your irritation at being interrupted in the middle of something more interesting or important; you could even get over the fact that you weren't very happy to hear from this particular caller, because this was the price you paid for being available to others who you might want to speak to.

But now we've got e-mail - which will usually get my attention within an hour, if I'm working at home; and within a day, even if I'm not. And we've got SMS, which will usually get my attention within a few minutes.

You no longer have any excuse to be insisting on gaining my attention instantly. Send me a goddamn text message instead!

However, the main reason why I never answer my phone any more has nothing to do with these issues of principle or practicality; it's just that I tend to set the thing on 'Mute' (especially overnight; Chinese spammers usually call in the wee small hours, which can be a grievous interruption to your slumbers), and then forget to undo that... sometimes for days at a time.

And I realise that I've got even worse at this just lately. A few months ago, I switched to using a new phone; well, a new old phone - a little Nokia that I picked up to use with my Vodaphone service in the UK the last time I was back home. I've been using Sony Ericssons for several years here in China. And on those - and every other type of phone I've ever seen or used - there is a quick way to mute or unmute your phone: usually a single button-press from the keypad, or two-step process via the 'shortcuts' menu.

No such simplicity with the Nokia! NO. You have to select 'Menu'; then scroll down one space to 'Settings' and select that; scroll down two places to 'Profiles' and select that; scroll down one or two places to 'Silent' and select that; then press 'Activate' to confirm the selection. 9 button presses to complete one function!!

I think this may be the worst piece of user-interface design I have ever seen!

Thank you, that is all.


JES said...

I don't much like using the phone, either. Because of the hearing aids, I've got two choices: (1) use the speakerphone, which comes with problems of its own; or (2) switch the aid to its "telecoil" setting, which conveniently shuts out all sound but that from the phone... but also obviously makes it impossible to attend to anything else (e.g., The Missus, asking me questions in the background, asking me to relay info to or from the party on the phone, etc.).

Our evening/weekend schedule is all out of whack with that of normal people. The best time for them to call, theoretically, would be in the window between 5:30 and 6:30pm or so... when THEY'RE usually eating. They tend to call after 8:00, when WE'RE eating (or at least preparing the food) and don't want to put our kitchen/dining implements down. It's a dilemma, one usually solved by checking the caller ID and tossing a mental coin.

John said...

The problem of mobiles for me is they're yet another gadget to have to deal with in life, especially this era of the 'smart'-phone. Never mind communication, they need to be updated, contacts need to be synced (sometimes more than once), settings need to be selected, the damn thing needs constant attention and preservation from outside threats both to its structural integrity and from having no suddenly having no integrity at all (I'm trying to say when some git nicks it) not to mention than you're supposed to do all of this every three months!
I've solved the problem, I don't own one. Then again, people didn't call me much as it was :`(

Froog said...

It's amazing - depressing to me - how quickly mobile phones have become the prime focus of consumerist aspiration in China. Even people who can ill afford one and will scarcely ever use one (migrant construction workers!) scrimp and save to be able to buy one.

Slightly better off types - students and young office workers - pauper themselves in order to be able to buy the latest, flashiest models.

When I first arrived here, my 20-year-old students all told me most emphatically that as a teacher - such a prestigious profession! - I couldn't possibly spend less than 3,000 rmb on a phone. "Oh yeah? Just watch me! That's about three-quarters of a month's salary, for heaven's sake!! "

The cheapest new phone you could get back then was about 700 or 800 rmb (it's come down to about 400 now); even that was too much for me. My first phone here was a rather battered secondhand Motorola that I picked up for 150 rmb.

Given the very high incidence of loss/theft/breakage for mobile phones (to say nothing of the rapid obsolescence, which is a key driver for the Chinese, and some others!), the average lifespan for one is said to be slightly less than 6 months. Shelling out thousands of renminbi at one time HURTS. The prospect of maybe having to do it two or three times in one year (my worst phone loss record) is unacceptable. I'm always going to be buying 400 rmb phones.

At least it saves me from the curse of Twitter...

Trying to get by without one at all, though... I don't think that would be possible for me.