Communication [Part 1]

I’ve been meaning to write this for a long, long, long, long, long time. Probably over a year. I touched on it a little with “Digital Internet Snobbery” and “Are You A Tech Elitist?”, but I need to go back to the beginning.

Before all this social media stuff jumped off, people had land lines and answering machines. Actually, forget the answering machines. People had land lines. If they weren’t at home… Guess what? You Couldn’t Talk To Them. Period. That’s it. No way around it. The only way around it was if they went to a pay phone and called you from the street. But basically, if you weren’t NEAR YOUR PHONE, you were completely out of contact unless you were in physical proximity to people.

Next, we got answering machines, so now, if we’re not at home, when we DO get home, we know who called us and what for. We also got Caller ID so that we could tell who called us and didn’t leave a message. Still, no contact other than when we’re in our houses where our phones and answering machines are.

Next, we got pagers, so that when we were in the street and people wanted to speak to us, they could send us their number so we could go to a pay phone and call them back. This was probably the beginning of intrusion & entitlement. This was where people started making big deals out of the fact that they paged you and you didn’t call them back. Before this time, there was no guarantee that whatever device people tried to contact you on was attached to your person. You could be at home and ignoring them, and they’d have no clue with phones and answering machines. The reason people got pagers was either because they wanted people to be able to contact them on the run OR they had to have it for business. In either case, it was assumed by people that you had this device with you and didn’t leave it at home, so the “burden” switched from the callER to the callEE as far as whose fault it was that a conversation didn’t occur when the caller wanted it to.

The typical excuses for not returning a page were a) I was in the subway and didn’t get it [since pagers wouldn’t hold the message for you and try again when you came above ground], b) my service sucks, and I didn’t get the page [when you got the page and erased it from your memory list in case the caller *COUGHyourgirlfriendCOUGH* checked it], or you got it and didn’t have change on you to call her back or none of the pay phones where you were worked [which was valid because a lot of the phones were broken in NYC for some reason, mostly people doing scams to try to get the change out of the machines]. Still… the ‘problem’ here was that the callEE had to give excuses to the callER, when the fact of the matter is that they didn’t feel like talking to you and ignored your page (or, ACTUALLY didn’t get the page. 🙂 ).

Next up was cell phones. Same problem with intrusion & entitlement. The fact that you had a cell phone with an answering system meant that you were assumed to understand that the caller called soon afterwards, therefore receiving the burden of calling them back. This was especially true if they called you several times in one day. Also, the subway excuse disappeared, because cell phones will repeat sending you the alert that you have messages when you come above ground. To make matters worse, cell phones ring differently if you have them online when you get a call and when you’re not attached to the satellite system. If it rings 4 times and goes to machine instead of going directly there, it’s assumed that you saw the call and ignored it (or perhaps weren’t around your phone). Either way, it’s assumed that the phone is active and has batteries in it, so, again, the burden’s on the callEE to pick up the conversation where the caller left it.

Next was cell phones with the ability to send text messages. This completely flipped the script. Completely.

I didn’t catch on to the importance of this for a long time. I finally got it when I would try to contact my friend Masami to go out…

Masami Snow NYC

I would call her and get no response. 45 minutes later, I’d text her and get a text right back. I thought this was odd, because both the call and text go to the same device… except depending on how you SET the device, it notifies you differently about different events. Let’s say the notification for text messages had higher priority on her phone than the notification for voicemail. When I was calling her, it basically dropped into an abyss. When I sent her text messages, they went right to the top of the list and she became immediately aware of them.

A part of the reason for this was that A LOT OF PEOPLE had switched over to using text instead of voice. By the time I was in contact with Masami, she was very used to interacting with people via text from her phone. I was probably the only one leaving voice messages. 🙂 I found out another reason for the changeover by watching television. These guys were sitting at a table with these chicks on some reality show and texting to each other about the chicks. Before seeing this, I hadn’t considered that people use text to communicate in stealth mode, when they can’t actually talk. If someone’s in a business meeting and you call them, it’s going to go to their machine. If you text them, they’re likely to check it and even text you back while the meeting’s still going on. So the fact that you didn’t have to LOOK LIKE you aren’t paying attention to whomever’s speaking was an important factor in people switching to text.

Another good reason to use text is the sound factor. There are a lot of places where people might be in Manhattan where you just can’t hear what’s going on… but you can READ it. This happened to me a while back when I tried to call Dave, and he couldn’t hear a thing I was saying…

The only way I caught up with him was to have a friend of mine do me the solid of texting him for me to ask him where he was hanging out. So once again, text defeats voice. Text is better when you can’t talk. Text is better when you can’t hear. Text is better when you need to look like you’re paying attention to someone you’re standing/sitting in front of.

Text is also better because it’s asynchronous. Technically, so is leaving a voice message, but you can text someone back under just about any conditions, including being in the subway, having already received your messages to your phone. You can reply to a bunch of messages and have them sent out when you get signal. You wouldn’t even be able to RECEIVE your voice messages underground in order to reply to them.

This is where I got to the point of “Digital Internet Snobbery”, which I’ll address in “Communication [Part 2]”.