April 1st, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Telephone = Evil

"Of course you hate The Phone Company. Everybody hates The Phone Company. People who don't even have phones hate The Phone Company. Even bedouins hate The Phone Company." -- The President's Analyst
The telephone is the bane of my existance. If it hadn't been a necessary precursor to some technologies I like, I could find it in me to wish it had never been invented. I would rather do almost anything than talk on the phone.

Let's start with the fact that 99.99% of the phone calls in the world interrupt someone doing something. Nobody but teenagers with a crush and a few corporate receptionists sits by the phone, waiting to answer it. Even the receptionists usually have other work they're required to do. Heck, these days even in 24-hour call centers there are other things the person on the other end of the phone is supposed to be doing, that he or she can't get done because the phone keeps ringing. I know I hate being interrupted, but I hate interrupting people even more.

Some of you would say, "If they don't want to answer the phone, they can let it go to voice mail." Never mind the extensive brainwashing we all get aimed at making us answer a ringing phone. According to a story I heard, the sound of a phone ringing (especially the old original Bell phones) was designed to be impossible to ignore. The ring, pause, ring, pause cycle was designed to mimic the rhythm of a baby crying, to be harder to ignore than a continuous tone. The original ring tone was designed to be piercing and unpleasant, so people would jump up and run to stop it.

Then there's the fact that, with the possible exception of email, nobody has ever designed a so-called "communications" technology that was more perfectly designed to create misunderstandings. People on the other end of the phone have no facial expression. They have no body language. Worse, because of digitial compression and frequent conversions of analog-to-digital and back, the phone clips all but the mid-range frequencies. Cell phones are even worse offenders. I depend on those frequencies for everything from recognizing people to trying to read their moods over the inadequate instrument of a phone.

It's just too easy to lie over the phone. Which is why everybody does it.

Then there's my little problem, Asberger's Syndrome. If I know how to behave in a situation, if I know what to say, it's because I've seen and learned by rote what other people have done in a similar situation. But I don't get a lot of chances to observe other people's phone conversations, try not to when I can because it's rude, and outside of contrived situations like TV or the movies (X-Files comes to mind, where their cellphones were the most important props), it's not like I get to hear both sides of the conversation, so I can't learn what the person on my side of the line is responding to.

As a result, pretty much my whole life, I will do almost anything to get out of making a phone call to a stranger, don't like making phone calls to friends, don't want to talk about anything on the phone other than when are we going to meet in person, and would rather gnaw my leg off than have a long important conversation on the phone.

Unrelated request for a favor: I'm dead broke and without transportation. Will somebody, for the love of God, take me to see Sin City this weekend?