Monday, 30 June 2008

The Tyrannical Rule of The Mobile

Mobile phones are great. The technology we carry round in our pockets is astonishing, and I am by no means averse to the possibilities of communication that are now open to us. However I have a gripe: I resent the way that we are ruled by our mobiles, how they demand our devotion lest we should be shunned by our peers.

Let me explain a little better. As far as I can tell there are two categories of verbal communication for which we use our phones. The first is a walkie-talkie type instant communication device. For example calling someone at home to check what they want from the super market, or phoning a friend when lost driving around an unfamiliar town, or confirming a meeting location. You get the idea. I have no problem with my phone buzzing at me and demanding my attention for these quick-fix snippets of verbal communication that have some sense of urgency about them. And I'm loathe to turn off my phone in many situations where receiving long calls is inappropriate, because I'm fine with these delta-conversations grabbing me for a moment as long as they release me back into reality pretty quickly.

The other category is the long conversational phone calls, that aren't urgent (in the minute by minute sense). Maybe catching up with a friend, maybe discussing a strategy for a meeting, or organising something that's happening two weeks away. These are also great, and mobile phones make this form of communication much easier, but what I often long for is a way of differentiating between the two, so that I can fit the second category in when I'm in the right state of mind and/or location, but not miss anything of the first category.

While I was complaining about this (at a friend who puts up with a lot of my rambling complaints, and to whom I am very grateful) I hit upon an idea, which I'm sure is completely logistically impossible, but it filled me with a sense of hope, so I thought I would share it here.

I shall try and explain through a scenario. I'm in a meeting, or around town shopping, when it occurs to me that I really need to talk to so and so about such and such at some point in the next day or two. It's not very practical for me to call them right now, and it's probably not all that great a moment for them either. So I simply tell my phone of the intention to talk to so and so. Later when I'm at home, or the office, or just somewhere I don't mind being interrupted for non-urgent conversations, I tell my phone, and if so and so is also listed as available for such chats, it notifies us both and maybe even makes the call.

In this way, whenever both parties of any discussion are listed as available, your phone lets you know. If you're not available, people can still ring you, but etiquette would be such that this is only for literally urgent, and short conversations.

Now obviously, for a lot of people this isn't an issue, for me, it would be amazing! I'm self employed and as such have to deal with clients and bookings quite a lot, and also I'm in a lot of situations where having longer conversations is very tricky because I'm generally paid by the hour. I don't want the black and white on-off call filtering that is currently available, and since our phones are so intelligent, this seems like another job they should probably be able to do. I'm just intrigued to know if anyone else thinks this is a vaguely good idea? Essentially, mobiles are great, but giving someone my number shouldn't permit them to summon my attention instantly from whatever task I'm currently performing to deal with something (even something important but not desperately urgent) that would be much better dealt with at another point in time.

On the other hand, maybe I need a PA instead of a PDA!

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