Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Telephones: Many Options, Little Choice

Are you telephone cool – or not? As someone who breaks out in sweat at the sight of a new telephone, I can give that question an unequivocal answer. When it comes to telephones, familiarity breeds content. To me, a telephone that has sat stolidly on desk and at bedside for more than three years is a trusted friend rather than a “lump of technology”. The luminous monitor is a friendly face. The thing slides into the palm of the hand as easily as that of a lover. It becomes a talisman, a precious jewel, the key to an important gateway. My fingers fly over the buttons almost preternaturally. This ambience is consolidated by the constant sound of the voices of friends, colleagues and family emanating from its banal mass of wiring and plastic. I can honestly describe actual telephones that I have grown to love. But present me with a new model and…oh me, oh my…and I am talking of simple landline phones, not smartphones and fancy tablet gadgets. The phones always come packaged with an “instruction” sheet. First, the novice has to extricate the English directions from the mass of Indo-European languages alongside them. Next, you are faced with one of those terrible, labelled diagrams; numbered tags pointing out features like “soft key” and “mute key” and all of the weird spawn of the telecoms world that make a technology troglodyte like me cry at ever having had so many darned options. When you finally have worked out what it is and where it is, you have to learn how to use the thing. The ring tone buzzes through your flat like a stranger’s voice. The feel of the handset is unfamiliar and the buttons are in all of the wrong places, leading one to cut off conversations mid-flight…ah! Only heaven knows how many career moves I have lost by pressing the wrong button at an injudicious time. And you can’t keep the same phone forever because, no matter how much you love it, like a pet it grows old and dies. With telephones, as with everything else, we may have many options - but we have little choice.

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